Goal Setting That Doesn't Hurt

goals intention setting self love Jan 04, 2024

It’s January 4, 2024 - do you know how you’ll spend your time this year?


I’ve gone through the ritual of goal setting in the past, but it never worked out for me. Within 2-3 weeks, I was back to my usual shenanigans and certainly not hitting my goals. So I abandoned the practice altogether for several years, which wasn’t much more effective. I failed to live the life I wanted, since I hadn’t gotten clarity on what that really was.


But this year, it’s different. I did a lot of hard work in 2023, read some books, took some classes, worked with some mentors, and I couldn’t wait to lay out some goals for 2024. 


How did I flip that switch? I approached my goals from a place of self-love. Rather than lay down some arbitrary (and unrealistic) mandates to “get myself on track” and “finally be disciplined enough” to accomplish xyz…I focused instead on what would make me happy. I asked the question, “how do I want to feel?” And I can tell you, it has made a world of difference as I head into the new year. I’m excited, but not in that frenetic, eyes-glazed-over way that isn’t achievable.


So yes, in the past, I have been the person with the new gym membership on January 1st, purchasing kale and celery from Whole Foods for that cleanse, and swearing to give up all television and read only non-fiction books, at least one a week for the rest of the year. (I shudder to remember her…she was sad and boring…). And she gave up very, very quickly, because her goals felt like punishment


This year, I find myself writing in a treehouse in the middle of a forest, nurturing myself into the mentally expansive exercise of asking, “What do I really want?” I’ve slept in, I’ve read poetry, and I’ve done whatever the hell felt good in the moment, with no agenda. All that mental space gave me the room to stretch out and get real with myself.


Sound better than a cleanse? Oh yeah. You may not have access to a treehouse, but I think anyone could go through this exercise and produce goals, or intentions, that guide them to a path worth walking for the coming year. 


What follows is my method, Dr. Ghajar’s Intention Setting For Badassery In The Coming Year, Version 1.0. Try it, and let me know how it goes. 


#1: Get some space. 

I’m a mom, a wife, an entrepreneur, and a physician…and I still managed to get out of town by myself for a few days. I’m fortunate to have a capable co-parent who was supportive of this exercise (because when mama’s happy…you know). I went to a place in nature with no television and spotty internet. Why? Connection to nature fosters creativity and self-realization. I went on walks through the woods, and I allowed myself to be bored. When was the last time you just existed in your mind and body, without consuming media? I can’t tell you how vital this was for the intention-setting process. 


If you can’t get away like I did, at least craft a stay-cation to support the overall energy of connection to nature and yourself. Get a babysitter for the day if needed, send your partner on their own adventure, and go to any local hiking trail or park and just be outside, by yourself, rain or shine or snow. It has rained constantly at the treehouse in the Pacific Northwest rainforest, even more than in my home city of Seattle. But I dressed for it and I can still get out. Not for long…but enough to breathe fresh air and commune with nature. 


I also think it’s a great idea to be out of your house for the writing portion of goal-setting. If you can’t leave for a few days, consider going to a coworking space, or even a hotel for the day. Dayuse will rent you a hotel room during off-hours. When I really needed to focus on a project last year, I stayed at a nice hotel for the afternoon so I could write and create, without being interrupted by my toddler. 


Bottom line: don’t let your mind tell you that you can’t craft some mental space for yourself. There is always a way, even if it’s not perfect.


#2: Recap the prior year

So now that you’re sufficiently distraction-free and juiced up by nature, it’s time to reflect on the prior year. What was the theme for the year? Did you have any fun? What worked? What didn’t work? I recommend writing this down in a journal or on some kind of physical paper. Typing doesn’t really cut it quite like putting pen to paper. You don’t need a fancy journal, though if that makes you feel good, go for it. Personally, I use a combination of a Remarkable notebook and big Post-It notes for thought work and brainstorming. 


When I recapped 2023, I recognized that it had been a grind. Just a struggle, almost the entire year. I was unsatisfied with my work, my husband and I were failing to connect, and my daughter had some significant health issues. On the positive side, a lot of growth happened as a result of those struggles. I started my own company and quit my day job. My husband and I found a retreat that gave us tools to reconnect. And ultimately, we made the decision to prioritize happiness and balance, and say no to what doesn’t serve us. So in the end, it was “The Year of Reckoning”.


Why do a recap of the prior year? To determine what you don’t want to repeat, to apply the lessons you learned, and to lean into what felt good. 


#3: How do you want to feel?

Before this exercise, I struggled to identify what I wanted. Nothing felt particularly resonant. Clarity came only when I considered how I wanted to feel, and then I understood why my past goal-setting exercises didn’t work. 


For example, in the old days, a goal to lose 10 lbs so I would “finally love my body”, or “finally fit into those pants from college” never succeeded. Losing 10 lbs is an arbitrary end point, and the “feeling” I had assigned to it was actually achievable without weight loss. I could choose to love my body, extra 10 lbs and all. And, conversely, in the past I have lost weight (according to a scale), and I haven’t loved my body any more than when I started. Side note: ultimately I achieved a strong, lean body without losing weight, because I gained much more muscle. I weigh more now, I’ve got less body fat, and I love how I look and feel. So who cares about weight? Also, because I got so much stronger, those pants from college will never fit, because I had no ass back then, which I’m not willing to give up for some ridiculous pants. You’re welcome to whoever now owns those shiny red Diesel jeans that I sent to Goodwill. 


That obviously didn’t work. So now I start with how I want to feel, and then go backwards from there. This year, I wrote down the following feelings: calm, centered, focused, motivated, strong, resilient, sexy, sensual, brave, powerful, prosperous, and creative. All my goals must contribute to those feelings, or they aren’t going to work. 

I recommend reflecting on the prior year, writing down how it felt, and considering what you want to feel this year. Lean into this; the feelings you want to bring into your life should bring a smile to your face and excitement to your body.


For example, last year I felt really stressed out and mentally scattered. So this year, I want to feel calm, centered, and focused. I felt strong last year, and I want to keep that going, so I included it for this year. You get the idea. 


Don’t be afraid to write down a feeling you want because you think it might be taboo; it’s ok to be a mom and a wife and want to feel sexy, sensual, or free. What you want, wants you too. Be honest with yourself. 


#4: What do you want more of?

Now that you’ve gotten clarity on how you want to feel, think about what themes you want to bring into your life this year, to support those feelings. I recommend writing a list, stream of consciousness style; you’ll organize it later. Nothing is off the table. Here’s what I wrote:

Now, combine common themes. I ended up with:

  • Quality rest and self-care
  • Play
  • Prosperity
  • Creativity


These themes will inform your goals. We’ll expand them and get concrete in the next step. I would stick to 3-5 total. More can be too overwhelming (you’ll see why in the next step). 


For example, I said I wanted to feel calm, centered, focused and motivated…and when I recapped 2023 I realized I hadn’t done much to really rest and take care of myself (outside of exercise, which is just a habit at this point). I know that I perform my best when I’ve taken opportunities to rest. So I leaned into quality rest and self-care, which I definitely want more of this year. 


Just a note here: it is 1000% ok to set goals that are nurturing for yourself. They do not (and should not!) come from a place of discipline, as if you’ve been a naughty child and now it’s time to grow up and get serious. This is your life, and you too deserve to feel good. 


#5: Expand on your goals 

Now it’s time to get specific. For each theme, expand on what you will do to support it. These are more in line with SMART goals, which many people have heard of. They are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. 


For example: for my theme of quality rest and self-care, I wrote the following goals:

  • Sleep 7-8 hours nightly
  • Exercise 4 times weekly
  • Massage once a month
  • Meditation most days
  • One day per week of deep rest, with no projects


See why you don’t want too many themes? You might have a handful of goals under each theme. That said, I wouldn’t list more than five goals under each theme. And, bonus if some of them are goals you are already doing, or are close to doing. Pro-tip: your brain loves winning and predictability! So give her some love and write some things you are already doing. I already work out 4x/week, so I’m already ahead. Feels great! Now the rest of the goals feel easier too.


Of everything I listed above, doing meditation on most days is the most difficult for me. Therefore, notice I didn’t say, “meditate every day twice a day for 20 minutes”. Would that be more specific and time-bound? Yes. Does that feel too rigid and like my brain is just going to rebel against it? Also yes. This is something I actually want to do, because research supports the role of meditation in improving focus and calm (two of the feelings I want for this year). But I’m not going to beat myself up for not doing it rigidly every single day if life gets away from me. What I am going to do is try to meditate on most days. 


Add some fun goals! Massage once a month? OMG YES! What an awesome reward for all that exercise. And as an entrepreneur and mom, I do actually need to plug in a day of no projects. This was something that really escaped me last year, and contributed to us not having very much fun. 


Do it yourself: think about what you actually want under each theme. Make it reasonable. 


#6: What do you have to give up to make it happen? 

Now this is where the rubber really hits the road. This is where so many goals fail. If you want what you’ve never had, you have to do what you’ve never done. And you probably have to stop doing what you’ve always done. 


If I want to become the kind of person who gets consistent sleep every night, I have to give up a few things. Here’s what I wrote down: 

  • Mindless TV/scrolling at night
  • Haphazard nutrition - make protein a real priority
  • Time-wasting activities that don’t bring joy


As a parent of a 3 year old, I have fallen into the same self-soothing habits as the rest of you. You know the drill: you push through your day at work, come home to make dinner and then you’re hustling to get it on the table so your kid can eat dinner early enough to get to bed on time. You do the whole bedtime routine, and they are finally asleep, and then you have to clean the kitchen. By the time you’re done, it’s like 8:30pm and all you want to do is mindlessly scroll through Instagram and put random items in your Amazon shopping cart. Or binge Netflix. Whatever. You end up staying up too late, and then you only get 5-6 hours of sleep. It wasn’t restorative enough, so now you’re too tired to exercise, and you probably don’t make the best nutrition decisions the next day because you’re exhausted. And then you do the whole thing over the next night. 


That mindless scrolling is not actually restful. The blue light from the phone or TV are actually impairing your ability to sleep well when you finally do go to bed. Real talk: I have to give up mindless media consumption at night, so I can *actually* get quality rest and feel restored. Get real with yourself too.


#7: How will you feel when you’re meeting your goals? 

Now, use your list of feelings, and apply them to your goals. Which feelings come up when you imagine accomplishing the goals you’ve set?


For example: If I do the activities I mentioned above in order to tap into my theme of quality rest and self-care, I will feel strong, resilient, focused, sexy and powerful. Doesn’t that sound awesome?! That’s how I want to feel when I work on goals. 


This is how the quality rest and self care theme looks when I put it all together:


#8: Schedule it

Now that you’ve got your 3-5 themes bedecked with goals, habit changes and feelings, schedule them to make sure they happen. I use a Google calendar, and everything is scheduled. I stay true to my calendar, and I don’t schedule over my self-care time. I know our culture seems to reward and justify being “just so busy”, and working “all the time”, but from where I stand, in my mid-forties, that’s just not worth it anymore. And it doesn’t work. Eventually, you will burn out. And the old adage of “you can’t pour from an empty cup” is absolutely true. 


Last year, my daughter had 92 medical appointments. NINETY-TWO visits to a healthcare practitioner, including one surgery. This year is shaping to be much the same. Guess who does most of those visits? You got it - me. And I’m happy to do it, but I can’t be “on” at that level for all of those appointments unless I am well rested and resourced. So yes, I prioritize my self-care. And so should you. 


There you have it! Dr. Ghajar’s Intention Setting For Badassery In The Coming Year, Version 1.0. I hope it serves you well! Let me know how it goes - I’ll be rooting for you!


Recommended reading: 

*Kairos time is a concept from the book 10x Is Easier Than 2x, which I highly recommend for entrepreneurs and business owners to learn how to manage their time.

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