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The Other Side of Goal Setting: 3 New Lessons I Learned in 2020

I learned some interesting new lessons about goal setting this year. Yes, I know, this topic has been done to death, but I believe I have some fresh perspectives on it. I’m a huge believer that to be successful in life, you need to have an annual vision and a roadmap to plan your year and goal setting is a critical part of that process. So stick with me and you might see a different side of goal setting that might just change your life.

I love setting goals. Some may say I’m a little obsessed. I even go as far as dividing my life into major categories with multiple goals per category. I have separate goals for Finances, Family, Relationship, Business, Spiritual, Home and Recreation to name but a few. Yes, I know, I may have a problem.  I set target dates for each, I set success measures and metrics, I set statuses; the whole SMART goal regimen. And at the end of the year, I review them carefully to see what I have accomplished.  But that’s not what this article is about. This year I discovered some new truths about goal setting that I think are worth sharing.  Principles you may not have thought about before. Here are 3 perspectives from the other side of goal setting.

1. Some of your biggest accomplishments are not planned at all

As I was reviewing my goals and marking them as ‘Accomplished’, ‘Partially Accomplished’ or ‘Not Accomplished’,  I became a very disillusioned and disappointed at how few of my goals I actually accomplished. Of the 18 goals I set for 2019, I only fully accomplished 5. That’s 28%! Very disappointing! As I was trying to figure out what happened, I asked myself this question: “What did you DO all year?” Fortunately, I started remembering some of the major life events that I accomplished but didn’t have on my goal list; accomplishments like getting engaged, selling my house and moving, quitting a job and starting a full-time business, just to name a few.  (Why those were not on the list in the first place, is a blog for another time) Suddenly, I understood.

Life happens. As much as we pretend,  we can’t predict or control the future. And when  we keep such a white knuckled death grip on our lives that we are planning our goals and activities to the millisecond, we don’t allow time and space for the awesome, unpredictable and incidental blessings that come our way.  We step over the dollar to pick up the penny. We miss the forest for the trees.

What does this look like in practice? I started adopting this principle in my business planning a while ago. I strive to only control half of my business, leaving enough margin or ‘white space’ for God to move. I plan as much as I can, but I don’t obsess about every detail and I literally leave unplanned time, resources or revenue on the table. And let me tell you folks, His ‘unplanned’ half is doing a heck of lot better than mine so far!

2. Your accomplishments determine your priority

Another goal setting activity I do is to set priorities. Nothing new here.  And logic would imply that the goals I managed to accomplish were the highest priority ones. Well, when reviewing last years goals, I noticed that this was not the case at all. Hmm.. Interesting. Again, what happened?

I remembered that in my previous career in grocery retail,  when asked, customers would often identify themselves in one category of shoppers but their actual spending habits told a very different story. Very often, when you reviewed the purchase history of customers who self identified as ‘Health Conscious’ for example, you would find quite the collection of Twinkies, Potato Chips, Ice Cream, Twizzlers and other really unhealthy foods in their history. Oops.

What happens is that we lie to ourselves. We state (publicly or to ourselves) that our priorities are set a certain way, but in reality, our actual focus and the way we spend our time says something quite different. We want to maintain an image of ourselves that is different from how we really act. We don’t like admitting our bad habits or self defeating priorities. Even privately to ourselves.

For me, this was a nice wake-up call that we validate our pre-determined priorities by the time we allocate to accomplishing those priorities.  You prioritize by your actions, not by your plans. Pay close attention to this phenomenon. Lying to yourself is the greatest act of self sabotage.

3. You accomplishments predict your future

We’ve all heard the Einstein quote that says “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result” However, have you really thought about that? And are you applying that principle to your life? Nothing changes unless you change something. Unless you do something different. And if you don’t change anything, you can predict pretty accurately where you’ll be a year from now by reviewing what you’ve accomplished this year.  Past performance predicts future results.  Fact.

Einstein knew it then and it’s still as true today. If you don’t like the current trajectory of your life, you need to do something different. Maybe you need to set new priorities (and stick to them), maybe you need to find help to accomplish that elusive goal, maybe you need to let go of the past, make new friends, build new relationships, whatever it may be, but if you want the future to be different than the past, you absolutely need to break out of the groove you’re in. You need to take some sort of new action that will set you on a new trajectory.

For me, this meant reviewing my current life trajectory based on my 2019 accomplishments and making a few tweaks. Nothing major but remember, a small change in direction, consistently maintained over time, makes a huge difference in your destination in the end.  Remember, success is not obtained by drastic, instantaneous changes but by small habit changes over time.

Happy New Year. May you accomplish exponentially more in 2020 than you did in 2019.

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