Goal-Setting Foreplay: The Self-Assessment

In the spirit of the upcoming New Year, now is a great time to pause and take a moment to observe.  The weather is changing, the holidays are upon us, and before we know it we’ll be writing the wrong date on our checks.  (Does anyone write checks anymore?) 

Many of us are just a few weeks away from getting caught up in the Resolution Machine as I’ve come to affectionately call it.  This is a time when many of us feel inspired—or pressured—to make some significant changes in our lives, as we become acutely aware of the passage of time and of opportunities that may be passing us by or goals we may have let get covered in cobwebs. 

Others may start to ask you: “What’s your resolution this year???” and like a deer in headlights, you’ll start churning out sentences which may or may not actually mean anything to you, without any idea of how to get there or even why you think you need to make those changes.

That said, of course the New Year is a great time to assess, re-assess, look ahead, and plan for greatness.  Then again, any other time is good for all that, too.  But I digress.

Often we will look at a current situation and realize we are not where we’d like to be, or even more importantly, we are not on the path to getting what we really want.  This may include current employment, education level, financial situation, relationships, physical fitness, health, creativity, productivity, and all other aspects of our lives.

But hold your horses there, cowboy…before you jump into your journal and start scribbling away at numbered lines that detail all mega and minor dreams that are sure to fix all of your current problems and wipe away all potential threatening anxieties for the future, take a moment to look at where you are, who you are, how you are, and where you’ve come from.

It’s incredibly valuable to get acquainted with your current situation in order to figure out how to get to where you want to go.  It’s like looking at a map: if you can’t find the “YOU ARE HERE” spot on the map, the map does you no good. 

Here’s a list of things to consider before writing your beautiful list of short- and long-term goals.  This is just a starter list, I encourage you to get some ideas here but make a list that truly suits your lifestyle.  I like to rate each 1 (worst) to 5 (best): 

PERSONAL LIFE

1.     Overall happiness

2.     How satisfied are you with your current living situation?

3.     Mental health and ability to manage stress

4.     Intimate relationships/partnership

5.     Family life

6.     Friendships

PHYSICAL LIFE

1.     How well are you sleeping?

2.     Nutrition

3.     Hydration

4.     Physical activity

5.     How well are you making progress on any previous physical goals?

DAILY LIFE

1.     How happy are you with your current job?

2.     How stable is your financial situation?

3.     Are you satisfied with your current level of education/continuing education?

4.     How well are you making progress on creative projects? 

5.     How efficient are you at managing time?

6.     How inspired/focused/motivated are you on a day-to-day basis?

Be as detailed as possible with this.  If you have a spiritual practice, include that in the personal life category.  If you are a marathon runner, include your progress in the physical category.  If you have a few things that you juggle in your creative life like playing an instrument and painting, include both and rate them separately.  In other words, leave no stone un-turned.  Gather as much information about yourself as possible, so you can make the best plan of action for where you are right now.  Making plans for another version of you that doesn’t exist will do you no good and you’ll end up feeling like a hamster on a spinning wheel.  Cute, but frustrating…

Things won’t be perfect, of course.  Life is not perfect.  And just because things aren’t perfect is not an excuse NOT TO START making progress toward your goals.  But this helps you get an idea of what’s going on and to factor all of that in when you’re making your list of goals and plan of action.  Perhaps there is room on your goals list to make improvement in some of these other areas of your life.  It’ll help you be realistic about your expectations, and it may clue you in to some things that you were unaware were keeping you from making more progress in the past (or present.)  If you’re preoccupied by the fact that you can’t pay your rent, you’ll be stressed, this will negatively affect your mood and your motivation.  If you’re not sleeping enough, nourishing your body, or are stuck in a toxic relationship, well…you get the idea.

Regardless of what your long-term goals are, it’s important to recognize that the most efficient way of going about getting what we want is to be a balanced human being in the first place.  If your mental, physical, financial or social/romantic health is in dire need of attention and improvement, it’s unlikely you’ll be successful at beginning a new degree program, turning up to dance class or starting a new nutritional regimen.  And if you do, you’ll unlikely get as much out of those things as you could, or realize your true potential, because you’re not fully engaged—distracted by other pressing life issues.

Another tip: if you’re having a particularly bad day or are going through a very rough patch in life, it may be more helpful to go and do something that nourishes you instead of this.  Make a note of what’s going on, how you’re feeling, and later re-visit this and see if you can figure out how you got into that negative place. 

Rather, assess yourself when you’re feeling balanced, well rested and calm.  We are all hard on ourselves and it’ll do you no good to get down on yourself when you’re already feeling crappy.  Plan ahead.  Make a date with your journal or sketchpad and schedule this in your calendar, say for a Saturday morning with a cup of your favorite tea or coffee in a spot in a park or your garden.

Now, I’m not saying you can’t sleep 2 hours a night and be in debt and use heroine and NOT become an amazing actress or athlete, but it’ll be harder for sure.  Plus, you’ll be miserable the whole time.  You’ll chase those goals to become the best or obsessively work on your art as an escape (I’m not saying art or exercise aren’t great escapes—but perhaps only healthy to a point…) and mistakenly think that once you get to the Mountain Top you will find satisfaction and peace.  And you might get to the mountain top, or you might not, but either way in the end there will be no peace, happiness or satisfaction awaiting you.  You’ll work your ass off, often making terrible mistakes and unnecessary sacrifices along the way, and then you’ll get there and be just as unhappy as before.  What a waste of valuable dedication! 

Think of it like going around with a wound.  You can ignore it, and you may manage to do amazing things, but that wound will still be painful—and if left unattended long enough, it may start to ooze, fester and make you less and less able to continue doing those amazing things.

When you make your goals, make them from a place of authenticity.  Understand where exactly you are, how you got there, and where you'd like to go next, and then ultimately where you'd like to end up.  Don’t make your goals for someone else.  Don’t make your goals based on others’ expectations of you.  Don’t make your goals for another version of yourself that you wished were real.  Make that version of you real—all aspects of that person you want to be.

That’s it for the do’s and don’t’s.  Enjoy the foreplay, and take your time.  Next thing you know it’ll be time to move on to the big event…now go dream big.