It doesn’t matter what your goal is, without a plan it can feel overwhelming. It can also feel very unnatural to plan things out so I understand if you’re also thinking that this post isn’t for you. Lastly, with a new year in a few days, it’s possible that you may feel like you have to have a plan for 2021 regardless if planning is your jam or not.
First, it’s ok if you don’t have one or don’t want to have one. I want us to have that baseline. You don’t need to do anything. But this post may help you think differently about what planning could be and how it could make things feel within reach.
Other than poetry, this is one of the few times that starting at the end may be helpful.
When ideas are floating in your head, it can be hard to visualize the steps that you can or want to take. Not only does it become easier to multiply the number of steps we have in front of us to achieve this goal, but sometimes, we magnify the time it could take to accomplish those tasks and steps.
Take a deep breath – let it out.
Let’s break it down. Grab a piece of paper.
Regardless of your goal, there are two questions I want you to ask yourself. 1) what does that life look like when you’re living or have accomplished that goal and 2) how is that different than what you’re doing or your life now?
And a third question, does that future life look or feel sustainable for you?
And a fourth question, why – why this goal? What will this goal do for you when you’ve accomplished it?
Looking at this comparison of where you want to be and where you are now helps you starting breaking the goal down into steps. If someone asks you what are you going to do differently to work towards that life or goal, a response of I just have to do it isn’t good enough. And trust me, I get that answer a lot.
I just have to be better. I need to have more discipline. I need to focus more. I must not want it bad enough.
These statements set clients and you up failure. Not only do they force ownership (read: personalization cognitive distortion) on you, but it completely disregards a potential barrier in place preventing you from making changes to begin with.
If we think about Prochaska’s Stages of Change, we know that it’s ok to talk about goals over and over again – I’ve done it, clients have done it. It’s part of getting ready for the change process, but by identifying the barrier (Maslow’s Heirarhcy of Needs) that’s holding you back you may get past this step a bit faster.
So if you notice that you’re saying these things, consider why making a change has been hard and if that is in or out of control. There’s nothing wrong with being uncomfortable and digging, but yes, it’s fucking hard.
So. Honestly. What habits do you notice that you’re doing or not doing now AND how does that compare to that future life where you’re achieving this goal?
Table those thoughts for a minute.
Let’s talk timeline. What does that look like for you?
I ask all clients how much time they’re willing to give themselves and why for any goal. This is so we can talk about how their vision may or may not match reality.
For example: is it realistic to try to lose 10 pounds in a month if you are focusing on a sustainable and healthful approach – the answer is no. So how can we create a plan that maybe changes their timeline, but actually meets them where they are?
There are two goals to consider.
Some goals are continuous – you may always work on them in different ways at different points in your life like strength or endurance goals. Even improving your relationship with food or drinking enough water or apologizing less – those are goals that may be chipped away at each day. Your approach may change overtime and there will be times that it feels easier than others.
If it’s deadline driven, I want you to consider the amount of time that you’re giving yourself to achieve this goal because your schedule and life matter. You don’t live in a bubble where you only focus on this goal so an adjustment that considers these things can help you plan better.
After you’ve determined what that timeline could look like for you, go back to that comparison – what are the differences that are in your control? If there are actions that you can take – what do you want to focus on first?
This is a perfect chance to pick the low hanging fruit – what’s easiest to focus on? What will help build your confidence? Start there.
For example, if a habit that you want to change is to be more active, but an exercise routine sounds like too much right now, what could an improvement in daily movement look like?
If you had to be intentional about daily movement, what could a sustainable change look like?
Here are some examples I’ve suggested before for this specific goal:
- park further away when running errands
- get up each hour to stretch or moving while working
- plan a walk to start the day, help break up the day or settle you into your evening
- thinking about ways you can be active for 5 or 10 minute increments
Then – how often do you want to practice this over this week? Is this a daily focus or something that you intentionally focus on a few times a week by picking specific days?
This example isn’t something that you do for a week and then move on, you do this routine until you feel like you can build onto it. Maybe that’s in a month, maybe it’s six months. It’s ok to practice the same routine each week until you feel like you’re where you want to be.
Often, we get so excited by the big goal, but intimidated by the potential of the journey [read: Mordor] we have to go on to reach our goal that we get lost in the weeds and never really feel like we can move forward [read: Hobbits never leave the shire].
It’s ok to get excited and scared at the same time. But dive into that why, what about this goal is going to improve YOU?
Find YOUR why. Think about a flexible timeline. Think about the comparison of life now and life when you’re achieving this goal. Are these difference healthy, sustainable and desirable? Break it down into weekly goals that move you forward.
Lastly, it’s ok to reevaluate and change your mind. It’s your life, you make the rules.
If you want to dig a bit more and do some self-exploration, check out my eBook on goal-setting. I’m going to be working on an update this year, but this is still 100% relevant.