The 3 Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before Setting Any Goals
December 28, 2018
Heading into the new year, we all get very concerned with one question: “Where do I want my life to go?”
We put so much pressure on ourselves to think our way forward—whether it’s about the work we want to be doing, the cities we want to live in, or the people we want surrounding us. We attempt to answer that question by creating goals and plans and resolutions to help us find our way (or so we think).
Put simply: We’re future obsessed. Especially around the new year.
But what happens when you don’t know where you want things to go?
Or if you’re not sure what goals to set?
Or which resolutions are the right ones?
To figure out what’s next for you in 2019 and where you should take action, you first have to look back at 2018.
Reflection is a step we often miss in our attempt to plan for what’s next. But the answer to where we’re going is in the stories of where we’ve already been. We simply need to stop and turn around.
Reflection isn’t just a cornerstone to goal setting, it’s also key to our wellbeing. In one study, employees who took the time to reflect at the end of their day ended up performing 23 percent better after 10 days than those who didn’t. Additionally, another study found that reflection on one’s day led to more happiness and productivity (and less burn out) than those who didn’t.
Aside from improving your wellbeing, reflection is a clear and focused action to take if you’re particularly confused about your future. If you feel stuck and don’t know what to do, if you feel lost and don’t know where to turn, if you feel unsure and don’t know if you’re moving in the right direction—reflection can help calm those insecurities.
In the moments when I’ve felt the most unsure and lost (and couldn’t tell you a future goal if my life depended on it), reflection always brought me back to what actually mattered to me and what small things I could potentially do to create more good energy in my life.
So before you go making any plans for 2019, take inventory of 2018 by asking yourself these three questions.
●︎ In the last year, what actions gave me the most/least energy?
●︎ In the last year, what made me feel most/least inspired?
●︎ In the last year, when did I feel the most/least proud?
It works best if you write out your answers. My suggestion: Find a quiet spot in your home, or maybe a favorite coffee shop nearby, and take 10-20 minutes to think through these answers. Once you've done that, circle, underline and take note of anything that stood out to you.
Were there any surprises?
Were there any no brainers?
The thoughts and ideas that come out of your reflection are where you should focus your action for the new year.
Whatever you were proudest of, whatever brought you the most energy, whatever brought you the most inspiration—focus your goals around creating more of those actions in your life.
For example: If you were the most energized by freelance writing you’re doing on the side, you could set a goal to pitch one piece a month to new media outlets you haven’t written for.
And on the flip side: Whatever brought you the least energy, whatever brought you the least inspiration, whatever made you feel the least proud—think of some ways to minimize the time you spend doing those things.
For example: If you were the most drained by time you spent with one specific friend in your life, you can make a goal to either deepen other friendships that bring you joy or to have an honest conversation about your friendship with the person bringing negativity to your life.
One note with this excercise: Be kind to yourself as you reflect. Especially if you've had a hard year, it might not be easy to revisit some memories. Go at your own pace as you answer these questions, and make sure it feels helpful—not harmful—as you do it.
Goal setting is fun. So is planning for the future. It can be energizing and exciting to think big and think about the future. But it’s important to do those things after we’ve taken the time to reflect on where we’ve already been.
Whether you’re completely lost about what to do in 2019, or completely sure, reflection is key. If you want your plans to be thoughtful and based on the things that bring you joy and energy, rather than actions that sound good or sound like they should be something that you do in the new year, then take the time to look back at 2018. It’ll help you create more intentional action for the year to come.
Read next: The Best Goals Start With 'Why'
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