2020 is gone and it is time to start anew. After a chaotic year, we eagerly welcome 2021 and a ‘fresh start’—anticipation that every new year brings—new hope of what can be and better things to come. For many, this leads to the tradition of making New Year resolutions for self improvement of one kind or another.
A big part of making resolutions is goal setting. Goal setting? Yes, goal setting. Having goals in life is essential and especially so when things are chaotic. Just having good intentions alone changes nothing. Resolutions without a plan is only wishful thinking. As 2021 begins anew with unlimited opportunities to change, perhaps it’s time to rethink goal setting as well.
Goal setting during a pandemic may seem silly when we’ve all learned that the best of plans or perhaps even goals can go awry. The pandemic has also made the path going forward uncharted. As many pundits are noting, a “return to normal” or life exactly as it was before COVID-19 entered our vocabulary, is highly unlikely. Therefore, perhaps it is best to set short-term goals for 2021 as we navigate the upcoming months of vaccinations and make our way back into a more social world.
For many years, 4-H members and their families have learned and practiced life skills: among them, setting and writing goals for their individual projects or a fair exhibit. Surely the tips for 4-H projects apply to life and would appropriately be used to write our personal goals for 2021.
So what makes a goal different from a resolution. A goal is the road map or navigator one uses to plan and reach a destination. A resolution is only a decision; there is no destination. From Tips for Writing 4-H Goals, goals include the following:
- Goals must have three parts—ACTION (what one wants to do)—RESULT (what one is going to do)—TIMETABLE (when one plans to do it or have it done).
- Goals must pass the “control test.” Do YOU have control over the outcome of the goal or does someone else have that control? Is the goal yours or that of someone else?
- Goals must be S.M.A.R.T—SPECIFIC – MEASURABLE – ATTAINABLE – REALISTIC or RELEVANT – TIMELY. For goals to be powerful, they should be designed to be SMART.
SMART goals are . . .
SPECIFIC. What do you want to accomplish? Get down to the nitty-gritty. Saying you want to lose weight won’t cut it. Instead try, “I will lose 10 pounds and work out 20 minutes every day.” Goals must be something that motivate you or gives you a reason to achieve them. “By losing 10 pounds, I will feel better and fit into my slacks.”
MEASURABLE. Consider the time necessary to reach your goal and break your goal into bite-sized chunks. Include precise amounts, dates, and so on in your goals so you can measure your degree of success. Simply saying, “I will pay off by VISA card” will not get the job done unless you have a stash of cash. Instead, consider the debt and give yourself daily, weekly or monthly steps to reach the goal by realistically determining how much you can set aside for payment OR reach out to a debt counselor to help you reach your goal step by step. Without a way to measure your goal, you have no way of knowing whether you achieved success and have reason to celebrate “I did it”.
ATTAINABLE. The idea is to set a goal that ‘raises the bar’ by realistically challenging you. It makes no sense to set a goal that you have no hope of achieving or setting yourself up for failure. Perhaps you’d like to climb one of the Colorado 14ners but presently don’t have the stamina to do so. Rather than don your boots and attempt Pikes Peak, set a goal to find and follow through with a training program to develop cardio stamina, strength, and flexibility for the adventure when you are ready.
REALISTIC or RELEVANT. Goals are personal and must be yours—not that of another family member or your boss. The goal needs to come from within you so you have reason to achieve it for your own personal gain or direction you want to take your life, career, hobby, health, retirement, etc. You must be the one to control the outcome. A goal to get a pay raise or promotion is not within your control but to perform at or prepare yourself for the next level is.
TIMELY. Set a time limit to cross the ‘finish line’ (the third part of a goal)—a time to evaluate whether you did or did not reach your goal—what was the outcome, were you pleased, what could have been done better. From the onset, you need to define a plan of action or a realistic step-by-step approach, which can also be set in time increments, enabling one to get to the finish line. For example, you might say, “I will learn how to use my new camera so well that using it is second nature to me by May 31.” To make that happen, calculate and schedule daily or weekly time and steps needed to learn the various aspects of the camera and practice shooting photos using what you learn. Then do what you can to hit that goal by your target date.
Lastly, but equally important, goals must be written down along with the steps needed to get there. The physical act of writing down a goal makes it real and tangible, holds you accountable, and tracks your progress. As you write, use action words like “will” or “shall”. It’s also a good idea to include the reasons why you want to attain this goal. Success is achieved when you clearly define exactly what you want and understand why you want it in the first place.
As already pointed out, goals are personal and therefore may come from any or all of the meaningful aspects of our lives: spiritual, fitness, health, educational, family, career, social, or financial. Living through the months of pandemic uncertainty and restrictions has likely given many of us a pretty good idea of our personal vulnerabilities and a desire to be or do more or “. . . put ego away and really evaluate and try to figure out how do you chart a course to become the best version of yourself you can be.” (Matt Campbell, Iowa State University Head Football Coach, November 27, 2020)
Life happens and goals may go off track; 2020 was filled with one surprise or mishap after another. In real life, pandemic or not, there are speed bumps and roadblocks in our journey. As long as we stay the course, focusing on the end goal and taking small steps toward getting there, we will be on our way to attaining our goals and becoming the best version of ourselves. Let’s get going! 2021 is here!