If I look back on the goal-setting I did in my twenties, I have to face up to a veritable wasteland of good intentions. Despite a fantastic and full decade, I rolled into a number of New Years’ Eves with a load of unfinished resolutions hanging around my neck from the year before, and a spark of hope that maybe, this year, I’d find it in myself to try harder.

I thought that the problem was a lack of discipline, or maybe willpower, but looking back, I just wasn’t setting goals well.

Thankfully, there are a load of amazing people out there[i] who have done tons of work on how to set goals well. Learning from them has helped me to approach goal-setting differently, gain momentum towards actually achieving my goals, and have lots more fun doing it.

I know I’m not the only one who needs to get out of the discouraging cycle of unmet good intentions and into the energising sense of movement towards a meaningful goal, so over the next few weeks, I’m going to be sharing with you the goal-setting process that’s been working for me so far and that I’m consolidating into something I can use long-term.

If you’re sick of having more good intentions than you’ve got time or energy to fulfil, then join me for a summer of setting great goals that you’ll actually achieve. I’ll even be sending exclusive, free, downloadable worksheets to accompany the posts to my email subscribers, so if you’d like to join in then sign up for your freebie worksheets in the blog header or on the Follow Wylde & Free page.

Right, let’s get stuck in!

Step 1: How Do You Want to Feel? (Alternative: “Who or What Do You Want to Be?”)

Most of the people I’ve been learning from start goal-setting with dreaming big. Whilst I agree that wild and unrestrained dreaming is important, for me personally, doing the big dreaming as the second step has worked a little better, because I think it needs to be informed by what we’re about to explore – ‘Step 1: How Do You Want to Feel?’

Now, for those whose instincts immediately protest that our feelings shouldn’t determine the direction of our lives, I hear you. There is truth in that. As Aaron wisely said to me once, “Your feelings may be a powerful wind, but it’s up to you to set your sails so that they take you in the right direction.” Which was an excellent point and got me out of my funk, pronto! We will be directing our desires in this goal-setting process, but it makes it a lot easier if we know what they are first.

There are actually loads of really good reasons to start goal-setting within thinking about how you want to feel. Think about the subtle but profound shift that can happen when you stop thinking about what you want to attain and start thinking about how you want to feel.

“I want to lose weight” might shift to “I want to feel fit and strong.”

“I want to get a promotion” might shift to “I want to feel valued at work” or “I want to feel more financially secure.”

–> Update: I had some great feedback on this post which I wanted to pass on to you all. It was pointed out to me that for some people, who are much more “thinking” oriented than “feeling” oriented, this might be a difficult starting point. However, you can actually follow this step all the way through by replacing “feel” with “be.” For example, instead of asking yourself “How Do I Want to Feel?” you would ask yourself “Who or What Do I Want to Be?” Whilst some people might say they want to “feel” strong, you might rather “be” strong, or perhaps some people say they want to “feel” valued at work, but you would rather “be” valued at work. In some ways, I  actually prefer this formulation of Step 1, and I really hope it will be a useful way of thinking about it for some of my readers.

Thinking about how we want to feel (or who we want to be) can actually protect us from setting poor goals. Chalene Johnson shares, on her great podcasts about exactly this topic (here and here) how in her early life she set goals according to what she thought success looked like, rather than how she wanted to feel. However, once she had got the big house, fancy cars and fame she had been aiming for, she found that she felt pressured, stressed out and unable to let her guard down in public. She realised that what she really wanted was to feel free to spend time with her family and to create meaningful content, and so she started redefining what “success” means to her.

As well as preventing us chasing the wrong things, thinking about how we want to feel can also

  • give us great insights into what the our driving motivators are
  • shift the focus from something negative (like losing weight) to something positive (like feeling or being fit and strong)
  • open up new ideas about how to get what we want (there are more ways than one to feel/be valued at work, for example).

Most importantly, for setting goals that you’ll actually achieve, thinking about how you want to feel can make the goal you end up creating much more compelling.

Our desires can be powerful fuel for building momentum and we don’t need to be afraid of using them. If our goals aren’t even compelling to us then why are we even setting them, and how do we expect to keep them?

Michael Hyatt argues, rightly I think, that when we set goals for the year ahead, we should be careful to set them holistically, across a variety of areas of our life. He tells the story of a colleague he used to work with who set and achieved goals in his professional life very effectively, but never set goals in any other area of life. Eventually, his life got out way out of balance and his health failed. Predictably, this affected his work and in the end he wasn’t able to achieve even his professional goals. Chalene agrees, arguing that it is often the areas we pay the least attention to that are letting us down in all the other areas of our life.

So, today’s exercise is to take the following 11 areas of life (which are mostly taken from Chalene Johnson’s categories) and jot down a word or two that describes how you would like to feel in that area of life. Don’t think about what’s realistic – just write down how you’d like to feel. Email Friends – the link to download your worksheet for this exercise is in your email so check your inbox!

  • physical health & fitness
  • family – this could be your family of origin or the family you create
  • mental wellbeing – this is about how centred or stressed you are, not how clever you are!
  • spirituality
  • ‘significant other’ – this is about how you want to feel in this area of your life, so it may still apply even if you don’t have a significant other
  • friendships
  • your environment – this is the physical place where you spend most of your time
  • personal growth and development
  • purpose & vocation – this may or may not be your paid job, of course
  • finances
  • pure joy – this category, which Chalene made up, is genius. It refers to the things in your life that you do for pure joy. They may be hobbies, or they may be lying in on a Saturday. Whatever they are, you do them for nothing but the sheer joy of being in the moment.
  • other – because no life can be summed up in a list!

Once you’ve written down a couple of words for each on how you would like to feel in that area of your life, if you’ve got time, I’d really recommend doing one of Chalene’s exercises too: jot down a number between 1 and 10 next to each area that represents how you currently feel in that area of your life. This will be a valuable tool for flagging areas that you may want to address later.

Congratulations, you’ve completed step 1! I’ll be tweeting more about goal setting this week from @wyldeandfree using the hashtag #goalsyouachieve so if you’re coming along for the ride, feel free to join in!

[i] people like Michael Hyatt, Julia Cameron, Chalene Johnson and Brendon Burchard

Featured image by Wil Stewart on stocksnap.io