When it Comes to Goals, Your Past is Prologue

When it Comes to Goals, Your Past is Prologue
As one year ends and another begins, many of us turn our attention to goal setting, and to trying to create a framework for success in the next 12 months. Sometimes we are determined that the coming year really will be the one where needed and desired change takes place—new job, better budgeting, healthier lifestyle. The list could go on and on.

There are many possible strategies for goal setting. For example, some experts suggest breaking big goals down into manageable pieces. Some suggest realistically limiting the number of goals you will work on, or on separating goals into different categories so that you can focus more. Too often, however, we fail to do the necessary background work before moving forward. This is like a corporation developing a new strategic plan without evaluating the old one. Without the insight of the past, it is difficult to build the future.

Before you begin your annual goal setting, take some time to do a review of the past year and focus not only on what you did or didn’t achieve, but on what you learned about yourself and about life in general. Start with achievements and write them down. Include what you were proudest of and what excited or inspired you the most. Identify what were the highlights of your year and why.

Then list the low points and what you consider failures. Think carefully about these and be certain they belong in the failure category. Consider whether you have—or are able to—put these behind you? If not, why not? Why did they occur and how can you prevent similar situations in the future. Perhaps most importantly, what did you learn from them. Try to be specific. Instead of simply saying, “I learned I hate working in groups,” can you describe what went wrong with the project? Were you too pushy or too laid back? Did you feel negative from the start? Were you passive-aggressive? Were your ideas and suggestions ignored? If so, why? What could you have done more effectively?

Next, try to assess the distractions that had a negative impact on your goals. Perhaps that trip you had planned for months had to be delayed because your car stopped working. Or, a hiring freeze at your job stopped a hoped-for promotion. Or a broken ankle derailed your fitness program.

Only after you have evaluated your highlights, low points, successes, failures, distractions, inspirations, and lessons learned will you be ready to set realistic and achievable goals for the coming year.

For a business, it would be a waste of time to simply copy an old strategic plan and put a new date on it. Similarly, it’s a waste of time to just copy your goal list from last year and assume that anything will change.

What you can achieve in the future. Is directly related to what lessons you have learned from your past efforts. When it comes to setting goals, your past really is prologue.

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