Setting Goals … and Remembering your Ithaca

January 1st is approaching – a new year, a fresh start, a clean slate. At this time of year, people often make resolutions … and they often end up not sticking to them. There are plenty of reasons to break your resolutions, I guess: circumstances change, you set your sights too high, or maybe you didn’t really want to do that thing so badly after all.

I’ve never made any resolutions, but this year I will be setting goals. Our life, since we moved to Greece, has been far too fuzzy. Greece was always my dream since I was 15 years old and, having arrived, I became less focused and a bit directionless. Then my mind became preoccupied with things other than my future. From the sidelines, I’ve watched Mr Chef find his passion, follow his dream, follow his own plan and find his place. (I’m so proud of that guy – I’m his #1 fan!) Now I have to decide what it is that I want next – for us, for all of us … for me.

I learned about setting SMART objectives in school (I can’t remember why now …) and there is also Locke and Latham’s theory, but both of these seem (to me) to be quite business-focused. Words like attainable, measurable and feedback make my brain switch off, so I made my own goal-setting checklist. It doesn’t have a funky acronym, but  it works for me!

STEP 1

Let’s begin by taking a blank sheet of paper and a pen. I’m a notebook junkie, and I got myself a new A4 spiral just for this! Then write these words:

  • family
  • friends
  • body
  • travel
  • money
  • career
  • soul

They’re not really headings as such – more like prompts. You might see, when you finalise your goals, that they cross more than one category, For example, I might put down under Family that I want to see my parents this year, but then I have to get the baby’s passport and save up for and buy plane tickets (Money) and go to the UK (Travel). … But let’s not worry about that yet. Let’s just write down what’s in our heads – all of it. The realistic ambitions and the crazy dreams. The mundane, the obvious, the wild and the downright scary.

Then let’s walk away. For an hour, an afternoon – whatever. Just leave all those words to sit there on the page, and relish the calm in your head. All those thoughts are out on paper now. Have a glass of mulled wine. Eat a mince pie. Read a book. Relaaaaaaax.

STEP 2

Now it’s time to get back to that page (or pages – mine’s a double spread!) and make some sense of our earlier brain dump. We’ve got to be selective – we can’t do everything at once – so we’ve got to prioritise. Which of your ideas/hopes/ambitions/needs/dreams you choose to pursue now depends on a lot of things: the season of life you’re in, your financial situation, your other commitments, how much time you can give, etc. Only you know you, so choose wisely.

STEP 3

It’s time to turn those words into goals. A goal should have a few special features:

1 A goal should be crystal clear. It’s no good setting  “get rich” as a goal (for example!) because it’s too vague. How will you make money?

2 As well as how, we need to ask why? What’s our reason for wanting this? And do we have a quality reason? You might say, “I want to meditate every day.” Why? So you can tell everyone you meditate every day? Bad reason. So you can journey into your mind, quiet your soul and face the day with another perspective? Good reason.

3 Big goals are great, but they should always be broken down into baby steps. When Mr Chef decided to become Mr Chef, he didn’t just say, “I’m going to change my career.” He researched cooking schools, chose the best one, gathered the papers to apply, got in, studied hard, applied for and worked in jobs that led him on a logical progression from B line cook, to A line, to sous chef. … Baby steps, guys. Rome wasn’t built in a day and all.

4 Always set a date. This is the T in SMART, and I’m not going to argue with that one. If we don’t set a date, our goals might remain nothing more than dreams. They need to have a completion date. Dates are deadlines – they give us motivation. Be realistic, but don’t slack off either.

5 We should write our goals down – they won’t be concrete in our minds until we see them on paper in the cold light of day. And they should be written down in our own handwriting. It’s more powerful and more personal.

BONUS Before you start thinking about your goals, think about your achievements. Look back at how far you’ve come and what you’ve accomplished. Feel good about yourself, feel strong and positive. Then, do yourself a favour and listen to this – it will remind you what all this is about.

For me, these days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve are the perfect time for a bit of contemplation. I’ve got leave from work, the kids are home, the Christmas madness is over, and there’s a lull. There is peace. Maybe right now is not the time for you to do this, but I think a lot of people like to go through this process at this time of year. If you do decide to create some goals, I’m right there with you! Just remember to keep your destination – your Ithaca – in mind. But don’t hurry your journey. Because it is the journey itself, and not the destination, that really matters.

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