Every year at around this time, for the past 6 years, I have sat down in a quiet place to plan out my upcoming year. I’m not a believer in vague resolutions, but rather, I make a list of goals for the year. I start by listing out all of the things I might want to work achieve in the coming year, and then I whittle that list of (typically) 15-20 goals down to about 5 or 6 of the most important goals I want to work toward.
Then those become the things I work feverishly toward; my track record over the past half-decade or so has been pretty solid, usually around a 75% success rate (if my success rate comes in much higher I know I’ve set the bar too low, and if it comes in much lower and I know I’ve probably been a bit unrealistic).
But before I actually start setting my goals for the year ahead, there’s one important step that helps me prepare for that process.
Reflection – especially self-reflection – is one of the most underrated activities an entrepreneur can do. Too often we get swept along in the tidal wave that is entrepreneurship, putting out one fire after another, launching another marketing campaign, training another staff member, etc. But what really sets apart the great entrepreneurs from the mediocre (or downright bad) ones is that the great ones all take time for reflection. Taking time to slow down and reflect allows you to get out of passive, reactive mode – where we’re always reacting to the latest crisis or newest shiny thing – into proactive mode, where we are setting our own agenda rather than letting it set us.
7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Set Your New Year’s Goals
With that in mind, here are 7 questions that I recommend you ask yourself before you start the process of setting your goals for the new year. [A special thanks go out to Mel Abraham of The Entrepreneur’s Solution podcast (one of my favourite podcasts), for the inspiration and starting point for these questions]
1. How well did I progress towards last year’s goals?
Before you can start setting new goals, you need to assess how well you did with respect to last year’s goals. Did you actually achieve any of your goals? (and were your goals SMART, so that you could actually assess whether you succeeded or not?) How many did you succeed in achieving?
If you set 10 ambitious goals last year but barely managed to achieve 1 of them, you need to take a look at whether your goals were simply too ambitious, or whether you have a good enough system to help you track and achieve progress towards your goals (more on goal-setting and tracking in a future blog post).
List your goals from the previous year and next to each goal, give yourself a ranking from 1 to 10 on how well you achieved each goal. Then total up the rankings and divide by the number of goals. If your average is less than 7, you need to review your process for goal-setting and/or goal-achieving.
2. What went well last year?
Other than your big goals for the year, what else went well? List up to 10 things that went well for you last year, in all of the aspects of your life: career, financial, relationships, health, etc.
3. What were my biggest lessons and takeaways from last year?
Even if you had an amazing year, you probably had a few setbacks and problems along the way. If you don’t regularly take time for self-reflection, now is the time to do it. There’s no more important self-reflection than the ability to examine one’s mistakes and learn from them. List up to 10 big lessons you learned from your previous year. Use these as guidance for the year ahead so that you don’t find yourself repeating the same mistakes!
4. What am I grateful for?
Who are the people and things you are grateful for? Gratitude has been shown, in numerous studies, to have a strong correlation to happiness and success. Take time to give thanks for all of the people and things in your life that contribute to your well being.
5. What do I need to let go of or say no to this year?
Saying no is one of the most important skills that successful people and entrepreneur develop. ‘No’ is the constant companion of focus, which is an important companion of success. Make this year the year you learn to say no, and the year you learn to focus on your most important goals – the year you actually start to move towards your dreams. Make yourself a list of all of the things (and people) you need to say no to in the coming year, and all of the things you need to let go of. Then be vigilant about staying on top of that ‘no’ list!
6. What was my mental state or attitude like last year?
Your attitude is one of the most important contributors to your overall success. A negative attitude will make it extremely difficult for you to achieve the goals you set out for yourself. What was your attitude like last year? None of us have a perfect attitude or mental state all of the time, but what was your attitude like most of the time?
If your attitude was overwhelmingly negative, what can you do to improve it? (hint: exercise and meditation are two great ways, along with a great morning routine)
An overly positive attitude can also be a problem. I often suffer from glass-too-full syndrome, where I take an unrealistically positive perception of both myself and the world around me, and need to ensure I am keeping both feet on – or at least one foot – on the ground, while I’m dreaming up in the clouds. This has gotten me into trouble in the past, and blinded me to potential problems.
7. Who do I need to become in order to get the things I want?
Most successful entrepreneurs will tell you that their success came on the heels of deep personal work. In order to set the stage for success, they needed to work on themselves first: to put into place the proper systems for success; to develop a healthy lifestyle; to build the right relationships on strong, healthy footing; to develop a mindset for success.
For myself, it was only after I did some deep personal work, including a lot of therapy and soul-searching, that I was able to achieve the success I had sought for so many years. Once I did the work, the success came almost like magic: opportunities and people came into my life from all sides.
So the final question I offer you is, “Who do I need to become in order to get the things I want in life?”
What type of person do you need to be in order to achieve the goals you want to list for your upcoming year? Do you need to be super-creative? Super-productive? Full of energy?
Putting it all together
List these 7 questions on a piece of paper, or an Evernote, or Word doc, whatever. Once you’ve written them down, set aside at least 2 hours to give yourself quiet time to reflect on them and answer them deeply and meaningfully. Once you’ve answered these questions truthfully and introspectively, you’ll have set a wonderful stage for developing your goals for the year ahead.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this post or these questions – post your comments, musings and questions in the comments section below! I wish you all an amazing 2016!
The Social Entrepreneur