GOOD GOAL SETTING REQUIRES FOCUS
Let’s be honest for a minute here: New Year’s Resolutions suck. At least, they do when we come at them in a flurry of panic on Jan. 1 because we haven’t spent any time thinking about our goals for the year until then. I’m guilty of taking this approach year after year. I think about my resolutions for the first time on New Year’s Day and spend a quick five minutes jotting down some “purposeful” goals (I swear, I really will go to the gym someday…).
That approach to goal setting isn’t fun, it isn’t meaningful, and it isn’t effective. Setting high-quality goals that will help us achieve the things we want requires focus. We need to know what we want if we’re going to get there, and that’s where journaling comes in.
For me, there is no better way to get focused and achieve mental clarity than by journaling. My journal is my sounding board and brainstorming platform. It’s a judgment-free space to say whatever I really think, and it helps me sort through the mental clutter that builds up during my day-to-day life. I started thinking about my New Year’s Resolutions ahead of time this year, and when I did, my first response was to go to my journal. I came up with a list of guided prompts to help me shine a light on the most important things, and I was surprised by what I found.
The truth is that unless our goals are meaningful, personal, and manageable, we’ll quickly abandon them. If you’re like me and you’re looking to get focused before setting goals in the new year, these journal prompts might help you, too.
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TIPS FOR BETTER JOURNALING
Before we jump into the journal prompts, I have a few quick tips for getting the most out of your journaling experience. Of course, there are no rules to journaling. You can follow whatever format you want, and as you’ll see from the pictures of my own journal, I did whatever felt most natural to me. Whatever your personal journaling style, these tips can help you make the most of the experience.
- Be detailed. The more you know about what you want, the easier it is to get it. Wanting to travel more is great, but where do you want to go? It’s a lot easier to imagine myself on a trip to Tokyo than it is to imagine myself on a plane to some vague destination. The more detail you can add to your writing, the better.
- Go with the flow. You might find that some of these prompts don’t resonate with you. Feel free to let yourself skip them. You also might find as you’re responding to one of these journal prompts that your brain takes you in an unexpected direction. Let it happen. You’ll often learn a lot about yourself from those detours.
- Be honest. Above all things, be honest. Your journal is for your eyes only. You don’t have to be afraid of judgment or recrimination. Do yourself the courtesy of telling yourself the truth.
It might seem counterintuitive, since we’re often told to start small and let things grow, but when it comes to getting focused on what you want, it’s important to start with the big picture. This is your opportunity to think about your life as a whole—where it is now, and where you want it to be.
It’s not only important to start big, it’s also important to dream big. Allow yourself the freedom to dream so big that it scares you a little. Personally, I’ve always dreamed of writing a book. I’ve also always been scared to death of that dream. It feels too big, too impossible. But as you can see, I wrote it down anyway, because if I were to live the life I want most, that’s something I would definitely do. Sure, it still scares me, but it’s also exciting to see it written out like that. This is your space for those things in your own life.
To help you get focused on the big picture, try these journal prompts:
- What does my ideal life look like?
- What brings me the most happiness?
- If I wasn’t worried about time or money, what would I do, be, or have?
NARROW IT DOWN
Now that you’ve gotten some clarity on the big picture, it’s time to start thinking specifically about the coming year. You’ve already created an outline for what you want your life to be, and the new year is a stepping stone on the path that will get you there. This is your opportunity to brainstorm ways to get on the right track now.
The following journal prompts can help you take those big dreams and turn them into something you can start planning for right away:
- What can I do this year to bring me closer to my ideal life? In what ways can I start living that life right now?
- When I picture myself in December next year, what do I see? What have I accomplished? What kind of person am I?
- Now that I know what makes me happiest, what can I do to bring more of that into my life?
MAKE A PLAN
When you’ve got a clear picture in your head of the kind of life you want, and the kind of year that will help you get there, you’re in the perfect headspace to turn those thoughts into actions.
As I mentioned, I’ve always dreamed of writing a book. As I was working my way through these journal prompts, I realized that I see it in my mind as something I’ll do “someday.” I’ve never even attempted it, because I’ve never made it a priority. I’ve been holding on to a bizarre belief that, on some magical day, my muse will descend, and I will write a book in a fit of inspiration. It was eye-opening to realize what my subconscious thought process has been, and once I realized it, I immediately wanted to change it. I’m never going to write a book “someday,” which is why I’ve decided I’m going to do it this year.
I’m aware that writing a book is a huge goal. If that’s all the thought I gave to it, I’d fail. I need a plan for how I’m going to get this book written in the next twelve months, which is where the following journal prompts came into play:
- What goals can I set to help me have the kind of year I want?
- How can I take those year-long goals and break them down into manageable pieces? What can I do this month? This week? Today?
- Since I know what matters most to me and what brings me the most joy, how can I make more time for those things? What things in my life can I let go to make way for what matters?
I took my goal to write a book this year and broke it down into manageable chunks, the smallest of which is to write every day. Did you know that the average adult novel is approximately 90,000 words? That number feels huge and intimidating, but divided by 365 days in a year, that becomes a very manageable 250 words per day. That’s a number that doesn’t scare me at all, and it’s something I know I can easily achieve.
For me, writing 250 words per day is realistic because I’ve been writing professionally for five years. It’s not just something I hope that I can do. I know that I can do it. It’s important to be realistic as you start turning your dreams into goals, because that will make the difference between success and failure. What’s realistic for you might not be for someone else, but that doesn’t matter. It’s all about knowing what you are capable of, and creating a plan for how to do it. That’s what it means to take a big goal and break it down into smaller pieces.
It’s important to know going in that the next year probably won’t go perfectly. You might not achieve every single thing you set out to do. Some days might be a little out of control, and you might not accomplish your goals for that day, week, or even month. The most important thing you can do when that happens is forgive yourself for slipping. Just make sure you keep your eye on the big picture. Even if you don’t have a perfect year, if you stay focused on what really matters, you’ll still be so much closer to your ideal life at the end of the year than you are right now.
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