It happens every year. Watching people take down holiday decor and hearing talk about fresh starts and clean slates as soon Christmas is over makes me feel so rushed. That’s not at all how I want to spend the last week of the year.
Panic and frustation threaten to overshadow rest and reflection (even though I usually do set goals, pick a word of year, or both.)
I’ve reached a point where rushing toward new goals feels wrong, like I’m pressing repeat on something that hasn’t served me well in the past. Everything in me insists on taking a different approach to setting New Year’s goals. And if I’ve learned anything, it’s to trust my inner voice.
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How to Set Meaningful Goals
Starting the new year has become synonymous with setting goals or making New Year’s resolutions. But I’ve realized if I’m going to start the new year off right, I need some time to rest from the holidays and reflect on the past year.
So, I give myself permission to do just that.
Revisiting Last Year’s Goals
The only way for me to move forward is to reckon with the past year. So, I pull my bullet journal off the shelf and turn to the pages where I’ve written goals for the past year.
As an example, let’s revisit my 2018 goals.
Goal #1 – Get back to a size 12. I felt like me [when I was that size] – comfortable in my own skin, loved my body and size in clothes and felt confident. It’s important to me to feel confident and comfortable in my own skin. Being a size that feels good removes the mental and emotional clutter of being overweight, uncomfortable and of carrying the burden of losing weight. I want to be unburdened.
Goal #2 – Earn an income from writing and publishing books. Doing this will be a childhood dream come true and the most authentic way I can create a career. It’s who I am meant to be. I have to do it. It’s an undeniable unction that I’ve been delaying for years. It’s time to stop procrastinating and be true to myself.
Goal #3 – I want a home that reflects who I am and is enjoyable to live in. I need to stop striving in my home and be able to relax and enjoy it. Let it serve me instead of me serving it. The striving is exhausting- perhaps because I’m in such a hurry. I’m impatient. I am burdened by the to-do’s of home maintenance.
One out of three. That’s how many goals I accomplished. At first glance, it feels like I failed. But let’s take another look.
The one goal I did accomplish had been an annual goal for a few years now. I remember reluctantly writing it down again last year in hopes that doing so would make it come true. I’ll be dadgum if the seemingly impossible didn’t actually happen.
That past Summer, we had an opportunity to make some updates to the house. After painting the kitchen cabinets, changing the backsplash, carrying the wood floors into the foyer and kitchen, buying new furniture, installing a built-in fireplace, and painting all the common areas, my house finally felt like home.
I wasn’t so “lucky” when it came to the other two goals. In fact, I gained weight, lost income, and didn’t publish any new books. But, (I have an old friend who says it’s what comes after the ‘but’ that’s important) I did make strides. There was forward movement toward both goals. Just not in the way I expected when I first wrote them.
Here’s the thing. I wrote those goals based on what I knew at the time.
Since then, I’ve discovered how to make peace with food and regulate my nervous system to improve gut health. This was a longer, harder road of looking at the past and learning how to overcome the resulting beliefs and behaviors. My original goal would have led me right back where I started. Now, I know how to make lasting change.
I also took a seat at the writer’s table. While I was there, I revised Creating Success at Home and relaunched it as Home on Purpose. I joined an author accountability group. I also started writing my second book. That is what I call progress.
Remembering the Highlights
After evaluating last year’s goals and realizing just how much progress I actually made, I decided to write down the highlights from the year: accomplishments, shifts, changes, big events – good or bad.
You don’t have to look for big life lessons or clever take aways. Sometimes you need to take an honest look at what was and give yourself permission to feel: acknowledge, grieve, comfort, accept, reject, rest, weep, laugh…nurture whatever rises up from your soul.
That is how you create space for the new year.
Planning for the New Year
If you still don’t feel like writing new goals, that’s okay. I happened upon affirmation for those feelings in Jeff Goin’s article, Instead of Setting Goals, Tell a New Story. As Jeff mentioned, the persevering can wear you plum out. I certainly grew weary of trying so hard to make my dreams come true. When a system isn’t working, we change it.
My New Goal Setting Process
I came across a quote on Instagram that said something to the effect of not being able to discover what’s next if we keep rereading the same chapter over and over again. Writing the same goals every year feels like rereading the same chapter to me.
Now when I write goals, I get still, really still, and listen within. When I did this last year, I could hear that small voice whispering a bible verse over me.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:29-30New International Version (NIV)
This scripture became the overarching theme as I set intentions for the upcoming year. My new motto became, “I am ready, willing and able to live a life of ease.”
I knew that looked like just taking the next logical step each day instead of trying to force an outcome. Yes, I had dreams and visions, but my approach to them would be different.
Goal Setting Steps
Meditate – This word means different things to different people. For me, it means getting still, listening for that still, small voice and connecting with my soul. Sometimes that happens with a walk in nature, other times through journaling and often times through a meditative yoga practice.
Free Writing – First, I write down everything my soul longs for. This isn’t limited to tangible changes or material things. I write down how I want to feel as I go through life. Then, I pick the top few words that resonate with me the most as guideposts for the new year.
Whatever you write down should come from you rather than a message or image from media, the internet or magazines. Someone else’s vision won’t carry you very far.
Short-Term Goals – Instead of writing annual goals, I focus on quarterly goals. The biggest reason for this is my desires and dreams change over time. Taking it a few months at a time allows me to gain a better sense of what I really want and adjust as I go along.
Celebrate Progress – At some point I learned to celebrate the small wins along the way, recognizing them as significant and necessary to accomplishing my goals in life.
Measuring success – Experts say you should be able to measure the success of your goals. However, my end goal is no longer about bigger and better. So, how will I know I’ve achieved my life goals? My answer to that is when those words I wrote down at the beginning of the year describe me and my life, or as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message, like I’m “flowing with the unforced rhythms of grace.”
This new approach to setting goals is not easy. But, man is it worth every step away from the typical New Year’s resolutions and toward finding rest for my weary soul.
For more help with setting new goals, read:
Wishing you a very Happy New Year!
Suzy Taylor Oakley says
I’m with you, Sharon. When I saw someone’s post asking me what word I had chosen for 2020, I wanted to punch her in the face! (Virtually, of course. 🙂 ) My point is that I get everything you said here. I began a new chapter on Jan. 1, and I’m giving myself time to realize the “new normal.” I have goals, but I’m being gentle on myself as I figure out my schedule.