The entire world has already set a goal for 2021: recover from 2020. We’re exhausted, so it’s tempting to view this coming year primarily as a time to “get back to normal.”
But “getting back to normal” isn’t progress. When the world knocks you back one step, there’s an opportunity to wake up and take two steps forward. Don’t allow the pain of the pandemic to drown the dreams you had before quarantine began.
No matter what is happening in the world, setting goals for the new year is a timeless practice that encourages meditation and self-discovery. Our advice will respect your recovery, but it will also help you push yourself harder than before.
Closure on 2020
You won’t get far in 2021 if 2020 is still dragging you down. Before setting goals for the new year, try to find closure with the old year.
Did you set goals at the beginning of 2020 or the end of 2019? It might be tough to remember. The pandemic has warped our sense of time, so a year ago may feel like many years ago. Nonetheless, think back as much as you can.
Which of these goals did you meet? Which were not achieved? Why not? Asking and answering these types of questions will allow you to gain insight for next year. Also, clarity about why you didn’t complete something you wanted allows you to let it go. Letting go at the end of the year is important because it’s hard to reach for a new outcome if you’re still holding on to an old one.
Even if you didn’t set any goals, reflect on what you’ve accomplished. Make a list of 100 things you were grateful for or appreciate that year. If you’re in a situation that is making it difficult to think of anything to be grateful for, remind yourself of this simple fact: You are alive. Unlike millions of people in the world, you survived a plague and have a chance to reinvigorate your life.
To formalize the process of closure, set a date or activity where you celebrate everything positive about the past year. Say goodbye to it.
There are many cultures and religions that practice this celebration. In the Japanese Buddhist tradition, “Joya no Kane,” practitioners ring a large bell 108 times. This number is a reference to the 108 worldly desires mentioned in certain schools of Buddhism.
How Do I Identify My Goals?
The bestselling book, “Designing Your Life,” explores four areas of life: love, play, work and health. Is there an area you want to prioritize? Meditate on what is missing in your life or what has fallen short.
Another method is to choose a theme word. If you want to save money in 2021, try a word like prosperity, wealth or savings. For those who enjoy visual projects, make a word cloud and place it prominently in your home. This word will set the spiritual tone for your entire year, so you should be comfortable seeing it constantly.
How Do I Set Meaningful Goals?
Motivation will determine meaning. Think about what life would be like if you achieved your goal in the ideal timeline. How does that vision make you feel? If the emotion is strong, it’s likely that the goal is meaningful to you.
Be ambitious. The most meaningful goals are often the ones that challenge you.
SMART is a popular framework for these goals. In case you’re not familiar with the acronym, here’s the breakdown:
- Specific — What are the details of your goal? “Become a better person,” for example, is way too vague. On the other hand, “Write a 50,000-word book” is specific.
- Measurable — How do you know if you’re close or far from your goal? If possible, pick a goal that can be tied to numbers and increments.
- Achievable — We want you to be ambitious, but the goal should be something you’re physically capable of. If you pick something impossible, you’ll only feel discouraged when you inevitably fall short. Then you’ll have to spend more valuable time adjusting the goal or deciding on something new.
- Relevant — If you have multiple big goals, ruminate on whether they complement each other. Goals should support an overall vision of the ideal life and self.
- Time-bound — What is your deadline for completing the goals? Is it the end of the new year? Or do you want different deadlines depending on the goal?
Don’t set too many goals. If you have more than a dozen in mind, narrow them down to the most meaningful. This lower number will play into the SMART framework by making the goals easier to measure and achieve.
How Do I Achieve My Goals?
To increase the chance of achieving these goals, identify obstacles. Then make plans for overcoming these obstacles. If you’re trying to lose weight — a popular new year’s resolution — what are the foods that set you back the most? How can you develop the discipline to avoid these foods?
In addition to the SMART framework, create mechanisms to keep you accountable and ensure you succeed. Some of the things you might do to keep yourself accountable are to set goals with your partner or a friend. Set goals together and agree to keep each other accountable. You might even schedule check-in times—weekly, monthly, and quarterly. Also, write down your goals and read them aloud to someone. Studies show that speaking your intention to do something greatly increases the likelihood that you’ll actually do it.
And if you’re serious about your goals, you can invest in a life coach. This professional will meet with you regularly and help you flesh out a vision, and a strategy for realizing your vision.
A Life Coach is specially trained to help you clarify your vision and keep you out of the deadly world of generalization. Knowing what you want and why you want it with tremendous detail greatly increases your likelihood of realizing your vision, as does having some accountability.
Once you know what you want, you can put it into a timeline and develop a strategy for making it happen. But more important than any of these steps is to make sure that what you want to achieve truly comes from you—from within.
One last thing to keep in mind:
It’s often the case that as you become more and more clear on your goals, they tend to change slightly. This is ok. But always make sure that the change is closer to what you actually want rather than what you think you should want. It’s better to avoid “should” when dreaming of what you want to make of your life. However, once you clarify your vision, you might need to modify it or break it down into smaller stair-step goals. This is ok, too.
Be realistic about how much you can get done. And make sure that you’re comfortable with the impact that your project and the time that you dedicate to it will have on your life. Also, make sure that your goals bring enjoyment—good stress—rather than bad stress into your life.
Good stress makes you feel more enthusiastic and excited about life. Bad stress tends to lead to burnout and zaps your enthusiasm. Keep an eye on how you feel. Because you’re in control.
Your goals should give you spiritual energy, although you might have to work hard to achieve them. And remember you’re the best judge of what feels right for you, what’s working, and what’s not.
If you follow this advice, 2021 can be a transformative year for you. “The new normal” doesn’t have to be worse than the old normal. You can make it better.