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In Goal Setting Part II I mentioned that if you’d like to set goals for yourself, but haven’t found any that you feel inspired to achieve, you can try using goal setting “categories” to generate new ideas.  By using categories, you’ll discover goals that reflect the diversity of your ambitions- you’ll be reminded that there are many areas in your life where you feel inspired to grow.  And don’t forget, goals don’t have to be grand, like, “I want to run a marathon.”  They can be humble, like, “I want to plant three different varieties of tomato in my garden.”  Whether or not your goals are impressive to someone else has no bearing here- you’ll know you picked the right goals for yourself if you feel excited to achieve them.  The 10 goal setting categories I set out in Part II deserve a little more explanation so that you can get a clear idea of the different areas you could brainstorm about.  Of course, you may not be interested in some of the categories, and in that case just skip those- there’s no point in setting a goal that you don’t feel inspired to reach.  Similarly, you may feel inspired to achieve something that doesn’t fit into one of the areas listed here- in that case, leave a comment to let me know what category I’m missing!

Note: It might be helpful to start out by just writing out whatever goals pop in to your head as you look over the list, even if those goals seem unrealistic or silly.  Once you’ve got all your ideas on paper you can start refining them and deciding which ones are most important to you.  At that point, consider referring back to Goal Setting Part III: Set Spiritual Goals First, where I explain why it can be helpful to set goals in numerical order instead of skipping around (i.e., set goals for category #1 first, then move on to #2, etc.).  When you’re ready to actually tackle your goals, check out Goal Setting Part I: Three Steps to Achieving Your Goals.

Goal Setting Categories

  1. Spiritual: Keeping in touch with the ultimate purpose of your life. This applies equally if you’re religious or not religious. It’s OK if you don’t know what your ultimate purpose is- your goal can be to start a quest to find out.  Or you can have a more concrete goal, like: Make a list each evening of what I’m grateful for.
  2. Family: What you’d like to accomplish as far as your relationships with family and close friendsAn example would be: Take nephew golfing at least once/month.  For my part, I’ve always been shy about inviting people over for parties, dinners, etc., and I want to get over that.  So, one of my goals is: Start hosting gatherings at our house. 
  3. Finance: Goals related to your savings, spending habits, budget, investments, and retirement savings.  Some people include material goals here (“I want a new car“), but I put those in the Lifestyle category.  A Finance goals would be: Save $200 for an iPhone by saving $50/month for 4 months. 
  4. Service: How you’d like to help your family, friends, and/or community. For instance, you might want to help an elderly relative or neighbor with their yard work once a week, or volunteer at an after-school program. 
  5. Lifestyle: Things you want (e.g., iPad, new sunglasses, new shoes), and hobbies/activities you’d like to do for fun (e.g., travel, photography, collecting antiques).  This is the “fun” category, so don’t limit yourself too much- write down the things you’d love to have (a new/used car?) and the things you’d love to do (visit the Grand Canyon?). 
  6. Career: Your long and short-term work goals.  You might have a short-term goal, like, Hire an assistant manager for my bakery, or a longer term goal, like, Be promoted to manager within two years, or Take night classes to finish Bachelor’s degree.
  7. Education: Skills that you’d like to learn or maintain.  You may have a goal relating to formal education (“I want to obtain my teaching credential“) or you may have an informal goal (“I want to learn how to change a flat tire“).  Right now I don’t have any formal education goals, so I’m focusing on personal matters, like learning housecleaning techniques so that I can clean my house faster!
  8. Fitness: Goals related to health, weight, eating habits, and exercise.  An example would be: Do cardio exercise 5 times/week, or Drink water instead of soda at dinner
  9. Home: What you’d like your house to be like (home improvements, gardening) and how you’d like it to be maintained (cleaning, organizing)Some examples: Build shelves for laundry area, or Plant carrots by the end of the month.  A maintenance goal might be, Declutter office at least once/month.  One of my goals: Sell our unneeded items on eBay and in a yard sale.
  10. Children: What you’d like to teach your children (if you have any- if not, relate this to nieces & nephews or other children that you mentor).  This category is only about what knowledge or skill you’d like to pass on to your children- relationship issues should go in the “Family” category above.  An example Children goal: Teach daughter to ride a bike.  Our daughter is entering Kindergarten this Fall, so one of my goals is: Practice reading and/or writing with her every day.

Once you start thinking about these ten goal setting areas, it’s not hard to come up with two or even three goals for each category.  Don’t be intimidated by the number of goals you come up with- you don’t have to accomplish them all at the same time!  Just write them down, and then later you can come back and choose how many goals you’d like to work on at a given time.  This year I have 27 goals in all, but I only work on 7 each week.  And by “work on,” I mean, “take a tiny, incremental step towards the goal.” Honestly, 27 goals is probably a bit much, but it’s in my personality to want to reach for everything at the same time.  I can’t help but enjoy having lots of goals on my list- it motivates me to work harder towards achieving them (though it remains to be seen whether I actually achieve more this way- I may end up winnowing the list down if it gets too unwieldy).

You might feel more motivated if you narrow your list down to one goal per category, and then work on only 2-3 goals per week.  Or maybe even pick only three goals for the whole year.  Whether you proceed with lots of goals or only a few, just make sure you’re picking the method that gets you the most excited about tackling those goals!


Apr 282012

Sometimes our goals are so distant that they seem unattainable, and it can feel like the little steps we’re taking towards them are meaningless.  I recently calculated that at the rate we’re saving to buy a new [used] car for me, it will take us 9 years to reach our savings goal.  9 years! I think, “Why even transfer money into the auto fund this month?  I’ll still have 8 years and 11 months to go!”  But I recently watched a documentary, Waste Land, that inspired me to think differently.  In his film on the garbage pickers of Rio de Janeiro’s largest landfill, Vik Muniz profiled many unforgettable people, including a grizzled older man who had spent over 30 years wading through garbage in order to find recyclable materials.  This man defended the dignity and importance of his job, pointing out that even one aluminum can saved from the landfill makes a difference to the environment.  He said that he is often challenged, with people saying, “How can one can make a difference when there are so many cans to be picked up?”  His reply:“Because 99 is not 100.”

Those words echo in my mind.  99 is not 100.  The principle applies to anything- one good deed is not the same as no good deeds, one habit change is not the same as no habit changes, one step towards a goal is not the same as no steps towards a goal.  And so, I am forced to admit to myself that 8 years and 11 months really is different than 9 years.  It is only by making those small, monthly deposits that I will one day happily reach the goal of buying a new [used] car.  And I’ll buy it happily, because we’ll be paying in cash, without taking out a car loan, knowing that our little steps paid off.


Apr 182012

We’re four months into 2012 now, so you likely fall into one of two groups: 1) The 8% who are actively working to achieve their New Year’s Resolutions, or 2) the rest of us, who are in various stages of falling off that bandwagon.  Whichever group you are in, there’s no better time than the present to re-evaluate and re-energize your goal-setting.  I’ve mentioned before that using categories can help you come up with meaningful goals, and I’ll re-paste the list of suggested categories here to refresh your memory:

  1. Spiritual (even if you’re not religious, you can think about what your ultimate purpose in life is and how you’d like to fulfill that)
  2. Family (anything related to your relationships with family and close friends)
  3. Financial (budget, spending habits, investments, retirement savings)
  4. Community Service
  5. Lifestyle (travel, hobbies, material desires)
  6. Career (short and long term work goals)
  7. Education (what you’d like to learn)
  8. Fitness (your health, weight, eating habits)
  9. Homemaking (cleaning, organizing house)
  10. Homeschooling (even if you don’t homeschool your children, there are probably things you’d like to teach them outside of their regular school work)

Skim through the list, and think about what goals come to mind in each of the ten categories (and  if I’m missing a great category, let me know).  Then, go back through the list, and actually write down some proposed goals for each category (or look at the written goals you wrote in January).  But when you do this, take the list in order; that is, spiritual goals first, then family, then financial, etc.  That’s because each category is going to define some of the goals in the categories below it.  For instance, thinking about your ultimate purpose in life (Spiritual goals) will likely change what your Financial goals are, your Community Service goals, and probably your Lifestyle goals, too.  But if you started with your Lifestyle goals (example: “I want to be able to go clothes shopping every month”) you might find that you’ve interfered with a broader Financial goal (“I want to pay an extra $200 towards my credit card debt each month”) or a Spiritual goal (“I want to focus on enjoying what I have instead of buying more stuff to make me happy”).  Here’s another example: in the Family category, you might set a goal to spend more time with your children.  That will likely impact your Financial goals (“I will not work overtime on Saturdays so that I can spend time with my children”), your Lifestyle goals (“I’d rather buy a used car than have to work more overtime to buy a new car”) and your Career goals (“I need to find a job with a more flexible schedule”).

Goal-setting can be a bit time-consuming, so it might be helpful to focus just on Spiritual goals for today, and spend some time thinking about what your ultimate purpose in life is.  Keep in mind that your Spiritual purpose can be religious, but it doesn’t have to be.  A Christian’s purpose might be to testify about the Word of God, an atheist’s might be enjoy each present moment of life instead of looking to the future or dwelling in the past.   Your purpose isn’t really one of your goals because it’s too lofty and broad, but it will help clarify what your down-to-earth goals should be.  Here are some examples of a life’s purpose:

  • Leave the world a better place than when I found it
  • Gain a deep understanding of my religion
  • Serve others, by offering help to people who need it
  • Share my knowledge of (“X”) with as many people as possible
  • Celebrate the true meaning of the holidays that I observe

Or a life’s purpose can be a little more specific:

  • Help as many homeless animals as possible
  • Help preserve the vanishing culture of my ancestors
  • Promote the conservation of natural resources in my area
  • Be a loving parent who provides my children with all that they need to grow up into good people

Once you’ve come up with a purpose (or two) for your life, you might feel a sense of increasing clarity about the rest of your goals, like fog disappearing under the sun’s hot rays.  Suddenly, goals that seemed important (“I want a new mountain bike”) become less interesting than goals that drive you towards your life’s purpose (“I want to volunteer at the local animal shelter”).  So, try it out- think a little bit about your life’s purpose, and when you have a chance, go through the list of categories from 1 to 10, and jot down a goal or two for each category.

Have you set goals yet this year?


Dec 302011

If you’re motivated to set New Year’s Resolutions for 2012, but are having trouble coming up with a complete list of goals to set, try using categories to organize your thinking.  By “categories” I just mean areas in your life where you’d like to improve.  Once you define a category, usually 1-3 goals will bubble up to the surface of your mind without much prompting, and those will be the ones to work on for 2012.  Here are the categories that I use:

  • Spiritual (even if you’re not religious, you can think about what your ultimate purpose in life is and how you’d like to fulfill that)
  • Family (anything related to your relationships with family and close friends)
  • Financial (budget, spending habits, investments, retirement savings)
  • Community Service
  • Lifestyle (travel, hobbies, material desires)
  • Career (short and long term work goals)
  • Education (what you’d like to learn)
  • Fitness (your health, weight, eating habits)
  • Homemaking (cleaning, organizing house)
  • Homeschooling (even if you don’t homeschool your children, there are probably things you’d like to teach them outside of their regular school work)

Are there other categories that you use?

Dec 282011

It’s the time of year when many people resolve to make small and large changes to their lives by setting New Year’s Resolutions.  But how many of us start the new year with fantastic enthusiasm for acheiving our new goals, only to fall off track weeks or even days later?  Lots and lots of us, apparently! According to research by Opinion Research Corp, about 45% of Americans set New Year’s Resolutions (that’s about 150 million people!).  But, only 8% typically acheive their resolutions.  Even worse, 25% have failed on every resolution every year.  How sad! Let’s be a part of the 8% that are making positive changes in their lives.
There are three basic principles to goal setting that will increase the likelihood that you’ll actually acheive your New Year’s Resolutions.  I’ve gleaned these from the writings of various productivity experts, including David Allen’s Getting Things Done.  These principles might seem simplistic, but I’ve seen from personal experience that following them really does work:

  1. Set concrete goals- “I resolve to eat a fresh fruit or vegetable with every breakfast and lunch,” not “I resolve to eat healthier.”  Need ideas for goals to set?  Check out this post for inspiration.
  2. Break goals down into manageable steps- One of my goals is to be able to touch my toes when I stretch- to acheive that, I plan to stretch my hamstrings for 5 minutes every night before bed.
  3. Review your goals regularly- it’s easy to forget you even set a goal in the first place!  I review my goals every week, to give myself a boost of determination for the week ahead.

Will you set New Year’s Resolutions this year?