At the start of a new year, I enjoy reflecting on what I want to see and make happen in the upcoming year. Doing so gives a sense of focus to my thoughts, actions, habits, and beliefs. I refer to it as my Annual Goal Setting Exercise, and it keeps me grounded and needlessly searching. This approach has served me well in the past, so I’m compelled to do it at the start of each year.
How Annual Goal Setting Began
It’s been an evolutionary process that has happened over the past fifteen years. In my late twenties and early thirties, it was relatively straight forward. It started with a reflection on well-being. That was easy at the time; I was crystal clear on its essence. I was a young guy and just out of graduate school, so career, finances, and staying fit were the keys—I hoped they would propel me to the life of my dreams.
I set professional goals like broadening my knowledge and skills to earn a promotion at work. I established monthly financial savings amounts and created fitness goals like training for and running marathons. Life seemed straight-forward and having goals made it even more focused. I didn’t have to pay any attention to the noise: life’s anxiety, ambiguity, and struggle. I knew what I wanted and set out to make it happen.
I had been diagnosed with a neurological disease in graduate school that had the potential to stop me in my tracks, but I made a conscious decision not to let it in or guide me. My reaction may seem naive and immature, but my body had healed from the symptoms that led to the diagnosis, so I put my foot on life’s accelerator petal. The goal of getting as much out of life while I could drove me, and I hoped annual goal setting would help make it happen.
Adding a New Goal
I had the professional, financial, and physical heart of well-being dialed in and on cruise control when I realized there was something missing. I was accomplishing a lot and reaching my goals. I had a great group of friends, but I was lonely. At thirty-one, I decided to add a new aspect of well-being to my life perspective, a significant relationship. Someone I could go home to and share my successes—someone who would round out my experience and hopefully allow me to feel more complete.
Halfway through that year, I found my soul mate. I had known her for a year; she was my hairstylist who had cut my hair every month before I finally asked her out. My buddies chided me that I seemed to get my haircut a lot, but I didn’t care because I was smitten. Over the following year, I opened my heart, and we feel in love. We were eventually married, but before I had the chance to add the goals of being the best husband I could and becoming a father, the disease caught up to me.
Stop Setting Goals
For a couple of years in my mid-thirties, I didn’t set any goals as the disease ravaged and consumed me. It was all I could to keep my professional and financial foundation from crumbling. It was terrifying to watch my body deteriorate.
At the start of my thirty-fifth year, I was in a world of trouble. I walked like an elderly man. I hesitated after each labored step, scared to transfer my weight from my right leg to my left, unsure if the leg had the strength, sensitivity, and responsiveness needed to safely carry me from point a to b. I fell down stairs. The decline had happened fast. Just two years earlier, I had run the Philadelphia marathon in a little over four hours, but my body had lost all sense of what it had felt like to cross the finish line. Physical success was a distant memory.
I was in just as much trouble mentally. Though I had earned a master’s degree from MIT, my once steal trap faculties struggled to grasp concepts. I failed an on-line test at work that I had the experience and previous capacity to teach. My mind’s earlier ability to fuel accomplishment that led to a strong sense of self turned to failure.
Professionally, my job conceptualizing, designing, and building software to launch start-up companies and create enterprise applications was in jeopardy. My co-workers and managers began to notice. My confidence, ability, and fortitude to tame the most challenging business problems were on the decline.
Financially, my hard work and performance had allowed me to build a solid nest egg. I received stock options as the result of the results I achieved for clients. I had contributed the maximum to my 401K savings plan each of the previous several years. All of that good fortune was called into question as my mind and body faltered. I feared for my financial future.
One Last Attempt
At the start of my thirty-fifth year I was desperate to improve my condition. I could no longer deny the disease. I had tried all conventional means for improving my symptoms, but none worked. It seemed like paralysis was inevitable. Before I gave into it, I made one last ditch effort to turn things around and set a goal for 2005 of finding some way, any way, to turn around my condition.
When I set it, it seemed way too amorphous and open ended to work, but I set it anyway. Over the next year, I watched in amazement as that one simple, open-ended goal and a ton of focus and effort, led me to not only find a way to improve my condition but unlocked the key to VIBRANT Well-being. I’m humbled by the impact the simple exercise of annual goal setting can have and continue to do it annually.
Do you set annual goals? How do you approach it? Would you like to hear more on this topic?