On Goal Setting: New Month, New Approach to Goals

Hello, February!

We have found ourselves a month into 2022 (already!) which places us at a statistically critical point in time. In all likelihood, we started our year off fresh and strong with a new perspective, great goals, and a clear mindset, but you may have found yourself slowing down, feeling unmotivated, or just busy…

Recall your New Years resolutions. You know the ones. “Eat better, work out more, lose weight, love harder, sleep better…”. Maybe you dialled in your vision with a SMART Goals worksheet, where you made sure your goals were Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. I’m not writing to tell you to stop doing that, because there is utility in the practice. But, I am also well aware that life gets in the way of our goals sometimes. And, sticking to timelines can be really defeating if you fall off track! So, I personally don’t set goals like that (*gasp*). I know, stay with me. I’ll tell you what I do instead!

The turn of a New Year activates our innate sense to be better and it prompts our drive for change. The feeling is ubiquitous. It’s a fresh start and a “second chance.” Humans are deep! I believe that all humans have within them the desire for growth and betterment; it is a big part of why I became a counsellor. The same as our bodies start small as babies and infants, then grow larger into children, and eventually adults, naturally, I believe our sense of self and our sense of the world around us grows similarly, particularly if we are in an environment where we feel safe, understood, and valued.  Some theorists, like Maslow, call it “self-actualization”, humans have a natural sense to work towards being better. So, to me, that means something much deeper than “lose weight” and “eat more plants.” 

For myself, I’m less interested in *what* I’m going to do this year and much more interested in *how* and *why* I’m going to do it. Because, in critical moments like now, when our foot lightens up on the proverbial gas pedal, I like to be reminded of the purpose behind my goals.

So, here’s what I do: I identify areas of focus in my life (ie. Career, Mind, Body, Love, Social Network) and I reflect deeply on *how* I can sustain consistent growth in those areas. How will I need to fortify my mindset in order to execute my goals in that area in a way that aligns with my core values? (Don’t know your core values yet? Working with a therapist might be able to unearth them!) What is the fuel that I want driving that area forward? 

I look closely at who I am and who I want to grow towards being, then I assign 1) a guiding word, and 2) an action word to each area of focus. The Guiding Word helps remind me what is driving my goals (in alignment with my core values) and the Action Word helps remind me how I want to execute them. 

Here’s what mine looks like this year:

Area of FocusGuiding Word“I will act from a place of…”

There’s a bit of vulnerability in showing all of you this; but, to me, looking at your goals and your direction in this way is much more meaningful and purposeful. SMART goals give you a place to start, and a place to arrive in the end. I have those, too! I will read 12 books this year, graduate from my Masters with Distinction, run 2 half marathons, and be able to do a handstand. Knowing where you are going is important to getting there, but the fuel that fills the gas tank is ultimately what’s going to get you there. 

This flexible, core values-driven approach also alleviates some of the self-critical moments that come up when we lack consistency or something doesn’t go as planned. Many things get in the way of us achieving our goals, so being self-compassionate with our approach can offer us latitude when we need it, which can ultimately keep us more consistent!

If this sparks something in you, I hope you run with it freely and bravely! If you’re nervous to start, know and trust that is normal, and spending some time with a counsellor could help. 

A small note in conclusion, credit must be given to the brilliant Mari Andrew (@bymariandrew on Instagram). She is the artist I stole this exercise from three-ish years ago and absolutely adore, both her and the practice. 

With love and other hugs,

Sarah Hunter, B.A. Psych, MACP 

Student Counsellor

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