Wise words have never been truer than those of author Vern McLellan when he says, “what the new year brings to you will depend a great deal on what you bring to the new year.” The start of the new year, ripe with hope, brings a moment to both pause and reflect on the past year and a chance to dream up fresh goals. The new year serves up an opportunity to evaluate life and determine what went well and what should continue, as well as what didn’t go well and what should change.

While everyone has a different way of reflecting on the past year and their own unique styles of goal setting, I’ll share what has worked for me. Over the past few years, I have not journaled, in the traditional sense with pen and paper, by writing down my thoughts at the beginning or end of each day. Instead, when I have accomplished something, I enter it into my cell phone reminders application, keeping a running list of things I have achieved. These achievements can really be anything! I have typed in a note when I’ve successfully cooked a specific meal or completed reading a book or fixed the lawnmower. Anything I’m proud of doing and have done well, I can list. This type of note taking requires only seconds to record my thoughts and accomplishments, but by taking down my thoughts, I am building a list which I can later reference to review and remind myself of the things I have achieved. This list is super motivational for me whenever I am hesitant to try something new. I look back at my list and say, I’ve achieved X and this new task isn’t all that different. Let’s give it a try! Not only is this list helpful for giving myself a pep talk, but at the end of the year, I find it fun to look back on the positive aspects of the year. I suppose this list could be used when composing a yearly newsletter or for an accountability talk with a friend or coach, but I often keep my yearly lists private and can look back several years to see personal growth and progress. This accomplishments list serves as a motivational tool, as a record of successful activities and as a great place to start in setting new goals as well.

Courtney Carver, one of my favorite authors on minimalism, reminds me in her bemorewithless blog article that I no longer have to hold on to old goals and expectations. The beauty of this concept is that you don’t have to finish goals just because you set them. You are permitted to let old goals go and start fresh with new goals. She shares, “you are not the same person you were a year ago. You may want something different than before” and that’s perfectly okay. 

It’s easier to set new goals, however, after looking at what you have completed and decided you should continue doing. Have you put into place new habits this year that are serving you well? Why not keep doing things that are working for you? Are there any ways you can enhance these habits and take that habit to a new, better and more beneficial level? Voila! You have already set one new goal if you have decided to enhance your habits. But not everything that’s serving you can be “one-upped” in this way. If I’m drawing a blank for new goal setting ideas, I find it helpful to look at various categories in my life. I set goals to improve my body, mind, spirit, family, career and community. Too many goals can be overwhelming and unachievable, so keeping to these six categories limits me from trying to overachieve.

Here’s a handy list of my favorite goal setting / evaluative questions, many of which are derived from Leigh Ann Dutton’s IntentionalbyGrace blog posts and the bemorewithless blog and articles:

  1. What’s working for you right now? What do you want to say yes to in the coming year?
  2. What’s not working for you right now? What do you want to say no to or let go of in the coming year?
  3. Do your priorities align with how you spend your time?
  4. What would you like more time and space for?
  5. What are you turning to for comfort? Do any changes need to be made in this dependency?
  6. What’s draining you right now? Is it something that can be delegated or taken off your plate?
  7. How do you want to grow this year?
  8. How can you deepen your connections and engage more in your relationships? Is there a particular relationship you need to focus on?
  9. Imagine how you think life should feel. In an ideal world, how do you want to live your life? In what ways can you make this vision a reality?
  10. What character trait do you need to work on?
  11. What do you wish you knew more about? 
  12. How can you maximize the season of life that you are in?
  13. Is there anything (including practicing self-care) that you’ve been neglecting, that needs to come back to priority status?
  14. How can you turn your intentions into impact?
  15. How can you better love those around you and show hospitality in the coming year?
  16. Wouldn’t it be crazy if …?

I do put quite a lot of energy and intentionality into setting my goals. So, once I’ve listed out my goals, I like to write down why it matters. I like to note why I am choosing this goal currently. This practice cements each goal’s importance and helps me to mentally justify why the goal is worth working towards.  

At this stage in my goal setting, I break the larger goals into smaller actionable steps because, especially at the beginning of the year, time seems to pass so quickly and before I know it, a month or two or three have passed and I’m down a quarter of a year! For me, that’s too long of a time period to waste. Not only do I create “the option of doing” by asking myself David Allen’s famous question “what’s the next action?” but also by selecting a date and time for taking action and then calendaring it. I feel some mental relief in doing this, because I know I now have the next actionable step outlined and I have found a time to get it done. There is peace of mind in knowing that as long as I do that action when I have planned to take that action, I’ll be well on my way to completing a goal I have set. As James Clear says, “each action you take is a vote for that person you want to become.”

 A few hours invested in reflecting, dreaming and goal setting allows me to start the new year with fresh new goals. I am energized by knowing that my efforts will allow me to participate in the lives of people I care about, I will personally grow from my new positive habits I’m developing and I’ll be accomplishing things that really matter and really make a difference.

By Kerry Tay McLean, Ombuds Program Administrator
University of Colorado Boulder Ombuds Office