Values, long term goals and what you can do next

I faced an empty page when I attempted to put down my personal goals for the year. I felt I had nothing that I could call as grandiose as a goal to put down. I did not know where to start. In truth, I had way too many things I wanted to achieve. I was scared to put too many of them down. Scared to be disappointed.

“Goals, there is no telling what you can do when you get inspired by them. There’s no telling what you can do when you believe in them. And there’s no telling what will happen when you act upon them.”, in Migoals

As I found the long term goals section on the migoals book, I started writing. Long term goals felt so much easier to articulate. I have some long term goals, different statements that I have made in the past, such as “one day, I will write a book”. I have said that for as long as I can remember, I have started different books, I have taken manuscripts to different far-away places and holidays, re-started and reset. And then started a different thing all together a year later. It was a dream. This year, I have made it a goal. Not for this year, or the year after, but I have an intention, a timeline, and steps to get there.

“Goal setting is a means of turning your dreams into reality”, in Migoals 

Great Sara, you wrote your dreams down and now call it a goal, really? We all have so many dreams, how do we even start by selecting them. Or actually, we may be pretty happy with your lives, there is no dream per se that we have. And why are you so obsessed about goals anyway? I am not, and that is why I sometimes struggle to put them down. But I found that this year I encountered the right balance to set my goals. How? The first question I would ask is, “what are your values, and are you living your life in accordance with them”. I know, it is a deep question and not one that you may expect to address when writing down your early goals. If your goal is losing weight or having healthier nutrition this year, you may challenge, “what does it have to do with values”. And my answer is – everything.

“In Western society, we tend to lead a goal-focused life. Life is all about achievement, and success is usually defined in terms of status, wealth and power. Typically, we aren’t closely connected with our values, and because of that, we can easily get caught up in goals that are not truly meaningful to us.”

The Happiness Trap, Chapter 28, Finding Fulfilment

Yes, I opened up my old book on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy again. It had been more than 2 years since I looked at it and I am now certain I will read through it again this year. My word of the year is growth, and this book qualifies as top 3 in those that made me grow. It should probably be mandatory for me to recycle it every so often. But let me not get lost and go back to values and goals.

ACT advocates a “values-focused life“. In this context, goals are the tools that will move us towards our long term fulfilment, always guided by our values. If you are not exclusively goal focused but rather value-focused, you get to appreciate the journey. It is not only about reaching your goals, and because your goals are in full alignment with what you value in life, then you get to enjoy achieving them, and you can always find the next step when you get there. There is no void or sense of emptiness when you reach a goal because it is part of your journey and not necessarily your end destination.

I have chosen to share some core values with you, as they may help you frame yours. At some point, I will write a bit more on the process of articulating your values as I recognise that this is not the easiest thing in the world. I have not done a long workshop on it, this is merely the product of this writing process and going through “The Happiness Trap”. It is a start and one that makes some long term goals clear to me.

  • Provide security for my family
  • Being there for my family and my friends
  • Be kind and loving
  • Helping others
  • Growing – myself and others

Each of these values will have associated long term and short term goals. But there are lots of relevant things in our lives – family, self-care, work, community work, social and friends, so does that not make it too many goals? I am not sure, I think you can have goals in all these areas (and others of relevance) but only if it is relevant to have goals and they help you grow in the direction you want in each of them. At times in life, you may have goals at work and for your family but not more than that, as it may feel too overwhelming. There is in all honesty, a prior exercise you may have to do to assess your values and only then establish a couple of goals in each area. Or you may choose that this year, you will be clear about your goals for work, and then work through other areas as time goes by.  But be clear on why you are setting your goals at work, where does it lead you? Are you just after the next promotion? Will it be fulfilling?

It is fair to say that my values are somewhat conflicting. I would not expect it otherwise. I would love to know if that is the case for everyone.  I value providing security for my family, and that means I have financial and professional goals that bring me in that direction. But I also value being there for my family and my friends, which most likely means I should not work as many hours. I have learnt that short term goals may be conflicting whereby they address your values in antagonistic manners, but, in time, they will align. And I have learnt not to be (too) anxious about it.

So let’s get to work and talk about a tangible long term goal. I will stick to the one I mentioned before, my dream of writing a book. The framework from migoals really worked for me. I won’t spoil the fun of you actually buying the diary if it suits you, but I share what made the difference, and how I got unstuck in goal setting.

  • What: explain your goal in more than the short sentence. What does it mean, what are you trying to achieve?

“I will write the book that I always dreamt of writing. I don’t know yet which of the topics I started in the last 10 years I will focus on, but I know it will happen.”

  • Why: explain why you want to do it and how it aligns to your values and dreams.

“I love writing, I love sharing. I always knew one day I would do this”. Last week, I only had that first bit. Now that I have written down my values on paper, it all just looks so much simpler to explain. “I value growing – myself and others. I believe the process of writing drives growth for me, and sharing it as a book may drive growth for others. “

  • When: put a time to it. I know we are talking long term goals, but you can write 5 years on it if you so wish.  Or 10 even, as long as it is not “one day”. You have to make it real.

“I will have my first copy for edit in 2010 and publish no later than 2021”

  • How: Explain what the plan is to get there, in the big picture.

“I will allow myself to progress my writing through my blog and decide on my area of focus for my first book in the first part of the year. I will commit to a single topic alone and incorporate it into my writing habit. I will draft a structure and the outline of the chapters and draft a plan to execute on them.”

The next step of this exercise is to then be practical about your long term goal. Yes, you can be practical today about something you want to achieve in 5 years time. That is all about defining what the big pieces of the puzzle of your goal are, what the essential next steps you can put in place are, and how can you measure small achievements within your goal. It is all about execution – and that is how you can identify your goals for next year. It is about identifying your goal milestones, breaking down in your long term goals into shorter steps:

  • What are the significant things you need to get your goal achieved? The big things that will mean that you have reached your goal? I need to select the topic, have a platform so people actually know and can learn from the book, define a structure, find an editor, chose a publishing mechanism. If your goal is to launch a business, then you probably need to identify partners, register the business, chose a name, brand or logo, amongst others.
  • What are the essential next steps before you move forward? Things you need to get done before you make any more definitive steps towards your goal. I need to practice my writing, develop my area of focus, potentially enrol on a course for non-fiction book writing. If your goal is to move to a foreign country, then you need to ensure you know the legal system, residency requirements, tax implications, school system (if applicable) and so on.
  • Can you break your goal into measurable achievements? Small things that will make you happy that you are making progress along the way? I can define a book structure, have a first draft or group of chapters to share with people that can provide feedback, close on a first copy, have a publishing deal. If your goal is to play in a major orchestra, you can measure the steps of passing any relevant exams, establishing a daily practice, join a small orchestra or local band, do your first small concerts.
  • Are there any tasks that excite you about reaching your goal? Something about it that you just can’t wait for the day you wake up and do it? For me, it is to hold my book in my hands and then hand a copy to my mum and dad. A real paper book (yes, I will do kindle too).

As you can see, it suddenly becomes clear that some of the milestones I have identified, I could put on my “schedule” for this year. The migoals diary goes on to help you define tasks under each of the key milestones, but I will spare you the details. I will stick to hopefully no more than 5 long term goals, and that will give me plenty of things to do towards them in the meantime. Without noticing, that is what I started doing when I re-launched this blog in October. It is a milestone in my writing my book exercise for instance. And even if the book gets delayed, every step of the way was worth it, because I was learning, and sharing. And if I do reach a small milestone, I will feel closer to my goal, but I will feel no void because the point is not the goal, but rather the ultimate experience of sharing.

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

2 comments

  1. For creative non-fiction, I recommend Susanna Forrest. She lives in Berlin, but she’s from the UK so maybe she teaches workshops there too or has something going on online.

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