In January many people create new goals for their work and life, most of which focus on achieving a metric, e.g. starting or stopping, completing or letting go, or making progress in a specific direction. They are about DOING (Or NOT Doing) Something.
There is a place for DOING goals. Life is filled with projects that need to be done once or for a finite time, from taking a course or learning a new skill to growing a company. They are all about progress. Good Doing goals have a target, metrics, and a timeline.
BEING goals are different. They are declarations of how you want to exist in the world or the mood or mindset you want to hold…for your whole life.
If Forever seems like a long time, consider the commitment you made to brush your teeth or to shower regularly. Neither of these feels burdensome because they have become habits, and you recognize each time you do them that they support your living a good life.
If you can make dental care a lifetime goal, what about finding space for kindness or courage or happiness?
To Begin, a Three-part Primer on Writing More Powerful Goals
Primer Part 1: The Six Ps of Powerful Goals
- Write it as an I statement. Own it.
- What do you want versus what do you not want?
- Declare it in the present tense, as though it is true now. (see Language, next section)
- When you can declare a goal as an ongoing behavior versus episodic, you will achieve it more quickly because you will do it more often.
- Design goals you can in some way practice/think/behave every day, for in repetition you create new neural pathways in your brain.
- Declare your goals aloud to someone and ask for support. If your goal is to share three positive piece of the feedback every day, for example, you might ask a coworker or your coach to check in daily and simply ask “how did you do?”
Primer Part 2: Language Matters
These Words diminish the power of a goal statement. Avoid them.
- Will: always gives you permission to put it off till tomorrow. I will, someday, maybe…
- Should: implies there is a standard that you—or someone else—holds for you. “Should” signals a goal that is imposed, which you can then ignore because it’s not really yours.
- Try: Decide if your goal is effort or success. “I dressed to go to the gym but it rained, so I skipped it.” If “try” is your goal, you nailed it! “Try not; do you must” Yoda reminds us.
- Want to/Need to: implicit in any goal statement, yet if every time you speak your goal you precede it with “I want to/I need to” it will always be an aspiration. If wishes were fishes we’d never go hungry, but intention is very different from action.
- Not/Stop: The way our brain processes language, verb modifiers show up last. So if you say, “I will NOT X.” you’ll still be thinking X. Instead, express the goal as what you seek versus what you are going away from, e.g. if you stopping procrastinating or eating sweets what is the behavior instead?
Compare: Notice how simple tweaks to language change the meaning of each statement.
- I want to save 5% of every check for retirement (this is a wish)
- I will save 5% of every check (an intention; you can push it till tomorrow and have it still be true)
- I try to save 5% of every check (an assessment of effort. Go you, you tried!)
- I should save for retirement (An expression of guilt)
- I save 5% of every check; I pay myself first (a declaration of Being)
Primer Part 3: Create Clear Definitions
Be clear about your terms. For example, if you say you want to be a better person, what does “better person” mean to you? In what ways might you think or behave differently when you are better? Perhaps, for you, it means paying more attention to others’ needs before your own. Instead of “I will be a better person,” what about “I am thoughtful and considerate,” or “I ask others what they need.” Notice how the present tense positive version of this goal is clearer and more urgent.
Back to Being more Kind, Confident, or Happy
Apply those three filters to your goals, and you create powerful declarations that feel more compelling. If they are not true yet, your systems—head, heart, body—strive to shift until your thinking, emotions, and actions align.
The following samples come from work I’ve done with clients over the past few years, both in coaching and in workshops. See what inspires you, then proceed to the Do This section for tips on making them real for you.
- I surround myself with positive people; I honor my boundaries when around toxic people.
- I seek other points of view so I am not living in a bubble.
- I make good, balanced choices about what I put into my body.
- I move my body for at least 30 minutes, every day.
- I accept responsibility for my own actions.
- I treat other people with kindness.
- I am a kind person
- I am confident; I believe in my abilities and myself.
- I am polite and respectful.
- I love myself. I am comfortable in my own skin.
- While I honor my ambitions, I accept myself as I am right now.
- I have positive conversations in my head. I accept that critical self-talk is just myself wanting me to be better; I balance that with reminders that I am wise and courageous.
- I smile often.
- I hold strong boundaries. I know what to say yes to, and am able to say no to people and commitments that drain me
- I spend my money responsibly; I only use credit as a convenience and buy something only when I can afford to pay it off at the next bill.
- I am courageous. I am strong and bold and step bravely into the world.
- I am a loving person. I accept and love others for who and where they are.
- I look for what is right and good, first.
- I assume positive intent regardless how others behave towards me.
- I am calm. I know how to breathe myself back to calm when I feel knocked off balance.
- I never “like,” share, or otherwise endorse words or images in social media that disrespect others.
- When I face a fork in the road, I choose the more positive or happier path.
- I am optimistic; I expect good things to happen in my life and I believe in my own resilience to bounce back when bad things happen.
Do this for yourself
You probably have a full plate already; you don’t need lots of new goals. Honor that in yourself and follow a simple process:
- Name it. Create just one new declaration that resonates for you and how you want to show up in the world in 2017 and beyond.
- Start small. Consider one tiny thing you can practice to build a new pattern in your thinking, feeling, or behavior. That one thing may be as simple as reciting a new belief, initiating conversations in a new way, or changing how you sit, stand, walk, talk, or take a breath. It’s all about you and how you choose to Be.
- Do it daily. The key is that you live in that declaration, and read it/write it/say it/do it every day, intentionally creating new neural pathways and habitual responses to the world.
- Persist and be patient. Remember it takes 100 repetitions of a new pattern for it to not feel “weird,” 1,000** repetitions to make it an unconscious habit, and 10,000 repetitions to achieve mastery.
Happy new year, and May this be your best year so far.
**(If that sounds like a lot, consider that you have between 12K and 70K thoughts per day, so if you shift just 1/10 of 1% of those—less than once an hour—you’ll hit that 1,000 in less than three months. Worth it?)
Photo credit: Steph Vora, UK