Setting Goals and Following Through

Fall has just landed upon us. This is my favourite time of year. The air gets a chill, especially in the mornings and evenings, and leaves are changing into brilliant shades of yellows, oranges, and reds. And there is an abundance of holidays including, in our family, several birthdays, two Thanksgivings (I was born in the U.S., but live in Canada), Halloween, Hannukkah and Christmas (not only a duel national family, but also multi-faith) and to cap it off New Years. When we’ve celebrated all of the holiday and the reality of winter is upon us, many people take this time to set goals. It’s really kind of an arbitrary time to do it. Why not on your birthday own birthday or any other day of the year?

Regardless of when they set goals, the reality is that rarely do people follow through. One of the biggest issues is that we don’t focus on what we need to do to follow through. We set a bunch of random goals that we want to accomplish in the next year and then get frustrated because we don’t achieve them. The problem is that when people set them they often don’t take the next step in figuring out how to achieve them.

The following is what I’ve done and continue to do:

A couple of years ago a sudden illness knocked me out of commission for about three weeks. It gave me the opportunity and perspective on life to think about what really matters to me. From this I came up with a list of the important areas of my life:

  • Take Care of Myself – if I’m not physically and mentally healthy I can’t accomplish any of my goals
  • Love – this is about taking care of my relationship with my significant other, that person I want to share the good and the bad with for the rest of my life
  • Parent – I believe in not just telling my daughter I’m here for her, but showing her that I am
  • Family and Friends – there is strong evidence that people who have active social lives are healthier and happier
  • Be a Leader for Change in Education – I want to work with others in making education more accessible, more enjoyable, and better at preparing students to solve the problems society is facing
  • Make the World A Better Place – this is about contributing to my community, both locally and globally.
  • Financial – I try to find the balance between being able to afford to do what I want in life and providing for our daughter without having to work so much that I don’t have time to enjoy everything else in life

Scrabble pieces spelling out GOAL

While I have some long-term goals in each of these, most of my planning happens at a more short-term level. Every month I make at least one goal in each of these areas, keeping in mind any longer term goals I may have. Every week, I look at those monthly goals and set weekly goals for each area that will be a step toward those monthly goals. It’s easy to let six months go by without moving on a goal when we only set yearly goals.

If you set yearly goals, immediately set goals for the first month. Try to have at least one goal for each area that will help you move toward your yearly goal. These goals should move you forward, but not be exactly the same as your yearly goals. Once you’ve done that, immediately set your goals for the first week. Try to have at least one goal for each area that will be a step toward your monthly goal. This is going to help you to take action toward your yearly goals every single day, even if that’s just going for a walk or signing up for a gym membership toward that yearly goal of wanting to be fit and have lots of energy.

Start with those big yearly goals (you can even start bigger with maybe a 5-year plan), and then work your way toward the details so that you can take those concrete actions toward the big goals. If you already have yearly goals, start today with making monthly goals (you don’t have to wait for the start of a new month or new year to make goals).

Taking this approach, including establishing the important areas of my life and setting goals for shorter timeframes has helped me to make great strides toward what I want in life, lowered my stress levels, and made me feel like I have some actual balance in my life.

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Photograph by Nick Youngson. Used under a CC-BY-SA license.

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