Wednesday, August 28, 2013

thoughts on goal setting

A little while back, I shared my summer goals for this year. In this post, I mentioned that I am a huge believer in goal setting. For years now, my goals have been invaluable to me- they help me in my work, in my relationships, in my learning and growing. I've learned a lot along the way, sometimes by doing it right, and sometimes by picking goals that were totally wrong. Though I am by no way an expert, I thought it would be fun to share a little of what I have learned along the way.

1. Do not turn your goals into another to-do list

First of all, let me say that I love to accomplish things. I am one of those people with to-do lists all over the place. Sometimes, on a particularly unproductive day, I will write down things I have already done, just so I can cross them off. Yes, I know. I have a problem. Often, I am tempted to use goal setting as another form of to-do lists, to feed my habit of constantly running around and doing so that I can feel ok about myself. Yet, at the heart of it, I do not believe this is what goal setting is about. It can be so much more life-giving than that. 

It has been really important for me to separate my goals from the list of tasks that I need to get done. There's a fine line of course, because, well...we set goals in order to get things done. But while to-do lists contain the every day routine tasks that I need to do to keep my life and work running, goals take it a step further. They outline the projects that give me life, that inspire me to be creative and be fully the person I can be. It's the difference between "have 12 items for sale in my Etsy shop this Fall" (goal) and "design product, knit up prototype, photograph, write item description..." (to-do list). 

2. Mix up the scary with the inspiring

Let's face it. We all have to do things that we don't want to do. We all have to take steps forward, sometimes without exactly knowing where those steps will lead us. Sometimes, this can be exciting. But other times it can be just downright scary. 

I have learned to make sure I have some of both on my list. Some goals that excite and inspire me, that I can't wait to get started on. And some that scare me so bad, it's all I can do to keep myself from crossing them off and forgetting about them. I find it helps me to do what scares me when I can feed off the energy and life I get from doing things that inspire me.

For example, this past year when I was learning German, I had a big fear of talking to people I did not know. At the post office, the cafe, the library...It was slightly irrational, because I wasn't afraid to speak with my family, or with the others in my language class. But that's how it was. I set a goal of going out alone at least 3 times a week and speaking with people I didn't know. But at the same time, I also set a goal to read a novel in German. I was so excited to be able to read a novel in another language, and I let that excitement motivate me to do what was maybe, at the time, a little scarier. 

3. Know the difference between challenging and just plain unattainable.

This one has come back to bite me multiple times. 

I love to learn and grow and push myself to do new things. Sometimes, in the spirit of wanting a challenge, I have chosen goals that are completely out of my reach. You know how people are always saying "you've gotta walk before you can run"? Well, turns out it's true. 

Don't get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with deciding to run a marathon when you've never run more than a mile. Or wanting to knit a sweater when you've never knit a stitch. Or wanting to be fluent in a language you've yet to learn to say "hello" in. It's great to go after what we want, to accomplish something that makes us proud. To surprise ourselves with what we can do.
In my experience, it just hasn't to write run a marathon at the top of my goals sheet (or in my journal, or on my blog or wherever it is I keep my goals) and leave it at that. What's worked better is to set smaller, more attainable goals leading up to that one large thing I'm hoping to accomplish. For example: run one mile every day for one month. This is a good place to start. At the end of the month, you can re-assess and set a goal to bring you to the next level.

4. Make sure your goals are measurable. (ie; make sure you will know when you have reached them)

Being clear with ourselves never hurts. There's nothing worse than working diligently on a goal, challenging yourself, doing what's really hard...only to realize that you're not exactly sure if you've done what you've set out to do. 

One way to be clear in goal setting is to use time. Decide how long you want something to take you. Or focus on a specific element of a slightly broader goal. Another thing you can do is ask yourself some questions about the goal you are setting. 

I've set goals before like "do yoga" or "learn to crochet". Both these times in particular, I found myself taking steps towards these things, but wasn't too sure what I really wanted in each case. Did I want to go to a yoga class? Did I want to do it every day for a month, or once a week over the course of a year? How exactly was I hoping to incorporate it into my life? And with crochet it was even worse- I mean, how would I know when I had learned it? When I had made my first blanket? When I had mastered the technique of circular-motif granny squares? 

In both these cases, I ended up modifying my goals, writing instead things like; "take one yoga class this year" or "learn each basic crochet stitch". For me, it's been really important to learn to ask myself the right questions about the goals I am setting, why I want to do what I want to do, so that I will know when I have done what I set out hoping to.

5. Don't limit yourself. Know what success means for you and go for that.

There have been many times where I have set goals because I thought they were the ones I should have. Because everybody else was working towards these things or whatever. Over time, I've learned that the best goals are the ones that bring me life. I've learned to listen to myself, to define success on my own terms and work towards that. One way I did this was to write down some key words, some values, that I hope direct everything I do. Defining these has helped me to recognize when I'm limiting myself or trying to get my heart to move in a direction against it's will. 

Knowing what you believe in and what's important to you can totally change the direction you are headed. So, my advice is to get quite, listen, and go from there. 

6. Assess. And be honest about what's not working

Make sure you look over your goals every once in awhile. I try and do this before my time is up. For example, if I'm hoping to acomplish something within the month, I do not wait until the 30th or 31st to go over my goals and see what's working for me and what isn't. 

One of the brilliant things about setting goals for yourself is that they are YOUR goals. You get to say when something works for you and when it doesn't. Be honest with yourself. And be open to changing things around if you need to. 

So that's it. I hope a few things in here will be useful to a few of you. And if you haven't really used goal setting in your life before, I hope this encourages you to maybe give it a try sometime!

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