Living by design: My experiments in goal-setting

Last year, I ditched the practice of making New Year’s resolutions, which, let’s be honest, rarely work out in the end. Instead, I decided to experiment with a more rigorous system for setting my annual goals. My aim was to create goals in different areas of my life that would be more effective and meaningful to me. I previously wrote about my approach here.

Now that the year is over, I thought I would share my results, along with some lessons that I learned along the way.

So how did it go?

In short, it was a good year. I was able to achieve (or come close to achieving) many of my goals for the year, as you can see in my ultra-nerdy graph below. Two big accomplishments this year were starting the Project Change Foundation, and traveling across the country to meet with some truly remarkable people as part of my Better World Tour this summer. Mind you, not everything was a roaring success. I failed miserably at making progress on “the book”, I was far off my health goals this year, and my credit card balance isn’t where I want it to be. There is always 2016, right?

Goals - 2015

Notes: i) For privacy reasons, I have elected not to disclose my revenue targets. ii) I did in fact set romantic goals, but I’m way too bashful to reveal them publicly. Ask me about it offline.

What did I learn?

Reflecting on my experiences this year, here are some strategies I learned to help move your goals forward:

Set yourself up for success – Perhaps most importantly, take the time up front to create goals that will work for you. I previously wrote about my own process for creating life goals that are effective and meaningful. Based on my experiences this year, there is very little I would change with this approach.

Track your progress – Create a simple system to monitor progress towards your goals. It doesn’t have to be sophisticated or time-consuming. My own tracking system was old-school basic. I made a printout of my goals, with space next to each one where I could pencil in some notes and check things off as I completed them.

Keep your goals close at hand – Whether at home, at the office, or on the road, remember to keep your goals within easy reach. I kept the printout of my goals in my laptop bag that I pack around everywhere. That way, I was forced to see my goals nearly everyday. Once you’ve created your own list of amazing goals, don’t file them away in a place you rarely look. Keep them front and center in your life.

Just do it – A few days might go by where you haven’t made any progress on your goals, or there will be days where you may feel like giving up on the whole project. When you hit a rough patch, try asking yourself, “What’s one small thing I can do today to advance just one of my goals?” It could be the tiniest thing imaginable: call a friend, go for a walk in the park, or read one page of a book. It doesn’t really matter what it is, just move the ball forward.

Strive for balance – The reason for creating a range of goals in different areas of your life is to promote a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Keep this in mind when working on your goals throughout the year. If you focus too much on goals in one aspect of your life, other areas may suffer. My advice: work on your goals in parallel, not in sequence.

Share with others – Recruit a friend or two to do a goal-setting project with you. It’s a good way to stay motivated, and it is way more fun to celebrate your triumphs and laugh at your tribulations when your friends are around.

Be open to spontaneity – Used effectively, goals can help you achieve a lot in life. But like a lot of things, goals are best used in moderation. You don’t want to be so rigidly structured that you miss out on the joy of spontaneity. If an unexpected opportunity emerges or a random adventure presents itself, go for it!

Don’t beat yourself up – This is a big one. You may very well fall short in achieving some of your goals. And you know what? That’s just fine. At the end of the day, a goal is just something that you’ve made up. It’s literally just words on a page. Don’t make it mean anything more.

Wishing you much fun, fulfillment and adventure in the year ahead. Happy New Year everyone!

Warmly, Joe