It’s time to think about what we want next year to look like. (Could we have one that’s less trashy than this one? Please?)
I like to set goals. I like to think about my vision for my projects.
But those exercises can also be a recipe for beating yourself up and feeling like crap. So here are my suggestions for setting goals and intentions in a healthier way. This is a process I’ve done for many years, and it always leaves me energized and optimistic.
Note: This is an edit of a podcast I recorded a fair few years back. Michael Corley over on Twitter mentioned that he re-listens to it every year, so I thought it was worth refreshing and sharing!
“Visions and Goal Setting for your Digital Business”
The advice given still holds up and I highly recommend it
— Michael Corley (@MichaelCorleyNY) December 15, 2021
If you want the original audio version (complete with some info that’s out of date now), there’s a link at the bottom of this page. 🙂
Why we don’t reach our goals
This time of year, there are always a lot of pieces published about why we don’t reach goals — and the usual explanation is that we’re weak, we’re lazy, no one knows how to work any more, that kind of thing.
I’m going to call BS on that. These are almost always written from the peak of Mount Privilege. Maybe they apply sometimes, but most of the time, there’s a reason we’re not putting the effort in.
So sure, on a very basic level, if we don’t apply the basic inputs, then the output isn’t going to look the way we want.
But we also have to face the reality that sometimes, the work we put in is impeccable, but we still don’t get the result we want. That’s how the world works. If you are very privileged and all your stars have aligned since birth, you’ll be the one who tends to see the strongest relationship between input and output.
If you weren’t born with every advantage, there will be more bumps and curves in the road. Sometimes a whole lot of bumps and curves.
If this has been a bumpy or curvy time for you, first, let me say I see you and I recognize that a lot of folks’ roads are not smooth.
Second, the best tool I know for managing a crappy hand is the good old serenity prayer, widely adopted by the 12-Step movement:
Grant me the strength to change what I can, the serenity to accept what I can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference.
No matter what your situation, anywhere on the planet, this is what you have to work with — the arena of things you can actually change.
We can change our habits, we can change our behavior and activities, even if it’s hard as hell.
Making our own rules; accepting our own constraints
A lot of the time, we use our beginning-of-the-year goals mainly to make ourselves feel bad. I didn’t lose 30 pounds, I didn’t publish a bestselling book, I didn’t clear a million dollars with my business, whatever.
Now you guys know I’m all about making our own rules — I’m also all about getting real about our own constraints.
One person has three kids under five, another has six figures of student loans, another has something about your appearance that causes people to underestimate you. Your path is your path. No one else’s. That’s why I think it’s so important not to play another person’s game — because you didn’t inherit that person’s strengths or weaknesses or circumstances.
One very useful tool is to measure yourself against yourself. Not the person you went to college with, or your super-successful sister, or someone you think is a guru.
Most gurus are full of shit a great deal of the time. I’m full of shit a great deal of the time. The difference is that I try to be transparent with you about that, and present possibilities instead of pronouncements. I’m figuring it out one day at a time just like you are, and if I have something I’ve found useful, I let you know about it.
So, measure yourself against yourself. That means that part of goal-setting is getting real about where you are right now.
How much do you have in the bank? How much do you weigh? How fit are you — in other words, how fast can you run or how much weight can you lift or whatever you think might be useful to measure.
The most important “ingredient” for healthy change
In my experience, the absolute non-negotiable ingredient for healthy change is to be able to be both realistic and compassionate with yourself.
The more you beat yourself up and call yourself fat or ugly or a loser, the harder it is to make healthy change. You might be able to make some kind of temporary radical change, but it nearly always pushes you in an unhealthy direction. So you trade some extra pounds for an eating disorder, for example. Or you make some kind of huge change that you can’t sustain, and you end up even more angry with yourself, plus you’re in a worse hole than the one you started with.
Now a lot of advice-giving type people completely disagree with me on this. They’re all about shouting at you and calling you weak, and telling you you have to hate yourself to make positive changes. All I can say is, I’ve almost never seen this work, and sometimes when it seems from the outside like it’s working, when you dig deeper you find a lot of self-hatred or misery.
That’s my bias, and you can experiment with it or not — you’ll know if this feels right to you.
Let’s talk vision and goal-setting
So, if the foundation of smart goal setting is getting real with yourself, without kicking yourself, that’s Step One, right? So this week, you take a look at where you are.
Let’s say you want more traffic to your web site, since that’s something that’s not too emotionally loaded. This week, you get into your Google Analytics, you look at your email open and click rates, what have you.
If you have nothing like that set up to measure, then that’s your first action — to make that happen by the end of the week. It’s one of those things that isn’t as hard as we make it out to be. Before you do it it feels like Everest, but once you get it implemented, you realize it’s actually not hard.
Once you know your numbers, you can start to come up with some goals that make sense. If you have 100 visitors a day, in quarter one you can try to bump that up to, say, 125. Percentage-wise that’s a lot, and if you have 10,000 visitors, 12,500 is probably going to be harder to get to. So make it make sense for where you are.
When you’re setting goals, think carefully about what you want to measure. So, digging into our traffic goal, do we really want more visitors to our site — or do we want more email subscribers? What do you want to get out of it? Usually the email subscriber number will get you better results. So give some thought to what you want and why, and try to sketch that out, again by the end of this week.
Once you have a rough idea of what you want, I want you to get into your calendar. Outlook, Gmail, ICal, paper calendar, I don’t care. But start to put your goals into future dates on your calendar, so you can look at them regularly, and see your progress.
Decide how far in advance you want to run this goal. Do you want to improve your goal over the whole year? Then put something in your calendar every month, to check your progress. Every quarter, schedule some time to look more deeply at the numbers and adjust your strategy if you need to.
The vision thing
Vision and goals go together — the vision is just a snapshot of what things will look like when individual goals get accomplished.
I do find it valuable to take a half hour or so to sit down with a text file or a paper notebook and describe:
What will it look like when you get there?
What will the numbers be? What will your living room look like? How’s your relationship with your family look? How about your health? What kind of colleagues will you work with? How will those relationships feel?
What’s it going to be like when you get to where you’re going?
Then (compassionately), look at where things are today. Document them. Not with an attitude of “I’m such a loser,” but with curiosity and friendliness. “Hm, today I’m living in a crappy tiny apartment and not talking to anyone in my family. Where I’m headed is a nice two-bedroom with great natural light, and having a happy phone call with my dad and my sister once a week.”
Just notice it.
Then put your notes away (where you can find them), and schedule the next review. This is a good one to do quarterly along with your goal review.
I didn’t make this up, it’s sometimes called the Pivotal Technique. I’ve found it very useful. Perhaps you will as well.
Give yourself some grace for the coming year
We’re just coming off our second Really Hard Year, and the new one will probably have its share of tough spots. Give yourself credit for what you do, and some grace for what you’re still wrestling with. You aren’t alone.
See you in the new year!
If you get my weekly newsletter, The Fierce, I’m going to be taking the next two weeks off to focus on some deeper projects. And if you don’t get it — you totally should! It’s all about moving forward with ambitious goals, without destroying your peace or turning into a creep. Just drop your details in the box below, click the link in the email to confirm you actually want it, and we’ll get you set up.
While you’re waiting for the next edition, I’ll shoot you a copy of my ebook on what prolific content writers do differently, and how you can get tons more writing done.
Oh yeah, and here’s a link to the original podcast version: Vision and Goal-Setting for Your Digital Business (2016)