Goals, Part 2: The Big Picture

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Photo: JennBang, used with permission

Last week, I talked a little about setting realistic goals. But what if you are already doing those things? What if you have the most realistic goals ever, that should be attainable one step at a time, only… you just never get there?

Well, there is one piece missing. And it’s kind of a doozy.

One area of life alone can’t be changed–you have to look at things as a whole, and see how everything fits together. You can’t set goals that will completely conflict with other areas of your life. I can’t both write every available second AND give my son an environment for a successful year AND become a domestic goddess AND become a health nut. I could follow all my other rules about goal setting and still have completely unrealistic resolutions. The missing piece is:

Look at your whole life, not just the bits you want to change. Last year, I was pleased with what I accomplished. I really got my writing life on the go again, I got out of a pretty nasty bout of depression, and I feel like a real person. That is good, and that’s what I wanted to accomplish. This year, however, I see that we have to keep a sense of balance about things. I could easily accomplish a hefty writing goal, but everything else would fall to pieces. That’s not good. Then I’ll have to spend the next year trying to fix my family or my house, or whatever else fell to the wayside this year. My writing will fall behind then, and a vicious cycle will begin. So, here is how I do things to ensure that I have balance and that I am actively involved in improving the things that are the most important to me.

1. List the top three to five things that are the most important. This does not mean list the five things you want to change. This means simply the five things you always want to stay on top of, the five things you need to be happy and healthy. My top five are: 1) Family; 2) Arts; 3) Writing Career; 4) Health; 5) Finances. That is a lot. Do not list more than five things, because you will never be able to get to all of that, even if your life were perfect. You would be stretched so thin that you wouldn’t be able to enjoy any of it!

2. Under each of your three to five, list a few tangible, visible, or measurable things you need (goals) in order to be happy with these things. For example, under family you might have: 1) environment; 2) relationships; 3) simplicity. Under writing career, one might have 1) craft; 2) business skills; 3) production; 4) community.

3. Under each of these goals, write one or two ways you can improve on these things this year. This is where you make your resolutions. And remember from my previous post–these resolutions must be measurable in some way, or they won’t work. They also need to be under your control. I can’t make other people do things in order to attain my goal. I can behave in a way which might inspire them to do something, but I can’t count on their action at all. The other thing is, make sure you don’t overdo it. Every single one of the things you listed in the last step does not need to be improved upon this year. In fact, backing up to step 1, when I listed “arts,” all I am going to be doing this year in regards to that is simply practicing my drawing when I can, and when I do make something, I will post it somewhere in order to get some confidence in that area. Look at the things that are the most vital to you, and take things one step at a time. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Under family, maybe you want to work on one aspect at a time. So make a plan to work on simplicity first (if that’s what moves you), and only work on that list for a month or three. Then move to relationships, or whatever else works for you.

I find that working in quarters/three months works really well, because it’s long enough to make a habit of something, and then you can move on to a next step while maintaining what you’ve accomplished in that one. Slow steps make for lasting change. Even though you could list a hundred things you can do to improve one area of your life this year, focus on two or three things at the most. Write only those two to three things on this list. If you accomplish those things early, hey, you can write down two more things and do that. But if you write down five things, how are you going to feel when you don’t make it to all of them? Or if you start doing them and can’t finish? It’s always better to start small.

Of course, there are people who need a shove, who need a larger goal to keep them motivated. This is really where planning things in quarters helps. Start with your two things. Aim to complete them in a quarter (or another unit of time). Have a bigger goal in mind, maybe, to be complete at the end of the year, but really make sure you have it divided up into steps that are measurable. (Example: losing weight: Want to lose 40 pounds this year? Try eating healthier a tiny bit at a time, then add exercise after a month, then eat a little more healthier [be specific], add another exercise routine after another month, etc.) At the end of your months or quarter, check and make sure things are still realistic.

New year’s resolutions are great, but remember that you can change your life and make goals at any point in the year. If you have already fallen off your new path, make some changes and climb back on. You can do this!

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