As we turn the page into 2017, I have to share that I really believe in the power of goal setting and making plans. Your mind is a powerful tool, your most powerful perhaps, and if you’re not using it for your own benefit, then you’re selling yourself short! It doesn’t have to be fancy, it definitely doesn’t have to be shared on Facebook. But I would highly suggest taking some time to yourself with a pen, and some paper, and WRITING DOWN some thoughts. Reflect on how 2016 was for you. If it was terrible, write it down, recognize it, and then let it go. If it was wonderful, write it down and have a permanent reminder of wonderful memories. There’s something very powerful about writing the old fashioned way, on real paper. I’ve been following that advice for many years and I think it works! Plus, there’s really no down side, is there?
Then start a new page for 2017. It’s a blank slate. What do you want this next year to look like for you? What would you like to achieve? What would you like to change about your current situation? What experiences would you like to have? What new relationships would you like to bring into your life? How meaningful would it be to feel vibrant, healthy, and energetic? How great would it be to belly laugh at least once every day? Write down all of those things, no matter how big or small.
From that list, pull out your two or three most important thoughts, and rewrite them into goals. In order to be effective, goals need to be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound, as described by George T. Doran in Management by Objectives.
Let’s look at an example:
“I want to eat healthier” is a great thought. It’s not a goal.
“Eat a salad every day for the entire month of January” is a goal. You know exactly what you’re intending to do, it’s realistic and attainable, and at the end of the time frame you selected, you will be able to measure your success – either you ate one salad every day or you didn’t. Maybe you ate a salad 25/31 days, which is also great feedback.
“Run the Boston Marathon” may be a great goal if you’re poised to do this. It’s specific, measurable, and timely. But if you’re not already a runner, maybe it’s not attainable or realistic. This year. Maybe “Run a 5K in March” would be a better goal for you. They’re your goals, you have to decide what’s realistic for you.
See how this works? Ok, so develop those two or three most important thoughts and rewrite them into actual goals that meet the SMART criteria. Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. Now write down three things you can do THIS WEEK to start working toward those goals. If it’s salad eating as in the example, maybe you write down that you can:
1) shop for ingredients
2) stock your fridge with some of your favorite dressings
3) think about whether it’s easier to plan on a salad with breakfast, lunch, or dinner. What will help you be most successful?
This is a really important step. In order to take action on something, we need to feel like we have a chance at accomplishing it. Piece the goal down into really easy steps you can do right away. And then do them. Checking items off of your to-do list feels really good and makes you more likely to continue. If you have a huge looming goal like publishing a book, it might be really hard to start writing it. But I guarantee you can come up with 3 things you can do immediately to start getting that book published. Eating a salad is easy, but you’re not going to sustain the daily goal if you don’t have any lettuce in the house. You must set yourself up to succeed, and so you must plan in advance to figure out precisely what you need to make that happen.
Ok, so you’ve got 2 or 3 goals, and 3 steps for each one that you can take this week to start working toward those goals. This isn’t so hard, is it? Good, let’s get to work!
Remember how I mentioned the powerful tool of your mind. Well, I meant it. That noodle on the top of your neck does a lot more than just hold your hair. It’s capable of steering your entire life experience! May I suggest something really wild and crazy here? Ok thanks. So, I’ve heard about meditation from many many sources over many years. I tried it a while back, decided I wasn’t very good at it, and I gave it up before I even got started. Big mistake. I have since been reintroduced to the concept of meditation and I’d like to share my enthusiasm with you. I have been practicing a daily meditation for several weeks now and I am blown away at how much I enjoy it. I urge you to try it and see how you can make it work for you.
But the reality is that it looks different for me every day. Sometimes it’s a guided meditation track I listen to before I even get out of bed. Sometimes it’s a quiet yoga meditation track I do while laying in bed. Sometimes I sit in a chair or on a cushion on the floor and remain upright. Sometimes it’s 1 minute in my car (parked, of course!) when I get home and before I enter the house full of tasks awaiting my attention. If I haven’t been able to do any of these in a day, or sometimes as an extra treat, I do a guided meditation as I’m falling asleep. And it can feel different every day too. In the very beginning, you may feel like you’re bad at meditating because you just can’t sit still and you keep thinking about all sorts of things. NORMAL! This is precisely why we meditate!
For me, finding guided meditations was a huge breakthrough. I loved the simple teachings on Headspace that teach beginners how to meditate. Their explanation of how thoughts come and go was really helpful for me and they have a free trial that is super beneficial. I have since moved over to Insight Timer, another phone app that is full of thousands of guided meditations. You can select a topic you want like mindfulness, parenting, recovery, healing, or plain old relaxation. And if you prefer just quiet peaceful music over the talking, you can do that too. Just use the app to set a timer, pick your soundtrack, and sail away. Like yoga, meditation is considered a practice. Even if you’ve been doing it for decades, it’s still considered practice! So just start where you are, and you’ll feel better about it!
I invite you to join me in a daily meditation challenge for 30 days. It will take several times before you begin to feel comfortable doing it, so plan to give it a solid try if you’re going to try at all. If you don’t enjoy it after that or feel like you have gained ANY benefit whatsoever, then move on. Again, if you have some thoughts about things you would like to accomplish in 2017, take a moment to get serious about it, follow the goal setting exercise I’ve outlined above, and just try the meditation piece as you start taking action with your steps, one step at a time. It won’t hurt a bit, and I think you just might be surprised to find you like it. When you get a chance to experience the calming effect that comes from regular meditation (Even if it’s only 5 minutes at a time at first), you won’t want to give that up! It can absolutely help you to move toward your goals, whatever they are.