"Ya gotta have goals!" - So easy to say, right? But what does it mean? How do you determine what you really want, and then how do you map out a way to accomplish those things? It all starts with identifying your core values.
Try this exercise to get started: On a blank piece of paper, or whiteboard, or computer screen, dedicate at least 20 minutes to brainstorming all the important things, people, and concepts in your life. Don't edit yourself - just write, or type. Get as specific as you can - if your best friend is important to you, don't just write "best friend" - name that person. Write the name. Name your children, pets, siblings, parents. Don't worry about impressing anyone or about being embarrassed - this is for your eyes only.
When you think you've written everything down, set the exercise aside, and return to it later - it could be a couple hours, days, or even weeks. Just make sure there's been a break in your thinking. If you've been working on a whiteboard, you can take a picture of it then print it out later. Review your writing and see if there anything you'd like to add. Sometimes the most high-priority items don't surface until the last minute, so try to shake out all you can. But part of the trick is knowing when you move on, because it's easy to get caught in the first step and not get to the heart of the exercise.
Here's a picture of my list:
Once you have a list you are comfortable with, it's time to do some data analysis. Typically, people will have multiple entries that can be categorized together. Some will stand alone, so don't force everything into a category with other entries. The idea is to get as accurate a snapshot of the big-picture topics that you dedicate time to, or would like to dedicate time to.
Here's a picture of the categories I filtered my list down to:
Now imagine that each of these items are arranged in a circle around you. You are standing in the center, and to make progress you have to walk toward something. But every time you walk toward one thing, you're walking away from another. It wouldn't take long for you to get overwhelmed, especially if you had a single task that both fulfilled one goal and stood in opposition to another goal. How do you prioritize? Choose what to focus on?
Trying to determine your priorities at the time of each decision is inefficient and leads to inconsistencies. Taking time to organize the things the that are important to you and selecting a handful (3-5, at most) to focus your energy on, over a set period of time, can make your decisions about how to spend your time, energy, and money much easier.
Of the categorized list above, I selected three categories on which to focus my attention for the next six months: Husband/Cats, Mental Health, Day Job. By doing this, whenever I have a decision to make, I can measure the options against those three categories first.
Once I've selected my main three main categories, it's time to write a few goals - again, 3-5 is an ideal amount. Any more than 5 can get difficult to manage.
Rewrite Your Mind recommends that people use the SMART goals method to develop strong and effective goals.
Below you'll find two examples of how to develop goals using the SMART method.
Category 1: Husband/Cats
Goal: Increase the number of Wednesday nights that the husband and I are spending together.
Right now, we spend 1-2 Wednesdays a month together - I want to spend 2-3 Wednesday nights together.
This is doable, because we don't currently have commitments to others on Wednesday nights and I'm not asking for every Wednesday night - there's still wiggle room.
It's relevant to our relationship because spending time together one-on-one has proven in the past to increase our bond with one another. We are able to to talk and laugh together, and this improves our overall communication.
Because I don't want to put it off and get caught in the trap of procrastination, but want to be sure the time is long enough to develop a new pattern in our relationship, I'm going to set a 6-month time frame on this.
I'll know that we're succeeding in this if by the end of the second month we've increased to 2 Wednesday nights a month, and if by the end of the fourth month we've increased to 3 Wednesday nights a month.
Category 2: Mental Health
Take medications on a regular basis to stay compliant with doctor's prescription.
Right now, I skip my medications several times each week, or I'll take them for several weeks in a row, but then I'll stop for several weeks.
This is doable, because I have all the pills I need, and there aren't any major side effects that are keeping me from being compliant.
It's relevant to my life because I agree that I perform better and have improved outcomes when I am using my medications as prescribed.
So that I don't put it off for too long, and build in a sense of urgency, I'm going to look at a 3-month time frame on this.
I'll know that I am succeeding if I minimize skip days to 2-3 in the first month, 1-2 in the second month, and to zero in the third month.
If a value is roughly analogous to why you want to do something, and a goal is what you want to do, then the process is the how. Goals aren't known to magically achieve themselves - it is up to us to develop a process that will allow us to attain the goal.
For example, if I want to increase the number of Wednesday nights my husband and I spend together, then I need to develop infrastructure, a process, to make that possible.
That could include:
Talking with him to confirm that this is a shared goal
Reviewing our schedules to find any Wednesdays when we are already scheduled to be apart
Making plans in advance to minimize the possibility of other commitments interfering
Checking in with him regularly to ensure we're still in sync
To increase my compliance with taking my medications, the process could include:
Using an app on my smartphone to track my medication schedule
Use the app to track my success rate in actually taking medications on schedule
Reviewing the data in the app once a week and evaluating if any changes need to be made to improve consistency
Values lead to Goals lead to Processes lead to Success!
By following the steps in this article, you could find yourself developing and achieving goals in record time, but the real beauty of this is how much control you have over your own path. Instead of doing what you think you ought to do, you'll be moving toward the goals that are most consistent with the way you want to live your life.