When it comes to goals and life plans, there is a lot of emphasis on hard work and discipline.
Obviously, hard work and discipline are essential to getting us over the finish line, but there’s also something to be said about introspection.
Taking the time to self-reflect and get to know ourselves is crucial to our personal and professional development. Not only does self-reflection help us figure out how to become better people, but it also connects us to our goals and desires.
If you’re having trouble navigating your personal or professional journey, and feel uncertain about what direction to take, it can help to take a pause and look inward.
By getting to know ourselves better, and identifying what sparks us and gets us excited, we’ll have a better idea of what we want to pursue in life.
Take stock of your current situation
It’s so easy to go through life as if we’re running on auto-pilot. We wake up, go to work, come home, rinse and repeat.
And when we’re going through the motions, it can be hard to snap out of it. Instead of moving forward, we feel stuck and directionless.
In order to figure out where we want to go, we first need to assess how we’re currently feeling about our life in general.
For this exercise, it will help to use your journal and organize your self-assessment into different categories like your job, your home, relationships, spirituality, and creativity.
Journaling is a great tool for self-discovery. Everyone from Elizabeth Gilbert to Leonardo da Vinci have used journaling as a way to figure out who they are and express themselves. You’ll find that a journal is a patient and non-judgmental outlet. So don’t worry about sounding too whiny or ungrateful or even boring. Now’s the time to remove the censor and let yourself write freely and honestly.
Here are some prompts to help guide you.
Job: How do I feel about my job right now? Do I like what I do? Do I feel like I’m growing and learning new things? Do I like my relationships with my coworkers? What do I love about my job? What would I change?
Home: How’s my current living situation? Does my space feel inviting? Do I feel relaxed? What do I love about my home? What would I change?
You don’t have to assess your entire life all at once. Maybe one week you can examine your career, and then the next week you can focus on your home life. Afterwards, you’ll have a better sense of how you feel about the main areas of your life.
Use your journal to identify small goals
Your journal pages are a lens into your inner life and how you really feel. Don’t be turned off by any negativity you express. Think of it as your subconscious trying to alert you and say, “Hey! This part of your life needs attention.”
For example, if you find yourself complaining in your journal about your stressful commute, maybe it’s a sign to address that particular area of your life. You can create a small goal like “wake up earlier to avoid rush hour” or “talk to boss about coming in later” or “bike to work.”
Once you make that positive change, you’ll start gaining the confidence to create more positive changes in your life.
By taking stock and becoming aware of what needs attention, you can start creating small goals and tend to that part of your life.
Describe your perfect day
Goal setting can be intimidating because it feels like we’re being asked to plan our entire future. It’s like that common interview question that asks, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” It’s so hard to answer this question when you’re not even sure where you see yourself in a week or even today.
They say that goals help give us purpose and direction. But what if we don’t have a clear destination in mind?
To ease some of the pressure off your goals, start small by describing what your perfect day would look like.
Make a list of all the things that would create the perfect day. Maybe you can start with breakfast and then your morning commute. Describe where your office is located or if you're working from home.
Think of this as a warm up exercise for goal setting. If you can articulate what it is you want in a day, then you can gain clarity into what you want in a month or a year.
So go ahead: what does your perfect day look like?
What were your favorite moments from the past year?
Goal-setting is often tied to areas in our life that need improvement. We want to get a better job to make more money. Or we want to move into a new apartment that’s bigger and better.
But another way to identify your priorities is to figure out what makes you feel happy and fulfilled.
Julia Cameron’s iconic workbook The Artist’s Way has tons of fun and introspective exercises to help you get in touch with what makes you happy. You don’t even have to consider yourself an artist or creative person to benefit from this workbook. The crux of this workbook is learning how to get in touch with yourself and be specific about what you want out of life.
So take a moment to sit down and reflect on your favorite moments from the past year. You can write it out in list form and start jotting down things that brought a smile to your face. Maybe it was the time you had a game night with friends. Or having a cup of coffee at your favorite cafe. Or meeting new friends at a networking event.
When you figure out what makes you feel good, you’ll want to do more of it.
And see if you notice any patterns or trends. If your favorite moments included lots of social activities, it could mean that you’re happiest when you’re with a group. With this new revelation, you can create a goal to do more teamwork assignments at the office. Or sign up for a class. Or spend more time with friends.
As you can see, sometimes it’s the small and mundane things that can create a big spark in our life and give us the nudge we need to move forward.