Think about the last time you really felt like you achieved one of your goals. It might feel like it was some time ago, perhaps because when we think what it means to achieve a goal, we envision something huge, possibly stressful, and unlikely to repeat itself. This tends to be how we see goals because most of the ones we have adopted for ourselves are society’s goals for us: graduate from college, get a job, get married, buy a house, start a family, get a promotion and so on. These are all incredible life achievements, but often leave us feeling unsuccessful during the spaces in between.
Over the course of the next few articles, we are going to unpack how to identify and set strategic personal goals by reflecting on our interests and where we want to dedicate our brain space. We will develop action plans for working this goal into our daily lives, along with ways to consciously check in on our progress and tinker with our plan when needed. This process will leave us with a plan to feel achievement daily and the resources to replicate it.
Today’s article will focus on the first piece mentioned above – taking a step back and looking at who we are in a holistic way and the things we want to start (or spend more time) doing. This is the most important step in goal setting, because without having a map, we cannot plot a path to get to where we want to be. Also, if you do not take the time to thoroughly choose a goal you are invested in and excited to work towards, you risk devising one you are not truly committed to, making it easier to abandon part-way through.
To begin, we are going to complete an exercise – take a blank piece of paper and at the top write “I am a(n)”. Take a few minutes and write whatever comes to mind to complete the sentence. Some reflective questions to think about:
- What are your hobbies and interests? (for example, photographer, runner, guitarist, reader, advocate)
- What is your relationship to other people (such as brother, mother, granddaughter)
- What skills do you bring to your work? (ex: detail-oriented, customer service-focused)
- What have you enjoyed learning? (for example, speaking French, woodworking, philosophy)
- What are your personality traits? (such as creative, extroverted, contemplative)
Once you have compiled your list, think about what else you want to be, but have not yet taken steps toward and add these. Are there any interests, relationships, parts of your work, intellectual pursuits, or traits you have been meaning to start doing or do more of? These can be concrete, like wanting to become a rock climber, to more abstract, such as wanting to be more patient during conflicts. Don’t shy away from being ambitious or tackling things that might involve significant life changes. The first time I did this exercise, I forced myself to put down being an Appalachian Trail hiker. I have a full-time job which would not allow me to take that much time off and as such, I have yet to create a goal around this hike. However, every time I look back at my list, I think about it, contemplate what may have changed since I last made a goal and if now is the time it could be possible.
Don’t shy away from being ambitious or tackling things that might involve significant life changes. The first time I did this exercise, I forced myself to put down being an Appalachian Trail hiker. I have a full-time job which would not allow me to take that much time off and as such, I have yet to create a goal around this hike. However, every time I look back at my list, I think about it, contemplate what may have changed since I last made a goal and if now is the time it could be possible. One day, it will be the right time.
Take a moment to look over your list. It’s likely that two things will stand out to you. First, you are a wonderfully complex and multidimensional being. Second, your list may have little to no connection to society’s (and often our own) goals for us. The items on our list that society is less likely to support remind us that we are unique. We are more than the handful of identifiers we typically align with. Our lists help us satisfy our desires to learn, grow, and achieve.
Identifying a Goal Area
Pick one goal. In future articles, I will address how exactly to set this goal, implement an action plan and reflect on your progress. However, for now, look at your list and fill in the blank for this statement: “I would feel incredibly accomplished, if over the next 4-12 weeks I __________.” Do not worry how you word this; in our next article I will dive into setting a targeted and specific goal.
Be sure to keep your “I am” list. Revisit it later and reflect on how the process is progressing for you. Although some of it may change or you may add new items, the list keeps you accountable for your aspirations and you can return to it to identify a new goal at any time.
I look forward to continuing this process with you in our next installment, where we dive into personal goal setting and successful action planning for our busy lives.
About the Author: Laura Robitzek works at a public charter school network, helping school leaders and teachers leverage data in their classrooms - not the overwhelming kind of data, but the “exactly what I need to help kids learn” kind. Combining her BA in economics and an MPA in Public Policy, she loves writing content, whether it is numbers-focused or focused on actionable ideas. In addition writing this series for Idealist Careers, she coaches and plays in a competitive women’s softball league and tries to spend every free moment near the ocean.