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Blog Short #166: Set Yourself Up for Next Year by Doing This

It’s that time of year again when you’re starting to formulate plans for the next twelve months. New Year’s is about a week away, which gives you some time to think about what you want to accomplish.

But, to do that successfully, it helps first to take an inventory of where you are right now because you can’t know where you want to go until you’re clear on where you’re starting from.

Here’s the process that’s helped me clarify my goals each year. Hopefully, you’ll find it helpful, too.

I’ll lay this out in steps, and I suggest that with each step, you write out answers to the questions I’m going to pose. Writing always crystallizes things.

Step 1: Identify your meaning.

We all know how to create to-do lists, but how often do you stand back and ask yourself what gives your life meaning? What’s your sense of purpose?

You may have multiple purposes, but there’s usually one singular overriding meaning or sense of purpose in your life that embraces the others and guides all you do or pursue.

If you’re unsure about this, it’s worth spending some time identifying it.

Do this exercise:

Write down every purpose or meaning (small or large) you have or align yourself with. Don’t narrow down yet. Keep writing until you’ve exhausted all the possibilities.

Once you have the list, begin narrowing it until you can identify and write out the overriding purpose or meaning you associate with your life in a sentence or two.

Too often, people don’t ask the question, “Why am I here?”

It’s an important question, and without trying to answer it, you move through life willy-nilly without having any control over its trajectory. By applying some real thought to this question, you’ll find direction and meaning that energizes and guides your actions.

Step 2: Review your current life status against your overall meaning and purpose.

Now that you’ve identified your life’s meaning and purpose, the next question is,

“Does my current life reflect what’s most important to me?”

Do your activities, relationships, involvements, behavior, goals, and endeavors align with what you’ve identified in the step above as your meaning and purpose?

You’ll likely have both yeses and nos to that question because we’re always a work in progress. So don’t lament that you aren’t working toward what gives you meaning in some areas, but look at it and see where you would like to make some changes.

These two questions will help you figure that out.

  1. What’s working against your purpose and meaning?
  2. What are the obstacles that are keeping you from moving toward what you find most important?

These can be big things like bad relationships or a job that sucks the life out of you, or little things like wasting time on social media every day.

Again, write out the answers to these questions thoughtfully and without censoring until you have clarity.

Use Categories to Organize Your Thoughts

If you’d like to get more specific about reviewing your current life and planning for next year, you might find it helpful to put things in categories so they’re easier to sift through.

Here are the areas I use to clarify where I’m at and if I’m on track with my overall meaning and purpose.

  • Self-Awareness
  • Responsibility
  • Empathy & Connection
  • Self-Discipline
  • Communication
  • Boundary-Setting
  • Physicality
  • Spirituality

Some people use other areas. These are from Tony Robbins.

  • Contribution & Spirituality
  • Finances
  • Career & Mission
  • Time
  • Relationships
  • Emotions & Meaning
  • Physical Body

There are others you can use that are easy to find if you just Google “7 areas of life.”

The ones I use focus more on habits and capacities that enable me to fulfill the meaning and purposes I’ve identified as most important.

The other schematics divide things into specific areas of your life, which you can examine to decide where you need the most change.

Either are helpful and will get you to where you need to go to evaluate the directions you want to take.

This step is the most time-consuming one, but it lays the groundwork for the next step if you take the time to do it thoroughly.

Step 3: Using the areas you’ve decided to examine, write out these two things under each category.

  1. What am I doing right now that’s aligned with my purpose and goals? In other words, what’s already going well, and what habits and strategies am I using that I want to keep?
  2. What needs improvement? What activities or trends are not aligned with my purpose or goals? What’s detracting from them?

You can move to the next step when you’re clear on this.

Step 4: Create new goals.

Now that you have a clearer sense of your purpose that provides meaning for you and have reviewed where you are right now in terms of living that purpose, you’re ready to make new goals.

Using the information you uncovered and wrote down, develop a list of goals you’d like to pursue.

Write them all down.

That doesn’t mean you’ll tackle them all right away. You won’t. But it’s good to have them defined.

The thing about goals is that they generally shift over time because circumstances change, or after you’ve completed one goal, you may decide the next one’s not necessary or not taking you in the right direction.

It doesn’t matter right now whether the goals are absolutely what you will pursue. But having goals helps you take action, so write them down.

Next, prune them.

Get down to several goals. As you do this, make sure that they’re:

  1. Specific
  2. Measurable
  3. Achievable
  4. Relevant
  5. Time-Bound

These are called SMART goals. I’ve referred to these in other articles because I like this handy guide for making goals. You can read more here.

Your overall task is to come up with a few very doable and concrete goals that fall within your criteria of importance and meaning and then set them up in time.

You need to break your goals into actions week to week. If you want to get a new job this year, write down every action step you need to take to make that happen and place it on your weekly calendar.

For instance, you might need to redo your resume, revise your LinkedIn profile, get more training in a new area or take courses, talk to a recruiter, and fill out applications. Break down your list into the smallest components or actions possible.

I personally don’t schedule out more than a month ahead and stick to no more than three action goals per week.

Do what works best for you, but make sure that you track your progress weekly. If you don’t do that, it’s easy to fall off and abandon all your good intentions. For information on how to do that, read this article.

Staying on Track

Using this process will certainly get you going, but as you know, the more challenging part is sustaining your effort ​once your motivation starts to wane.

I’ve mentioned weekly tracking, which you should do, but it also helps to repeat the above process at least twice a year and at least monthly measure your activities against your purpose. By doing that, you keep your big picture in mind, which helps drive your smaller actions and steadies your motivation.

Last, I have two suggestions:

  1. Read ​Atomic Habits by James Clear if you haven’t already.
  2. Consider an accountability partner.

Both will help you create the right system to stay on track.

That’s all for today!

Have a great week, and Happy New Year!

All my best,


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