The start of a new year is always exciting, well to me at least, I don’t know about you. New goals and all that! And setting goals for the year is amazing, I love it. I love it so much in fact I do it every 3 months…yup, I don’t wait for year end because anytime is tea time! But first there’s a little exercise I like to do first.
It’s easy to jump to the resolutions and goals part, without ever reflecting on the previous year. Did you reflect? Did you look back and take stock of the last year or you just dove into setting some shiny new goals and resolutions? It’s kinda hard to do anything differently or better, or to continue something, if you haven’t actually identified what it is. I find asking myself these 10 questions has helped me set and achieve my goals year after year, and they could help you too.
1. What did I achieve last year?
This seems so obvious (and maybe even dumb) but it’s surprising how easy it is to skip it and go straight to the failures. It’s important to ask yourself this question and to actually answer it. It’s also the first question for a reason. What did you achieve last year? List that stuff down. Whether it was intentional, by accident or pure stroke of luck, it matters… write that shit down.
What are you most proud of that you did last year. It can be one big thing, or many littler things. And it’s not restricted to material things! Maybe you worked on being a better child, parent, spouse, boss, student, employee (etc. you get the gist), and you actually improved. There are lots and lots of things that you could be proud of that you might have done. Think of them, list them down.
Now keep them in mind. This little exercise probably shows you that you’re being too hard on yourself, and you should give yourself a little credit for what you’ve done so far. It also shows that you win some and you lose some. You mightn’t have gotten everything you wanted, but you had victories. Celebrate them. If you have absolutely nothing you can say you achieved, don’t worry, we’ll fix that, but maybe skip straight to number 5.
2. What/who helped me achieve these goal, or get to that place?
This is sooooo important. I really can’t emphasize how much! Okay, so you’re proud of yourself, awesome, but what or who helped you get there? This is pretty straight forward. If it was a person, or people, send them a thank you message, telling them what you’re thanking them for. It feels awesome to know you helped someone, so make them feel awesome by just telling them the truth. A little appreciation goes a long way.
Figuring out who helped you, can also show you who actively tried to hinder you. Maybe it wasn’t deliberate, maybe they didn’t know, but they still got in your way. If it was intentional, just avoid these people or person. I’m talking about having minimal contact. If it’s your spouse, partner or parent, then you need to have a very serious conversation, avoidance won’t help. Thank me later. Of course, be diplomatic and tactful, you don’t want to burn bridges.
The what part is also pretty important, because you identify enabling circumstances, environments and behaviour. Sometimes things work out better because you’re in the right environment, not entirely because you’re a genius. Sometimes you made it work despite the circumstances. You need to acknowledge these things. It’ll help you figure stuff out, and adjust plans, whenever things go wrong. Which brings us to question number 3…
3. How did I achieve it?
Okay, this seems quite similar to number two I know, but still…it deserves its own little subheading in bold, if only for the effect. Or the emphasis. Anyways, how did you achieve these things you’re so proud of? Was it because of good habits you developed, or have always had? Was it largely influenced by good timing? Did someone else do the majority for you, or half of it (see, number two again). Was it because of something you actively didn’t do?
Whatever it was, figure out how to keep doing it for future purposes. Or what enabled that behaviour from you. If it was mostly due to external factors, then you might want to figure out if you can keep those external factors constant. If they’re out of your control, just take note of which factors work in your favour the most.
Okay, next question.
4. What did I love most about the year?
This is just a gratitude, feel good exercise really…but a serious one. Being grateful helps us feel happier, and you want to start the year on a positive note. So, what did you love most about the previous year? Please note, this is not goal related! It’s just appreciating certain events, emotions and people from the previous year.
There has to be something you loved about last year, even one thing. If it’s something you have control over and can keep repeating into the new year, then perfect! Do that. Remember when we said this is a feel good exercise? Well you’re going to need those positive vibes for the next part.
5. What do I wish I could have done differently?
We all know when we mess up. We might not be willing to admit out loud that we’ve messed up, but we know. (If you can’t even admit it to yourself in the privacy of your own thoughts, then you may have a serious problem you need to address.) So review the past year, and figure out what went wrong, and what part you played. You can’t do anything differently if you’re not willing to own up and take responsibility.
If you know what you could have done differently, then you know where the problem lies. Then follow through and do it differently this year. It’s not rocket science; it’s just being honest with yourself. If you’re not sure about your ability to be blunt with yourself, then ask someone close to you to tell you (just don’t be angry after).
What you could have done differently probably contributed to answers from the next question.
6. Which goals did I fail at?
This part sucks, but it’s necessary. What did you fail at? If you’re in the habit of writing your goals down like I am, then simply pull out that list and take a look at last year’s resolutions and goals. Sometimes you have a something you want to change or do so badly it’s at the forefront of your mind, you don’t need to look at a list to know what it is. List these failures down. Now for the next part…
7. Why did I fail?
If you’re going to point the finger at someone else for everything, then stop reading this post and just close the page. We have nothing to talk about. Blaming everyone and everything else for your problems is partly why things keep going sideways for you. Granted, you can’t control everything about your circumstances, but you can always, always control your response to it.
Now, why did you fail? Own up where you messed up, then identify things that were beyond your control. If, for example, you got retrenched because the company was closing down or downsizing, then you’re not largely to blame. What you could be blamed for though, is not keeping your eyes open for sighs of change, and not preparing or trying to be ready for that change.
Hint: Read “Who moved my cheese” by Dr Spence Johnson
Now you know why you failed, you’re ready to answer this:
8. What do I need to change to do things differently?
Remember the question, “What do you wish you could have done differently?” Well the answers to that question are the keys for this one. What you could have done differently, what you failed, and why you failed are most likely related. Which begs for this question. Some of the reasons you failed at what you set out to do are internal, i.e. it’s largely your fault. Is it a behaviour, habit, attitude, character trait, personality trait, a belief, mind-set?
What was it?
Getting to the root means you know what needs to change, if you can change it. Some things are hard to change, like personality. If that’s the case, then you change the environment that brings out that personality trait. Learn your triggers, and either learn to control your response to them, or avoid them as much as possible. Knowing what triggers undesirable traits or behaviour means you know what gets in the way of achieving your goals.
Other reasons that contributed to your failure could be external, like sudden policy changes by a failing government. Or the collapse/wobbling of the economy. Or the death of a loved one. There are so many situational factors that come into play which you probably had little control over. Accept that some things are out of your control and that life can suck sometimes (or a lot) but you still need to keep going.
This is a really tricky part. Change what you can, as much of it as possible, then work with or around what you can’t. But please don’t hide behind external factors, that leads to the blame game. You can’t win with that route.
9. How realistic where my goals?
Set realistic goals. Okay, I hate that statement because sometimes it’s thrown around at totally unnecessary times. Oftentimes it’s just used to discourage you from going after your wildest dreams. Nevertheless, there’s a kernel of truth in that statement. Sometimes we set ourselves up for failure and disapointment by setting up implausible goals…in other words they’re pretty unrealistic.
Maybe you could achieve that goal, just not in the timeframe you’re giving yourself. We set ourselves up for disappointment by setting goals that are incredibly hard to achieve in that time frame. I could say I wanted to make a million dollars (USD) from my blog by the end of last year. What were the odds? My blog isn’t even monetized! And I don’t have all the right structures in place. Also my posting was erratic. Anyways, I think you get my point.
Before you beat yourself up about failing at something, ask yourself how realistic the goal was. Sometimes you have the capability but there are things you’re understandably not willing to sacrifice to achieve that goal, so technically, it’s not a realistic goal. Pursue your dreams taking into account what’s on the ground, and what you need, and you’re willing to do to see that dream happen.
10. What advice would I tell 2018 version of you?
With that review of your past year, what advice would you give the slightly younger version of you? Sit him or her down and take them through the past year, advising her/him with the power of hindsight. Take this same message and internalize it for 2019 you. The same wisdom you were dishing out a moment ago applies to you now. They say experience is the best teacher, well now you have it.
Take this little list and save it if you must, or even print it (just include the credits). Share it with as many people as you can and help them review their past year too.
Happy New Year!