5 Essential Questions For Deciding Your 2019 Goals
Tips for picking meaningful goals.
Posted Dec 28, 2018
Many of us (including me) are probably thinking about our 2019 goals this week. Here are some questions to consider when deciding on your goals. If you feel overwhelmed about which goals to choose for the new year, this article is for you.
1. What are your goals a proxy for?
It's absolutely fine to set fun goals. For example, you might want to read a book a week in 2019. However, also think a little bit about what this goal is really about.
- Perhaps you want to slow down.
- Perhaps you want to spend more time doing activities that are pleasure-orientated, and less time doing those that are achievement-focused.
- Perhaps you remember yourself as loving fiction as a child, and you want to rediscover some aspects of yourself that feel lost or swept under the rug.
Try: Identify the deeper meaning behind any of the goals you're considering.
How this helps: This process can clarify what's really important to you. It can also help you understand how your other goals and the rest of your life need to also support your underlying aims.
2. Are your most meaningful goals on your list?
It's easy to end up with a dozen or more ideas for goals you'd like to set yourself, and then feel overwhelmed. If you've got a long list of potential goals, scan through it to see if what's most meaningful to you is reflected on your list. For example, what's most important to me are things like: being a good mother, looking after my physical health, being creative in my work, and spending my time how I want to spend it, rather than falling into traps of being busy but inefficient. That's four categories, so I'd want to make sure those four were represented somewhere on my goals list, and in a significant way rather than just tangentially.
Try: A balanced 2019 goals list might include at least one goal from each of the categories that's important to you.
How this helps: This question can ensure you have some balance, and that nothing important is completely omitted from your goals list. You can also look at whether your specific goals are the best route to take towards you underlying aim. For example, I might ask myself "What's the top thing I need to do to look after my physical health?"
3. Do you know how you're currently spending your time?
It's difficult to set goals unless you understand how you spend your time. Everyone has probably heard the famous saying, "What gets measured gets managed." So, what's critically important for you to measure? I started doing a couple of important types of tracking in the last year or two.
- I use RescueTime (the free version) to track how much time I'm spending on different websites. This gives me a weekly report that shows the hours per week I spend writing, emailing, etc.
- I use the Google Fit app to track my physical activity, so that I ensure I'm meeting the American Heart Association guidelines of 150 "move minutes" per week.
Both of these are auto-magic and don't require me to manually track anything. Since the tracking happens automatically, it also means I don't ever quit tracking. It's always happening. There are benefits to permanently monitoring key metrics (for me, this is mainly the amount of time I spend writing and my physical activity), and also to understanding my time use overall.
Try: If you've never recorded your time use, try doing it for a week. There are some tools and guidance for doing this here.
How this helps: When you understand your time use, you'll be better able to plan for overcoming obstacles to your goals. Tracking your time use can also reveal that things you thought were problems aren't really. For example, I thought that I was probably spending too much time in participating in a Slack group I'm a member of, but when I tracked it, it's usually about 2.5 hours a week, which is actually not a problem at all!
4. How does feeling your most creative and being your most creative match up for you?
This question applies for people who have being creative or doing meaningful work as a goal. Feeling creative and being creative aren't necessarily the same. A classic, if extreme, example of this is someone who is having a manic episode. They often think they're being wildly creative, when what they're coming up with is nonsense (compared to work they produce at other times).
On the flip side, sometimes when people are doing their most meaningful work, they don't necessarily feel creative and inspired. In fact they might feel downright anxious and unconfident, or just like they're slogging it out, pushing a heavy load uphill.
Try: I don't have any simple formula, but it's worth reflecting on how much your goal is just to feel a sense of creativity and flow versus actually producing meaningful work, even if doing so doesn't always feel much fun. There's no right or wrong answer here, other than to consider that there needs to be a balance.
How this helps: This question is just about mindfulness.
5. What are the thinking habits that hold you back?
When you're considering contenders for your goals, consider your problem thinking habits. For example, a thinking habit that holds me back is expecting things not to work (and therefore not trying them). Another is thinking, "I can't do that," when actually nothing is stopping me. For example, I think, "I can't relax for the evening, I've got too much work to do," when I absolutely could choose to take the evening off.
Try: Pick a thinking habit you'd like to change and incorporate this into your goals. Define the change you want to make in behavioral terms. For example, you might decide, "If I think something won't work, but there's no downside to trying it, then I will." If you're not sure what your problem thinking habits are, I've written many articles about these (e.g., here, here, and here), or see either of my books, The Healthy Mind Toolkit and The Anxiety Toolkit, for a more comprehensive look at this topic.
How this helps: Changing your thinking habits can be surprisingly achievable, if you're prepared to chip away at it over an extended period of time. Problem thinking habits often pervade many areas of life, and working on them can be fun and impactful.
These questions might seem like a lot to think about, and that's true. However, you don't need to tackle all your 2019 goals at once. Prioritize one or two goals for the start of the year, and return to work on your other goals as the year progresses. If thinking about your goals is feeling overwhelming, try these 20 fun self-reflection questions to think back on the past year instead.