Rather, we set annual goals and have a tradition of sharing all or some of them at our New Year’s dinner. Many years we post them, or at least those we don’t mind sharing, on the refrigerator as a daily reminder of what we wish to accomplish in the coming months. There are some goals I don’t share with anyone, either because they are too personal or because I’m simply not ready to divulge some part of myself in this way.
I think it’s important to distinguish between goals and resolutions. Resolutions are black and white. You do it or don’t. You win or lose.
Frankly, most people aren’t designed for resolutions. It’s simply too difficult for most of us to suddenly make a U-turn and start swimming in the opposite direction against a well-established tide. That is, I think, why so many people who make resolutions stumble around, oh, January 6, and never show up at the gym again. Or they inhale a truckload of Fritos and figure they’re doomed.
Goals, on the other hand, take a longer view. Goals are things that you wish to achieve that need to be taken, perhaps, in steps—a bit at a time. If there is something you wish to do that you can “just do,” such as finally cleaning out the garden shed or digging that new herb border, that is not a goal. It’s something that is on your “to do” list, but it is not a goal.
I am fortunate enough to work with a group of consultants who specialize in this type of planning, so I’ve more or less internalized the process of strategic planning for organizations and even adapted it for my own personal planning.
Here’s a simplified version of how it works:
First think about what you want to be. This takes some serious thinking and is probably not something that can be done in the heat of the moment on New Year’s Day. I regularly revisit this question on vacations and during other down-times when I have the leisure of self-examination.
Ask yourself: What is it that I want to be known for, to be and have achieved in, say, the next 10 to 20 years? That may seem a bit of a far-fetched way to begin thinking about annual goals, but it’s not really. Without this long-term vision of what you want to be, you won’t be able to develop a plan to get there. It’s rather like going on a road trip without a destination in mind. You end up doing a lot of things, but they may or may not be the right things. You might get to where you want to go—or you might not. A shocking number of people don’t have a plan. But those who do achieve impressive things.
Here’s an example of how you might frame that type of statement about what you want to be:
“I want to live a life that is peaceful, socially responsible and beautiful and to leave behind a legacy for those values when I am gone.”
Sounds great, right? But boy, that’s a tall order. However will I do that?
Here’s the next step: Think about the things you must accomplish within the next few months to get you closer to living this statement. What you come up with, then, are the goals. Many times it’s helpful to put the goals into a framework of an outcome that describes an end-state.
For our example, some goals to get there might be:
-I minimize my carbon footprint on the planet. -I surround myself with positive, joyful people who share my interests. -I have a home that seamlessly blends indoors and outdoors in a garden that welcomes friends and family.
Getting the idea here? These are goals.
The next step is to set objectives for each of these goals. Objectives get you closer to the action steps, but also indicate milestones or measures that indicate what you need to do. Objectives are observable and often are measurable.
Let’s take the goal of minimizing my carbon footprint on the planet.
Some observable and measurable objectives for this might be:
-I reduce the number of kilowatts of electricity used in our household by 25%. -I rely less on consuming foods from far-away places by growing and preserving a third of our family’s vegetable needs. -I reduce our household’s water needs by 20%.
After you’ve identified these objectives, you can set the strategies that most of us are familiar with. These look like most people’s “to do” lists or resolutions.
Some strategies for the objectives to reduce electrical consumption above might be:
-Replace incandescent electric bulbs with new energy-efficient bulbs. -Turn the water heater thermostat down five degrees. -Hang laundry outside to dry when weather permits. -Turn the computer and other major appliances off at night. -Turn the heat thermostat down 3 or 4 degrees at night.
Once you begin thinking about how you want to live long-term the day-to-day activities really do add up. Over time, it’s amazing what you can accomplish if you have a plan for how to get there.
It’s like that old metaphor about how to eat an elephant—one bit at a time.
One other note about planning: Goals don’t conveniently get achieved in 365 days. Some goals can take a lifetime to achieve. And the beauty of the New Year is that it’s the perfect annual reminder to revisit your goals, revise you goals, cross off goals that no longer seem relevant or important and add new ones.
I hope this wasn’t all too academic and that you can start thinking about your own long-term goals with whatever planning system makes sense to you. There is more than one way to tackle the idea. For example, I notice that Carol at May Dream Gardens also outlined a cool approach with the PLANT acronym.
Whatever you do, I hope you don’t do what someone I know and love said: “I don’t make resolutions so I don’t disappoint myself.” Sheesh. I’ll have to work on that fellow.
Will I be publishing my annual goals? Nosiree. But I will tell you that I’ve been very very good about my renewed workout plan. The very stress-filled fall I had had a positive side. It reminded me that I can’t take my health for granted–and that the older I get the harder I’ll have to work at it. It really is a part-time job.
For everyone who has visited (and read this far), I wish you a peaceful and happy New Year!