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goals stepping stones

Last week, I wrote a post about the mindset shifts that serve as a foundation to help us set and achieve our goals. Without these mindset shifts, the best goal-setting process in the world won’t be effective. 

To be clear, this doesn’t mean that goal-setting structures and accountability are not valuable.  

I like to think about this as analogous to a house. The mindset shifts are the foundation. The way that we see the world, how we view our goals, and our ability to achieve them can serve as a firm foundation for us. 

Then, having a solid goal-setting process serves as the posts, beams, and columns that provide the structural integrity of the house. The goals make sure we have a structure to our lives. It’s up to us to make sure that we don’t let any part of the house get too heavy for the beams to hold.  

Finally, the process of carrying out our goals day-to-day is everything in between – the drywall, the insulation, the roof, etc. After we set goals, we need to create plans, check-in on our progress, build habits, and create accountability structures. 

Without the foundation, the structure doesn’t stand. Without the structure, the drywall and roof wouldn’t stay up. All these things build on each other.

If you haven’t read the post yet about the mindset shifts, I recommend going back to read that one first. If any of these statements feel true for you, I especially encourage you to go back and read the post. 

  • Do you feel exhausted? Like you don’t have the time and energy to think about what you want in life let alone set and follow-through with goals? 
  • Are you scared of setting goals because that means you could fail?  
  • Do you feel like you aren’t happy with your current life, but you feel like you should be? 

Now, let me be clear. Mindset shifts don’t happen all at once. We can start with a baseline level foundation with our mindset and then continue to cultivate these mindset shifts along the way. To continue with the analogy, maybe we realize there is a crack in the foundation, and we are simply repairing it.  Or, a more apt analogy could be to “build a plane while flying it” or “repair a submarine while 500 feet below sea level.” 

We can work on our mindset and our goals simultaneously. Without focusing on overcoming our mental barriers, goal-setting and follow-through will be a lot harder. If we focus on both, it can become a virtuous cycle. 

Our mindset helps us to set goals that are more aligned with what we want. Taking steps toward those goals can enable us to practice a growth mindset. This practice can help to solidify mindset shifts and help us to recognize new limiting beliefs we want to work through.  Finally, building a community of support can help us identify when we are slipping back into our old habits and mindsets. They can provide encouragement and support to help us dream bigger and stay consistent. A strong community helps us to set ambitious goals over time and work through limiting beliefs as they arise.m  

Hitting My Goal-Setting Stride

In 2020, I finally felt like I hit my stride. Over the last few years, I’ve focused on mindset shifts, setting big goals, and building accountability structures.  

When I finally figured out how to bring all 3 things together, magic happened. I accomplished (or overachieved) on almost all my goals in 2020.  

Here are the goals I created this year! I decided to share them all with you so that you can see the kinds of goals that I created and my evaluation of whether I accomplished them.  

Work-Related Goals 

I had work-related goals related to the blog and starting a business. Unsurprisingly, I was eventually hoping to move out of my former field (human resources), so I didn’t have any goals related to my traditional W2 job.  

GoalEvaluation
Grow the blog through weekly content, more podcast interviews, guest posts, and build the Slow FI messageSuccess: I wrote weekly on the blog, have completed over 25 Slow FI interviews, won the award for best content series, and done a number of podcast interviews and guest posts.  
Start a business with the goal of potentially taking a semi-retired route in a few years Success: I started my lifestyle design coaching business, and quit my job after 9 months. Now, my goal is to continue growing this business as a full-time entrepreneur and see how it evolves.  

Physical and Mental Wellness-Related Goals

I used to look at health-related goals very narrowly. I was only focused on exercise and eating healthy. Now I focus those goals on anything that makes me feel my best.  

GoalEvaluation
Sleep ~8 hours/nightSuccess: I created habits that enabled me to get 8 hours of sleep almost every night.  
No caffeinated coffee (drinking even 1 cup of daily coffee reduces my baseline energy level significantly) Success: I did not have a single cup of caffeinated coffee in 2020.
Meditating 3x/week Success: I got into the habit of taking my dog for a long walk outside every day, and I’d do a guided walking meditation during the walk.  
Address Physical Pain (I have TMJ, migraines, and a pinched nerve in my foot) Mostly Success: I started going to acupuncture which helped with the TMJ and migraines. I wasn’t as serious about doing the physical therapy exercises for my foot until the latter part of the year.  
Exercising 2x/weekSuccess: On average, I exercised more than 2x/week in addition to daily long walks with the dog. I discovered yoga this year which I’ve really enjoyed to help build up strength and stability.  
Eat healthier Ummmm…. Not so great: Honestly, this goal felt like a should, so I wasn’t invested in it from the very beginning. Plus, COVID hit and we were eating all the baked goods. If I want to do this in 2021, I need to come up with a more compelling reason besides should

Growth-Related Goals 

I also had some growth-related goals that would help me to be more successful at my other goals and to help me become the best version of myself.  

GoalEvaluation 
Do more experiential learning to learn more about coaching, retreats, courses, workshops, etc.  Success: In the spring, I worked with a coach that helped me with the marketing side of launching my coaching program. I participated in multiple courses focused on lifestyle design and goal-setting. While a retreat didn’t happen in 2020, I signed up for a retreat in late 2021. I also learned a lot by doing. I tested out different workshops, course structures, coaching groups, etc.  
Become more minimalist Success (and I need to keep going): I have gotten rid of SO MANY THINGS in 2020. I’m starting to feel the benefits of having less stuff, and I want to keep going.  

Fun-Related Goals

I used to think that all goal-setting should be very serious. In reality, a huge part of the reason why I’m pursuing FI in the first place is so that I can have more joy and fun in my life. Of course, I should be setting goals related to this!  

There’s also been a lot of research about how doing activities that we would consider play helps us recover more quickly. This can allow us to better achieve our other goals. However, I’m not saying that the only purpose of fun should be so that we can achieve other goals. Fun can (and should) be an end unto itself.   

GoalEvaluation
Local Adventures – to recognize the beauty in my own backyard Success: Amazingly, I set this goal before COVID hit (not realizing that we’d ONLY be having local adventures this year). Here are just a few local adventures we did in 2020: hiking, exploring parks in our neighborhood, camping, disc golfing, rented a cabin in Maine. We’re even planning a New England Campervan adventure for next summer.
Play Pandemic Legacy (a game about saving the world from a pandemic with a story that unfolds as you play). It’s super nerdy and super fun.  Success: We not only played Pandemic Legacy Season 1 this spring, but we also played Pandemic Legacy Season 2 this fall. I’m already scheming to get Season 3 for my birthday (at this point, this is probably the only way I could make Corey play again).  

As you can see, I focused on 4 categories of goals for 2020 annual planning. To be clear, I did not see this as a “check the box” exercise of setting new years resolutions. I created these goals, and I used them to guide my daily life this year. 

How I Created and Achieved My Goals for 2020

In this post, I’m going to walk you through the process that I used to set and achieve my goals in 2020.  My goal-setting process includes the following steps: 

  1. Evaluating your life and your trajectory 
  2. Articulating what you really want in life 
  3. Prioritizing focus areas and setting goals 
  4. Mapping out the steps and determining a timeline 
  5. Building a community of support and ongoing accountability structures 

To be clear, I don’t necessarily recommend that you take my exact process and implement it for 2021. Everything I did in 2020 built on years of mindset shifts and deep reflection on what I really wanted out of life.  

If you are recovering from burnout or struggling to figure out what you want, this is the type of comprehensive process you could work towards. It’s okay if it doesn’t look exactly like this.  

In 2021, you might decide to focus on recovering from burnout. Setting boundaries, rediscovering joy, and making mindset shifts will help you figure out what you want and work toward it. 

In 2019 as I was recovering from burnout, my only goal for the year was simply to “be kind to myself.” That’s what I needed that year to get me to where I am now.  

As I share my full process (as it’s evolved thus far), I’d encourage you to think about what would be helpful for you. Then, leave what’s not helpful.  

Step 1 – Start Where You Are 

Where you are can tell you a lot about where you want to go. This is why the first step I always take is to reflect on what’s working and what’s not working in 6 areas of my life:

  • Work 
  • Finances
  • Mental and physical well-being 
  • Fun/Play 
  • Growth/Curiosity
  • Relationships  

Once I do this, I will rank on a scale of 1-10 my level of satisfaction in each area. This can help me understand the areas that I want to prioritize and pay attention to.  

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When we understand what is working in our lives, it can help us to understand what kind of things we want to do more of. It could also help indicate a direction we might want to explore. This same reflection can also help us minimize what isn’t working. 

I do this reflection 3-4 times/year. It’s great to do on a particular cadence (quarterly) or whenever something in your life feels out of alignment.  

Step 2 – Articulate What You Want 

Articulating what we want is an iterative process. The key question to ask yourself at this stage is, “If I were to rate every area a 10/10, what would that look and feel like for me?”  

Ultimately, it’s important to articulate what you want in all 6 core areas of life. Yet, if you are new to this kind of practice, you can choose 2-3 areas to focus on first.  

journal reflect think

If you can’t immediately come up with an answer, that’s okay. Set a timer for 10 minutes, and start writing. Write about how you want to feel in this area of your life.  

When you start to do this, you are likely to encounter resistance. Your mind might tell you to do anything but this. Maybe you’ll get the sudden urge to clean your whole house, start training for a 5k, or simply to scroll social media. Pay attention to this resistance. It usually means you are getting close to something valuable.  

It’s also important to note that what you want will continue to evolve over time. We’ll continue to learn more about what we want and get more specific as we test out new things. 

Here’s an example of what I want related to work has evolved in just one year.  

In 2020, I wanted to do work I enjoyed that made a difference in the world. I also wanted it to provide me with the flexibility I desired. I realized that this was likely leading me toward entrepreneurship.

I know this is very general, and that’s okay. 

After a year of testing things out and working toward becoming an entrepreneur, what I want now is much more specific.

Now, I want to generate enough income with my passion-based, location-independent business that my husband can quit his job. I want my work to bring me joy and support the life I want to live. I’m excited to see how much more specific it’s become after experimenting with that vision for only one year.  

If you want to jumpstart the process of figuring out what you want, there are so many additional resources available.  I’ve written about how to identify the elements of your ideal life and I run group coaching programs devoted to exactly this concept. 

Step 3 – Prioritize and Set Goals 

Based on steps 1 and 2, you can determine which of the 6 areas you want to focus on in 2021. Even if you created an ideal vision in all 6 areas, you will want to determine if there are a few areas for the year that you want to prioritize.  

For example, I feel very solid about my finances and my relationships that I didn’t feel like I needed to create specific goals in those areas for 2020. You might decide you want to deprioritize an area that’s going very well for you.  It’s also possible that you’ll decide you want to enhance that area. It’s completely up to you.  

Once you’ve prioritized the areas, determine goals that could help you work toward that vision.  I’d encourage you to look at two types of goals: 

  • Short-term goals: What action steps could you take to make this area 20-30% better now?  
  • Long-term goals: What actions can I take this year to work toward my long-term vision?  

If you are struggling to create a long-term vision, I’d encourage you to start with short-term goals. When you take steps to start improving your life, you will start to see what you want a lot more clearly. If you aren’t yet sure what you want, one goal for the year could be to figure it out! 

Step 4 – Map Out Action Steps Into a Timeline 

At this point, you’ll review your goals for 2021 and begin to think about the actions that you will need to take to achieve those goals. When I do this, I think about two different types of actions:

  1. Habits – These are things that I will do on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis to support my goals. 
  2. Project-based Steps – There are things that I’ll likely do one time to complete a project.  

After I map out the habits and projects that will be required to achieve my goals, I then map them onto a timeline. I break the year into four quarters, and I map out what I’d like to accomplish in each quarter.  

It’s important to be realistic with our time. Don’t try to cram everything into Q1 or you will burn out. Remember that our goals are meant to make us feel good. They aren’t a punishment. Space them out in a way that will feel good. You can wait to get started on something until Q3 or Q4.  

This is also the point where you might realize that you’ve bitten off a little bit more than you can chew. I have shiny object syndrome and always want to try new things, so sometimes I need to pare down my list to something that’s a bit more realistic. When I do that, I don’t completely get rid of the idea. I add it to a “wishlist.” If I find myself with extra time, I’ll go to my wishlist. Or, I’ll take a look at my wishlist when I’m planning for the following year.  

Ongoing – Create Structures for Individual Accountability and Group Support 

It’s important to create structures to help you on track. It’s also important to build a community that can encourage and support you. If you build a community of people with similar goals, they will help you get unstuck when you aren’t sure how to move forward.  

I use two structures to support my goals throughout the year. Each quarter, I plan for 3 months ahead. I go back to my annual goals to see what I said I wanted to do in the next 3 months. Then, I reflect on how the year has gone so far, and if I want to adjust anything about the goals or timeline. After that, I map out what I’ll do on a weekly basis for the quarter.  

Then, each Monday morning, I look back at the quarterly plan and map out my goals for the week. In the weekly plan, I include my daily, weekly, and monthly habits. Then I add action steps that help me work toward my project-based goals.  

If you’d like to try out this structure for your own quarterly or weekly planning, you can download them here.  

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If you don’t already have a community of people who can help you succeed, I encourage you to start building that community immediately. I have a coaching client who calls this group of people her “wellness community.” I love this term. Her wellness community includes her therapist, participants and leaders of programs she’s a part of, and others with similar goals.  

community support accountability

Over the past year, my wellness community has included the following: 

  • A therapist – I would absolutely not be in the place I am today without her. I’ve been meeting with her weekly for about 3 years. It’s a great space to talk through challenges and things that I’m learning. 
  • A coach – As I was launching my coaching work earlier this year, I decided to work with an expert. Instead of agonizing over every detail, I immediately had an expert thought partner. She could answer all of my questions and would tell me when I just needed to do what felt right.  
  • An accountability partner – My accountability partner and I have been meeting together for a virtual lunch weekly for the last year. She’s a fellow blogger and a financial coach, so we’ve been able to support and learn a lot from each other.
  • A mastermind group – This group is in its early stages but I’ve sought out people who are at a similar stage as I am in my entrepreneurship journey. Over the course of the last 4 months, we’ve met on a monthly basis to discuss our progress, share ideas, and get unstuck. I’m hoping that this will continue to evolve in 2021.  

In addition to this, I’d periodically have a virtual coffee or lunch date with various people who I thought do interesting work. This is one way to start building up the network of people who could be part of your “wellness community.”

I’d like to provide a few tips on how you can start to build your own community, but I may need to devote an entire blogpost to this at a later date.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Don’t limit yourself to your local community or the people you already know. Join themed online communities around particular topics of interest, start getting to know people, and reach out to people you admire on social media. 
  • Join self-development programs and build relationships with other participants. When you are coming together around a shared goal, you can meet some incredible people.  
  • For therapy, I recommend using the directory on Psychology Today’s website. This website allows you to put in your location, type of insurance, and other criteria to find someone who might be a good fit for you.  

This is a lot. Where should I start?  

I agree. This is a lot! I want to remind you of what I shared at the very beginning of this post. This process is a result of 3 years of intentional mindset and lifestyle shifts. This did not happen overnight.  

It’s okay if it feels like a lot. You aren’t going to do it all at once. You can take one step at a time.  

Here’s what I recommend: 

  1. Start with how you feel. Do you have “overflow” to put toward your goals? If you are feeling burned out or too exhausted, I’d start there first. What can you eliminate to make your life more manageable? How can you add joy to your daily life?
  2. Read about the rest of the mindset shifts and decide which you want to focus on in the coming year.  
  3. Start with step 1 and reflect on what’s working and what isn’t working in your life. You fill out the form below to receive a free reflection worksheet.  
  4. Join my 10 Days to Get Off Autopilot Challenge that will be running from January 3rd to 13th. The challenge will focus on building the right mindset to achieve our goals. It’ll also take you through step 1 and part of step 2 of this process. Not only will you determine the shifts you want to make, but you’ll also be held accountable in the context of a community to start taking action immediately.  

In 2021, I hope that we can all gain a clearer vision of who we are and what we want in life. I also hope that you can build a community that will help you dream bigger and help you get unstuck when you face challenges. 

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