2021 Vision: Ultimate Guide to Goal Setting

A roadmap to make the most of the new year and learn from the last

As we say goodbye and good riddance to the last year, as we do every 12 months, I can’t help but notice this time feels different.

Not only because 2020 was unlike any other year (we won’t dare say “unprecedented,” yet again). But because there’s likely never been a greater impetus for hope. At least in many of our lifetimes.

Thinking about hope despite this year can be difficult, but can also be advantageous as we approach the blank slate before us. If you’re like me and shifting your focus on the road ahead, join me in how to successfully set goals in a new way, both personally and professionally.

Understanding goals vs resolutions

Let’s first define what we mean by “goal setting.” New Year’s resolutions are by definition a decision to do or not do something. As humans, it is so easy to say “I won’t eat any ice cream this month.” And then what happens? You’ve got a craving or an inkling or you had a hard day and you eat ice cream. Then you feel bad about it. How productive is that?

A goal, on the other hand, is action and result oriented. Goals create a direction and path for us to achieve a desired outcome. When planned and built strategically, measurable goals are more effective at helping us turn ideas and desires into fruition.

Finding growth in grief

Amid the difficulties and challenges of the year, we’d be remiss to not optimistically acknowledge any learnings and growth that came out of it. I’ll forego a cliché quote about how the hard times make us stronger (although it is true) and focus on research instead.

Resilience researcher Lucy Hone eloquently describes the balance between holding both hope and grief. In short, she outlines three strategies or ways of thinking derived from her research that can enable us to persevere even in the worst of times.

“I think we all have moments in life where our life path splits and the journey we thought we were going down veers off to some terrible direction that we never anticipated, and we certainly didn’t want. … I won’t pretend that thinking this way is easy. And it doesn’t remove all the pain. But if I’ve learned anything over the last five years, it is that thinking this way does help. More than anything, it has shown me that it is possible to live and grieve at the same time.”

That is to say, let us not wipe 2020 out of our memories. Instead, let us acknowledge what it brought us, taught us, and find resilience moving forward.

Set the stage for reflection

Before you even begin jotting down your desires and dreams for the next year, I encourage you to be intentional about the process. If possible, carve out an afternoon or a full day and create a relaxing space for you to simply be with yourself. Grab a favorite beverage, get cozy, light a candle or two, and pop on inspiring tunes.

Krista and Phil Franks and their annual intention setting process inspired this step on our roadmap. As spouses and business partners, they embark on a retreat together every December to experience a chunk of time dedicated to reflection, analysis, and thoughtful planning. This idea, as well as their free framework, is applicable whether you’re carrying out this process as an individual, family, or business.

I recommend creating or finding a template to guide you in your reflection. It’s helpful and effective to follow prompts as you look back on the year, assess memories, and take inventory. Here’s a guide I made several years ago you’re welcome to use and expand upon.

The Franks also have an updated strategic planning guide, and this is another great workbook from founder and investor Janine Sickmeyer that is powerful for both personal and business planning.

Craft a vision and set intentions

Now that you’ve taken time to reflect, form a vision for 2021. I like to think of this as a literal visualization of what you want your year to look like. From the emotions you want to feel and the experiences you want to have to the detailed moments you dream of living.

Are there bucket-list items you want to check off? Maybe there are company goals you want to achieve or a career milestone. Your vision may also be more metaphysical - perhaps you want to be a more patient person or work on your communication in relationships. Close your eyes and imagine what that may look like.

Next, let your mental images inspire your intentions.

“A well-set intention is a statement of pure, clear, decisive focus that kickstarts the process of aligning your whole being and your whole life to your desire,” writes Tara-Nicholle Nelson. “When you are clear, firm, and decisive about your intention for the year ahead, it’s a bit like you’ve placed a cosmic order for what you desire and intend.”

Your reflection and vision steps are key because they set the stage to see where you’ve been and where you want to go. Intentions tend to be less specific and more flexible than goals. Think of them as flexible and purpose-driven, and they run parallel to your goals that are more practical and results-focused.

Write out your intentions in an active form. For example:

  • I intend to stop taking things personally.
  • I aim to spend less time scrolling and more time moving my body.
  • I intend to be a more effective manager who gives better feedback.
  • I aim to lead my team more compassionately.

Change the way you think about achievement and failure

New Year’s Resolutions are often synonymous with the idea of failure. It’s almost colloquially known as a declaration of a desire that will likely not last or come to fruition.

For this process to be successful, it’s important to not bring along this connection to or connotation of failure. During your goal-setting process, you’ll want to craft smaller steps that help you stay moving in the right direction. So even if and when one is not accomplished, you learn from it, adjust, and keep going.

When you miss an objective or goal - take the time to reflect on it and change the narrative. Consider:

  • Did you overcommit or overreach?
  • Can you adjust the intensity of the goal?
  • Does your plan need to shift based on changed circumstances?
  • Do you need to cut yourself some slack, or seek accountability?

Building measurable goals

Let’s recap our steps thus far:

  1. Reflect
  2. Set a vision
  3. Craft intentions
  4. Create a new relationship with failure

Your work thus far has laid a foundation for creating measurable and tangible steps that you’ll use as your guideposts throughout the year.

Ruminate a bit on your vision and intentions. And now consider what actions you need to take to make them a reality. For example, if one of your intentions is to move more and take care of your body, what is a measurable outcome, and what does that look like every day, week, and month? Consider the following structure:

  • Intention: I intend to scroll less and move more.
  • Goals (measurable outcome):
    • Decrease daily cell phone screen time by 50% by the end of the year.
    • Increase weekly move time by 50% by the end of the year.
  • Objective (detailed actions/smaller targets):
    • 10 minutes of yoga every morning 5 days a week
    • At least one short walk every day
    • 3 days a week of more intense workout (30-45 mins to start, build up to an hour)

The critical part here is being as specific as possible. Your goal should focus on: How much will you do what by when?

Your objectives should be just as detailed - how much will you do what and how often. I recommend limiting objectives to 3-5. This is more attainable, less overwhelming, and helps you stay targeted in your efforts.

For any goals or objectives that lack quantifying, think as granular as possible and ensure they are relevant and feasible. The more detailed you are, the more likely you are to build a habit, which is more likely to result in desired change.

I also encourage you to group goals into different buckets or categories. Here are a few examples:

  • Spiritual
  • Personal
  • Relational
  • Professional
  • Wellness
  • Financial

You may also consider: Career, Education, Family, Art, Attitude, Pleasure, and Public Service.

This structure helps you stay aligned and organized, especially if you’re planning both personally and for your business.

Measure and track progress

To ensure you’re making progress, and to also be kind to yourself along the way, I encourage you to find an accountability and tracking system that works for you.

In the example above, we’re relying on data from an iPhone and Apple Watch to measure our success. Other goals may be less quantifiable, and that’s OK. You’ll want to be sure to document your intentions, goals, and objectives in a way that’s easy to reference often. This may be a document on your computer, a note on your phone, or paper.

I’ve also found it highly effective to schedule time with yourself. As funny as it may sound, throw 30-45 minutes on your calendar every few months to force yourself to set aside time to pull out your goals.

Depending on your goals and how strict you want to be, you may consider scheduling a self-check-in for different amounts of time and on a weekly or monthly basis. More frequent check-ins aren’t necessary but they will help you be more effective in the long-term.

Recall our section on failure. It’s great if you’re meeting your objectives and it’s also OK if you aren’t. Take that as a sign they may need some adjustment. It’s also OK if your intentions and desires change throughout the year. Life is bound to throw curveballs your way that may change what you thought you wanted. Hold space for this. Be gentle with yourself, reflect on what modifications will be helpful, and keep moving.

Don’t forget to enjoy the journey

This is cheesy, I know, but I mean it. When you’re hitting your objectives and goals, take time to celebrate. Even if it’s acknowledging a small victory in the moment and allowing yourself to feel a rush of dopamine. This reinforcement creates positive momentum as you move full-steam ahead.

I also encourage you to share your goals with a trusted loved one. It helps with accountability but mostly, it just feels good to share. And when you may stumble, they’ll be there to remind you of the ebb and flow of your progress thus far.

When you’re not hitting the mark, your perspective is everything. If you look at failure as a bad thing, that’s the only way you’ll see it. But if you recognize that every failure is an opportunity to learn and grow, your lens will be slightly sunnier. Every missed objective is a chance to go inward and see how you’re feeling. This goes for career or business-related goals, too. It’s an opportunity to pause and think deeply about what can or should be adjusted to continue on the path you desire.

We can’t always plan for a future that is unknown and capricious. But we can create roadmaps and habits to set ourselves and our businesses up for success.

Chelsea Castle

Writer, strategist, and content marketer living in Nashville, TN.

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