A New Approach To Goal Setting

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This essay first appeared in my newsletter, The Weekly Pep Talk. If you’d like to subscribe for a big old dose of positivity in your inbox every Sunday, you can sign up here.

At the beginning of last week I took some time out for a bit of reflection. At this time of year I always like to look back on the past 12 months and start thinking about the new year ahead, and using the questions I shared in this post, I started journaling about the highs and lows of 2018, my favourite moments, and the times during this year when I haven’t quite felt my best.

What struck me was that the moments or achievements that had meant the most to me this year weren’t necessarily the things that looked most impressive, but the ones that felt really good to me at the time. And I realised that a lot of the time, the stuff we’re conditioned to strive towards isn’t necessarily the stuff that makes us feel good.

Think about it - during the next month or so, we’ll be hit with tonnes of advertising telling us that our goals for 2019 should be to lose weight, or earn more money, or travel to more places, or to take up running. We’re all conditioned to believe that we should be setting these  goals for ourselves, and we make lists and lists of the things we’d like to achieve in the year ahead, inspired by all of the big marketing campaigns. I know, because I’ve done it myself, year after year. I’ve bought the new fancy planners, I’ve written out my list of achievements and I’ve jumped head first into a plan to get them ticked off at some point during the next 12 months.

But how often do we stop to think about why we’re setting those goals for ourselves? If you’re anything like me, you probably make those lists on autopilot, so conditioned we are to approach January with a drastic “new year, new me” mindset. And it’s not our fault - those adverts are peddled by companies that have something to sell, and they have smart people working really, really hard to make sure you buy their diet plan, or their gym membership, or their holidays, or their fancy stationery.

We’re led to believe that once we’ve achieved everything on their list, we’ll suddenly feel happier. But what if we put our own happiness front and centre, before we even started setting any goals?

That’s exactly what I’ve been doing over the past few months - instead of setting myself arbitrary “doing goals” just because I feel like I should, I’ve been setting myself some “feeling goals” instead. The premise is simple - rather than deciding on a thing you’d like to do, you get a little bit deeper and think about how you’d like to feel. So, for example, instead of saying that you’d like to get a promotion in 2019, you might say that you’d like to feel more challenged and inspired by your work in 2019. Or instead of saying that you’d like to lose a stone, you might decide that you’d like to feel healthier and more at peace with your body.

It might not sound massively different, but the magic of setting these “feeling goals” is that you’re constantly checking in with what feels right for you, rather than just following along with the masses. Once you start letting your actions be guided by how you want to feel, you’ll find that everything else kind of falls into place - you might even stumble across opportunities or approaches that you’d have missed before. Plus, it really, really helps you to stay focussed on your own goals - when you’re living a life that feels great to you, you’re far less vulnerable to comparison.

So, before we reach the new year and become bombarded with advertising campaigns and other people’s resolutions on social media, why don’t you take some time to figure out what would feel really awesome to you in 2019? You might just find that it’s the secret to unlocking your best year yet.

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A new approach to goal setting