We are now over three weeks into the new year. Residues of fireworks have been cleaned up, people have gone back to work and life started up again. With new plans and committments! Most people make New Year’s resolutions or grandiose plans, and statistics say that many of those do not make it past January. So by now, some of you might have let go of what you wanted to achieve.
How about you? Are you still going strong or have you given up already? Both are ok! Why? Well, you might have learned something from making a committment and whether you did or did not stick to it. In case you gave it up, it made space for something else that you will make happen.
If you have committed to a goal, it is useful to investigate not what you wanted to achieve, but why. In my opinion, this is what makes a difference. Did you make a resolution because everyone else on the New Year’s Eve party or all your colleagues did it? Is it something that you ‘should do’ (like lifestyle-related goals, such as eating healthier and stressing less) or because the time is truly ripe for it?
Besides the why, look closely at how you got started. Did you expect yourself to make a big jump from how you usually live your life? Did it require only your committment or did it depend on other people too? Did you already have the right circumstances or you first needed to create those?
Goals coming from deep within
My experience is that I reach my goals easiest when they come from deep within. So when ‘why’ I am doing something comes from an inner drive. When I am convinced that change is needed, such as when I switched to plant-based eating, I am more positive and pour more of my resources into achieving it.
When life imposes certain things on you that you must do, such as recovering from an illness or changing your job because of a reorganisation, you can still set goals and achieve them successfully. Some of the things that life throws at you might even be a blessing in disguise, that leads you to find out what you really want. However, you are much more likely to work with all your power on a goal that is self-imposed and self-motivated, rather than on a goal forced upon you by circumstances or other people.
So how do you find what is really coming from the deep? How do you know your answer to the Spice Girl-question: ‘Tell me what you want, what you really, really want?’
Look back to look forward
It helps me to first look back in order to look forward.
I regularly contemplate how I am doing and whether I should adjust my plans. These things happen partly intuitively in my mind and partly by writing them down. The most helpful tool for me is to look back to the last year or years and see which path I walked and what I have achieved. Which new ideas, people, initiatives I met on my journey and what I incorporated. Taking a helicopter view of a longer period helps me to see the common threads, my ‘life story’ of that time. I get to know a part of myself through this story and see where my talents and possibilities lie.
Taking a step back helps me to see all the little wins that have been made. I tend to be unpatient and wherever I go, I want to get there fast. Looking at the road travelled, I realize that some things take years to materialize. This makes me humble and persistent. It leads me to focus on the important habit of planting a seed every day instead of wanting to pick the fruits immediately. This way eventually my dreams are coming true (or are being replaced by dreams that I find along the way).
By looking back, I see where my motivation and my goals are really coming from. Do they build on my earlier experiences? Have I already tried to do this? If yes, what have I learned from it?
This retrospection helps me answer the important questions about ‘why’ am I setting certain goals and ‘how’ I make it happen. This makes my future plans more grounded: grounded in my story, my learnings and my drivers, and leaving all possiblities open for new ideas.
Create your own path
You can also use this way of thinking and see how it helps you to figure out the next steps on your journey.
You can use the drawing that I shared here as an example and make your own map of the past (few) year(s). You can look back even as far as a decade (2020 starts a new one, so a great reason to take a look far back in history…). Draw the lines as you wish, horizontal or up and down and write next to each month or year the events that you find important. Collect all the things that brought pleasure, the goals that you have set for yourself and the opportunities that came your way. Look at where the roadblocks were, when and how you needed help from others and which situations made you grow. Look at your ‘why’ and ‘how’.
What stands out? Are there red threads, things that motivate you or typical pitfalls? I trust that you will have a few aha-moments and revelations; I certainly had a couple, just by looking at last year. Summarize these findings for yourself. Then look at the goals you have at the moment and think through which ones you want to carry onto this next year and beyond (you can see the dotted line in my drawing).
For your yearly plan you can make an entirely new sheet and work out which goals you take with you, what you will adjust and where is room and motivation to start something entirely new. How can you begin? Look at a few easy things that you can start doing – remember my comment earlier about planting a seed. You can make a longer term drawing of a new path for the coming year(s) and keep track of your progress there. It is useful to agree with yourself how often you will come back and check your progress. Reflecting on which things you want to go forward with, what is worth your time and energy will reenergize you and carry you on to make your dreams come true.
I wish you success on drawing up your path and setting your goals for 2020 and beyond! Let me know how it goes.