How I set goals with compassion | SHW #20
We’re past mid-December now (how did we already get here?!), and like almost everyone else in the world, I’ve been thinking about how I want to approach the new year.
I know setting goals and resolutions in the new year can be a bit of a contentious topic. Some get absolutely giddy over the idea of a clean slate, while some insist it’s a silly tradition that does us more harm than good.
I see some truth in both sides of the argument. While I am a sucker for planning and dreaming about my future, I’ve also fallen victim to using my goals against myself. This year was the first year I feel I managed to set goals in a compassionate way. A way that had me growing and celebrating myself without so much of the shame and guilt that comes up when I experience failure.
This is going to be my last newsletter of the year, so I wanted to leave you off with some lessons I learned around goal-setting and how I successfully set goals with compassion.
I detached my self-worth from my goals
Probably the most important rule of goal-setting and the hardest thing to do. I spent the entirety of this year managing my mind around this.
In the past when I decided on my goals, there was always an element of my self-worth attached to them. This was never done consciously. It’s not like I said, “I must achieve this or I’m the worst.” But subconsciously, that’s how my brain was thinking about them.
This year, I really learned to embrace the idea that working towards goals is not a means to an end. I don’t need to achieve them to “be better.” I am entirely worthy exactly as I am. There’s nothing I could do or change about myself to make me any more worthy of love, of joy, of happiness, or of success.
So then what’s the point? Why bother setting goals when I don’t need anything from them?
Simply because I can.
Dreaming big, setting goals, working towards them, and maybe even achieving them is just fun. If I already have everything I need, why wouldn’t I just let myself have some fun?
This was a huge revelation for me. It showed me that I can grow and change, not because there’s something wrong with me now or because I “should” be better, but purely because I want to. There’s great power and joy in changing just because I can.
I focused on only one big goal for the entire year
I’m human, which means I’ve fallen into the same trap as everyone else where I’ve set way too many goals and gave up on all of them by February.
This year, I took a different approach. I picked one goal, and I focused on that one goal for the entire year. I set milestones and reflected on my progress each quarter, planned out how I was going to get one step closer each week, and took action every day I could.
All of my energy was poured into this one goal. This is something I don’t think I’ve ever done before. And while I didn’t actually achieve the goal, I made more progress than I would have if I split my focus across multiple different things.
An added benefit of doing this is it forced me to confront so much mental drama that I’m usually able to side-step and ignore. Because I couldn’t distract myself with 15 other goals, it created space for all of my limiting beliefs around this one thing to come up.
I was going head to head with self-doubt, shame, not-enoughness, and all of my insecurities. It gave me the opportunity to wrangle those negative thoughts I have about myself that have been humming in the background for pretty much my entire life.
Have you ever just sat in the discomfort that your own mind creates for you? It’s pretty painful and doing it all year is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It helped me build the self-trust to experience any emotion and know that I’ll be able to pick myself back up.
After sitting in your own shit for months, you start to get pretty sick of it. So you clean it up, and you don’t allow anyone to dump shit on you ever again, including yourself. This self-trust is probably the most powerful tool that I’ll carry with me through the rest of my life.
I reflected regularly without blame or shame
Another reason we tend to give up on our goals is we don’t set up a process to regularly reflect on our progress. Without regular reflection, there’s no accountability and no way for us to learn from our failures.
This year I reflected on my progress at the end of every week and every quarter. It was a simple review. What did I accomplish? What worked? What didn’t work? What will I do next time?
The weekly review keeps my goal top of mind and gives me the opportunity to correct short-term mistakes. It gives me a space to plan how I’m going to tackle the upcoming week. This is the tool that kept my goal top of mind and helped me make small improvements week over week.
The quarterly review gives me the opportunity to look at the bigger picture. When I’m really zoomed in, it’s easy to miss all of my progress. Growth often isn’t linear, so progress between this week and last week is difficult to measure and isn’t always positive. But over the course of three months, growth really starts to show itself. Seeing this progress gave me validation that I was on the right path and to just keep going, even when some days felt like a slog.
Just as important as completing the review was ensuring I did so without inflicting blame and shame onto myself. There were weeks where I absolutely screwed up. I made mistakes. I went backwards. Circumstances came up that threw me off for months. Life happens.
And I learned to let all of that be okay, expected even. It would be unreasonable to think that I could work towards a goal I had never achieved before without hitting a single bump in the road.
I learned not to shame myself and stay stuck in the past. I looked at what broke down and then immediately turned my focus to the future. Instead of repeating to myself, “I wish I hadn’t done that” or “If only I had done it this way”, I would say, “Next time, this is what I’ll do.”
That small reframing made a huge difference in how I carried myself moving forward.
I’m going to be spending the next couple of weeks decompressing and celebrating everything I accomplished this year, then working through plans for the future. It’s been a really wild year for me, both personally and in my work. I have a lot to be proud of and still a lot of work I want to do, not because I have to, but just because I can 😉
I hope you have a wonderful, peaceful rest of your year, and I’ll talk to you in the new year!