How to set goals that don’t suck

Most people don’t know how to set goals. How do I know? A decade and a half of experience leading hundreds of people through annual goal setting processes for multiple organizations. 

There are lots of reasons why it’s so difficult to set goals. According to a recent HBR article, the reason is because we set goals that are unattainable. Search the internet for goal setting challenges, and you’ll come up with a myriad of other reasons. 

We are coming up on the end of 2021. Many of you will be setting goals, or even New Year’s Resolutions, for 2022.

How can you set goals for 2022 that don’t suck? Here are some ideas.

Before you set goals, most people benefit from getting a clear picture of their vision, values, and how they want to feel as a result of achieving their goals. You can then work backwards from there.

1. Start with your vision

Picture yourself in December 2022. A whole year has passed and you’ve achieved everything you’d dreamed for the year. How are you feeling? Who are you with? How are you spending your time? What kind of a person have you become? Get as clear on your vision as you can. Some people benefit from creating a vision board or collage. Turn on some music. Have fun with it. 

This step is hard for a lot of people. Working with a coach or talking it out with a close friend or partner can be helpful. I’m currently offering 1-hour 2022 goal setting sessions for $99 from now through the end of December.

Check that out here if you’re interested!

2. Consult your values

As you get a clear vision of what your life looks and feels like at the end of next year, consult your core values to see whether or not they are present. For me, learning and growth is one of my most important values. I like to check in to see if my vision aligns with that. Tweak your vision if you need to. 

For those of you who are thinking, “Core values, huh? I don’t know what mine are,” I’ll share more next week on how to get clear on that.

3. ONE big thing

Working from your vision, start with just ONE big, juicy thing you want to accomplish this year. What’s one the biggest thing that will bring you closer to that vision? You’ll repeat this process a couple of times and ideally end up with 3-5 goals. Definitely no more than five! For some people having just ONE main goal for the year can help with focus. I find I’m much more motivated when I have one big, important thing to work on rather than a laundry list of little things.

4. Make your goal concrete

I’m a big fan of SMART goals: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound. I’ve used the SMART framework to build out annual goals for individuals, departments, and organizations. There are other frameworks out there. Use whichever one you choose, but make sure you use something. 

Let’s say your goal is to “grow as a leader this year.” 

  • Specific: choose a particular skill to focus on, like emotional intelligence or delegation. 
  • Measurable: how will you assess your progress?  Will you take a test? Will you ask for feedback from your manager or coach? Will you use your 360 evaluation? 
  • Achievable: check your goal against the resources you have. Will you be able to prioritize time for learning? Does your organization have a stipend available? What does typical growth look like in one year’s time?
  • Relevant: check back with your vision. How does this goal relate to your vision? Will it help you get there?
  • Time bound: set a deadline for achieving this goal. Before your semi-annual review cycle? By the end of the year?

Repeat steps 3 & 4 to set each goal. Again, no more than five goals!

5. Most important step: create routines

Once you’ve established your goals for the year, put them in a place where you can check back on them regularly. I have a document for weekly and monthly planning, and my annual goals are at the top of every week’s tab. Some people prefer to use that vision board and put it in a place where you’ll see it daily, in front of your bed, or next to your desk. 

Pick a regular time when you’ll plan your upcoming week around your annual goals. I like to do this on Sunday afternoons when I’m home alone and it’s quiet. The process takes about 15 minutes. I look at my annual goals, and I think about the 1-2 things I can do this week to move me a little closer to those goals. I put them on my to-do list as top priority, and I schedule them into my calendar, so I know I’ll have time to complete them. Sometimes I plan two weeks ahead if things are feeling really hectic. In my experience, planning more than two weeks in advance is hard, and not necessary, for most people. 

You can also use this time to reflect on the previous week. What worked? What didn’t? Where did you meet your goals, and where did something else get in the way? Life happens. Sometimes we don’t meet our goals. The important thing is to learn from the experience and keep moving. More on this next week.

How are you feeling? 

If you’re feeling jazzed and inspired to create your vision and set goals for 2022, good luck!! Let me know how it turns out 🙂

If you’re overwhelmed and anxious about your 2022 goals and vision and want to talk through it with someone, I’m offering 1-hour vision and goal setting sessions for $99 from now through the end of December.

Book a session and step into 2022 feeling confident and energized!

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

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