At one point or another, all of us have felt how good it is to be content with ourselves – if you achieve a goal, reach out to someone, or overcome your fears. If you want more of these moments in your life, you should continue reading.

Often, we don’t experience self-satisfaction. This might happen because of several reasons – from not noticing and trivializing, to deep-rooted unsupportive beliefs. However, consciously experiencing small improvements is essential for greater development to happen. According to A. Maslow, the need for self-fulfillment is at the peak of human needs – we strive to be who we are created to be. Unfortunately, the journey there is often winding, sometimes it even becomes a circular movement on a trodden path. Along with it comes a feeling, that there is no more sparkle in life.

In order to reach something, you need to know the end goal. To get there as quickly as possible, it is effective to word milestones and think through an action plan. Most people are enthusiastic about this at the turn of the year (which is also an excellent time for it). Unfortunately, as the initial momentum tends to fade, disappointment arrives quite soon, and after a few months it will be difficult to remember exactly what goals were set. How can we help ourselves?

Dare to dream

New Year’s Eve is a great time to play and dream. Adults often don’t allow it for themselves or have forgotten the ability altogether – you must be realistic and, like a serious Estonian, keep your feet down. One of the last thoughts I heard from Vishen Lakhian “Realism is Socially Accepted Pessimism” made me think. We don’t dare to dream, and we find very valid reasons for it. If dreaming didn’t lead on, several discoveries in history wouldn’t have been made – probably we would still be sending telegrams from city to city and moving around in a horse-drawn carriage.

A great tool for making your dreams real is visualization, for example making a collage. Creating a picture of your goals will program your brain with what is important to you. Do it the old way with paper and glue or with electronic aids (e.g. When you make the image visible in your daily space (or, for example, as a computer wallpaper), every glimpse you take reminds us of what is important and unconsciously directs our efforts.

Long-term comprehensive picture

There are no rules for dreaming. However, it is helpful to think about all the important areas of your life. While striving for balance is good, it is also healthy to be aware of and accept imbalances – at different points in time, different areas of our lives gain more attention, which means that complete balance at any given time is impossible. Here is a list of areas that your dream image might contain:

  • Health and fitness – sleep, nutrition, exercise, drinking water
  • Emotional fitness – how to stay in the mood you want and be friends with your feelings
  • Intellectual fitness – memory, knowledge, horizons, mental sharpness and dealing with setbacks
  • Spiritual meaningfulness – a broader vision for life, what legacy I want to leave behind
  • Character – my values, what kind of person I want to be
  • Relationship – what I value and what kind of partner I want to be
  • Being a parent – what kind of parent I want to be and what to pass on to my children
  • Social life and friendships – what kind of relationship feeds me and what / how much do I offer
  • Financial ability – what quality of life do I want, my standards
  • Work and career – What goals and activities inspire me, where do I want to contribute

Short-term focus

When you focus on ten areas in parallel, no real progress will be made in any of them. Once the bigger picture is in place, you need to select one main theme and the two themes that support it. It is helpful here to ask yourself, “What is one area that would support my aspirations in all other areas as well?” This is one of your most important topics for next year. Select 2 other areas where you want to see changes and which, together with the main topic, support your overall development the most. My choice for next year is health and fitness, which must be in good order for me to have the strength and capacity to do anything else. In addition, I will focus on adjusting my thought patterns and broadening my horizons in my professional field (intellectual fitness), and I set myself goals in the form of character traits, that I want to improve within myself (character).

It is important to formulate why your goals are important to you for them to really motivate you. Ask yourself “Why?” at least 5 times in a row to find reasons that really touch and inspire you. Behind my choices is an aspiration, well described by Maya Angelou in her words, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Formulate goals, metrics, and actions

What do you want to achieve in each area?

Set goals. As we tend to overestimate our abilities over a 1-year perspective and underestimate our capabilities over 3 years, it is worth setting both 1-year and 3-year goals.

E1: developing healthy eating habits. 1 year to find out what works for me and what doesn’t; by the end of 3 years, new eating habits have evolved and I apply them without much effort
E2: hold effective and interesting meetings. By the end of 1 year, I have consciously experimented and found a way I like. By the end of 3 years, I will do it without much effort and I have been able to bring others along.

What needs to happen to say that the efforts have been successful and progress has been made?

Formulate indicators. It’s a good idea to figure it out here because you need a lot of sense of achievement in your journey. Indicators must help you experience them.

E1: Indicator 1: Feeling good after a meal – eating enough and feeling light in the stomach. Metric 2: Weight remains within the desired range.

E2: Indicator 1: Meetings are no longer than 1h. Indicator 2: A specific decision/agreement is reached at the end of the meeting. Indicator 3: The atmosphere is active and positive, the energy level stays high.

What specific activities help you move forward in your chosen areas?

Set up an action plan / formulate new habits.

E1: I use smaller plates when eating. The last bite goes into the mouth at least 3 hours before bedtime. I start each day with a glass of lemon water. I avoid using wheat flour in my menu. Etc. 

E2: For each meeting I summon, I will formulate in writing what the purpose of that meeting is. Along with the meeting invitation, I send out program items and materials that need to be familiarized. I’ll start the meeting with a presence exercise. I include every attendee. I will see that the decision/agreement is written down at the end of the meeting.

Indicators and activities may be changed/improved during regular self-analysis.

Regardless of whether you are a “lark” or “owl” type of a person, implementing new habits is worth planning for the first half of the day (N: for years, I couldn’t go outside for a walk in the evening – today I go outside and jog directly after waking up, early in the morning; ). The reason is simple – we have to make many decisions during the day (from what to put on and eat in the morning to important work decisions), and at the same time, we have limited energy of our will in one day. As a rule, we spend it during the day and in the evenings, we can’t limit how much we eat or go to bed on time. In the evening, it is much more difficult to implement new habits that require self-discipline. Therefore, it is crucial to think carefully about the changes we can make to the environment to support ourselves (E: there are just no tempting bites at home).

Consistency and regularity

All leaders know that setting a goal and agreeing on an action plan is only half the battle. The other half comes from steady movement on your chosen path and from consistently keeping your finger on the pulse. The same goes for self-development. And most often, this stage becomes the stumbling block – it is hard to notice the change and enthusiasm fades. That is why it is important to be very selective in setting goals and to focus narrowly. Another powerful tool to help yourself is to set a specific time to analyze progress and plan the future. This could be, for example, every morning or evening before bedtime, at the end of the last working day of the week, on the first working day of the new month, etc. – book an appropriate time in your calendar.

Once a day (3 min):
  • What did I do well today (there is always something)? Noticing and articulating little progress is a source of motivation
  • What did I learn today?
Once a week (5 min):
  • What went well this week? What do I recognize myself for?
  • What will I do better / different next week?
Monthly (10 min):
  • Have I managed to stick to my agenda? What promotes/prevents this?
  • What do you need to adjust to make moving forward easier / more efficient?
  • Who can I get substantive feedback for myself? What do I do for that?
Quarterly (20 min):
  • How does my action plan support moving towards my goals? Why is this important to me?
  • What excuses have emerged? Are they justified?
  • What adjustments should be made and why?
  • What else can I do to become the best version of myself?
Once a year (1 h):
  • What kind of person do I want to become?
  • What values do I want to bring more into my life?
  • Do I live my life the way I really want? If not, what do I want to change?
  • What inspires me? What do I do to lose my sense of time? What activities do I look forward to?
  • What do I need to develop in myself to become the person/get to where I want?

Both life experience and research tell us that setting goals increases the likelihood of success. From personal experience, I can say that when I have jotted down what needs to be done in the calendar or on a post- it, it will be done quite soon. Listing progress and study points will make your thoughts clearer and more specific. So, the third thing you can do to support your development is to do it in writing! It is difficult to summarize even the previous month’s if there are no notes – memory is not worth relying on.

Also, think about what helps you to stay on the path you choose. Changes in physical environment, calendar reservations, keeping your notebook in a visible and convenient place, etc. Since we are social beings, it is worthwhile to include someone else in your plans (partner, friend, colleague) who will regularly and kindly ask and follow up on how you are doing. Promises made to ourselves are much easier for us to twist, than to justify what we haven’t done to others. In addition, staying in the company of people who have already done what you aspire to do will help. They are inspiring role models and living proof that a goal can be achieved.

Big dreams will come true if we do not get too caught up in them and first and foremost focus on today. The ability to be present at any given time, focus on one topic at a time, and notice even the smallest progress is something you should strive for daily. A positive state of mind gives us the power to move mountains. Meditation or imagination exercises, gratitude and awareness are the tools every person needs to create their dream life.

I wish you creative ideas and consistency to keep moving on your chosen path!

Categories: setting goals