How To Set Mindful Goals For 2018

Resolutions already looking out of reach? Mindfulness can help you adjust, recommit, and reach new peaks.

Happy 2018! The year is old enough now that you might be settling into the habits you’re creating to move towards the goals you’ve set for yourself for 2018…or you might be already starting to feel your momentum fade. Or maybe you didn’t make any goals for yourself this year? It’s not too late to set some—and it’s never too early to check in on the goals you’ve made and make sure that they’re working for you.

Starting the year by evaluating old goals and creating new goals is common. And even the most optimistic among us might notice that some of them sound familiar: get organized, lose weight, learn a new language. Sound familiar? We all make goals with the best of intentions with people feeling optimistic and excited about broadening their horizons, improving their health, or learning something new. But when mid-February rolls around, those goals have, somehow, fallen by the wayside.

Goal setting is an essential part of my annual routine. I’ve owned and run a company for nearly three decades, and that’s very hard to do without being able to set and achieve goals — but the way I think about setting goals has since I started a meditation practice 13 years ago. Ironically, for many years, it seemed overwhelming. I’d set goals that were not in alignment with my authentic self…like when I was in my 20s and set a goal to own a professional basketball team. Other times I set goals that were so unreachable in the short term that I was setting myself up to fail. My goal-setting would even stir up my anxious tendencies. When I accomplished my goals, I would rarely celebrate. In fact, I’d often think to myself that it wasn’t good enough.

What changed? Well, thirteen years ago I began meditating regularly — which has many benefits, among them helping me to put my goal setting in perspective. My meditation practice continually reminds me to be mindful of the goals I set and the way that I pursue them. It’s given me the ability to be more aware and present, and that allows for the space to think about goals differently than I used to. It’s given me the gift of helping me acknowledge fear and discomfort without allowing those feelings to get in my way. Thirteen years into my meditation practice, goal-setting has become a joyful, exploratory, and successful part of my life.

So how can mindfulness help us stay on track, bypass late-January resolution burnout, and achieve our goals?

Let’s start by acknowledging the power of a strong vision and the goals that accompany it. As an entrepreneur and leader, I know goals are essential to moving toward the future I see for myself, my team, and my company. Goals are the incremental steps I take to get to that vision of the future. Each goal is a step, and all I have to do is take one step at a time. It’s been humbling to witness the power of this kind of mindful vision and goal setting amongst my team.

My goal setting relies on visioning, a process I learned in the course of my leadership experience. I learned it at ZingTrain in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I created this vision with my wife, Emily…and I have to say, unlike many of the ways I’d set goals earlier in my life, the process was a joyful one. We chose to approach creating our vision not as a chore, but as a chance to imagine a shared future. If you have a significant life partner, I really recommend that you create your vision together! Emily and I read the vision statement together every month and ask each other, “does this still fit our lives? Are we excited about it?” For the last few years, the answer has been “yes!” with little tweaks here and there (the vision is a live document that you can update as needed).

ZingTrain’s visioning process taught me to create a story of my future (in my case, ten years in the future) that is inspirational, practical, and scary. Inspirational: when I read it, I’m excited! We should be moving towards futures that excite us, right? The things we want, the things that really energize us? Practical: I’ve got to believe I can accomplish what I’ve written in the vision. Scary: I have to include some parts that I believe I can achieve but know that it will take focus, hard work, and a little luck! It gives me energy and helps me SEE it…to better help me believe it. It also keeps my eye on the prize — since mindfulness taught me how to avoid being controlled by fear, a goal that pushes me has become an exciting challenge.

So if you’re concerned about the way you’ve set — or haven’t set — goals for 2018, I offer these two thoughts from my experience setting goals for myself and with my team at imageOne, where every year we set and share our goals with each other. It’s a process that we take very seriously, one that’s integral to our unique company culture, and it’s given me the opportunity to think in depth about how to set goals that fuel us, rather than undermining us.

Make your goals mindful by considering being sure they’re what you really want.

If you’ve set goals before, think about how they turned out for you. Did you find yourself ignoring them, or some of them, before too long? Perhaps they nagged at you in the back of your mind even as you never seemed to find the time to attend to the necessary steps. Instead of being hard on yourself, this is an opportunity to take a moment, be present, and ask yourself a question that’s harder than it might seem: do you really want that? Sure, it would be nice to finish a 5K this year, but is it really important to you? Important enough to spend some of your precious energy on it every day? If the goals that you’ve set for yourself aren’t motivating you to put in the work necessary to achieve them, maybe the real problem is that they’re not really what you want.

It can be challenging (and vulnerable!) to think honestly about what we want. It brings up emotions about ourselves and our lives that we may not be ready to acknowledge. What we want might require us to rethink our plans, or it might suggest that we’ve been proceeding in a direction that isn’t authentic to us. But mindfulness allows us to take the time to be present with ourselves, see the situation clearly, and course-correct. It enables us to reorient around our goals…even if they aren’t what we thought they should be. Once we find clarity, our goals rise to the top, and we naturally flow towards achieving them.

Make your goals mindful by confronting the fear of failure.

I used to set goals I thought I could accomplish. And, that’s perfectly understandable — goals are supposed to be achievable, right? Common sense dictates that they should be realistic, or why bother trying to achieve them at all? The thing is, a really significant goal can push us beyond what we thought possible and into what we never knew we could accomplish. But often, we avoid setting the goals that really challenge us because we’re scared. We’re scared that we’ll fail, and most don’t like to fail! So here’s what I do…I read my goals, pick three of them, and say to myself, “make that goal scarier!” In 2017, I had a goal to “start writing.” When I asked how I could “make it scarier,” I ended up committing to writing and publishing a book. Because of the skills I’ve learned in my meditation practice, that big, scary goal didn’t paralyze me…it energized me. And with that energy, I accomplished my big, scary goal: donothing: the most rewarding leadership challenge you’ll ever take will be available on February 1st.

Mindfulness teaches us to acknowledge difficult feelings without succumbing to them. It allows us to experience the fullness of our emotions without letting them take control. When we’re able to recognize the possibility of failure and confront it as a necessary component of pushing ourselves, we can free ourselves to take risks we would otherwise avoid. Besides, I often think that once we achieve the ability to be present with the possibility of failure, we’re able to take on the goals that really electrify us (as in the previous principle!). Striving to do more, be more, than we thought keeps us invested in our goals on a daily basis, giving our attention and energy to the process of becoming the people we want to be. And it’s impossible to achieve great things when we’re devoted to avoiding risks.

If you’re looking for a simple way to cultivate the mindfulness to set meaningful, motivating goals, I’ll point you towards my donothing challenge. It gives you a chance I’ve given other leaders and entrepreneurs during my speaking engagements: to do nothing for just one minute. It might just be the most difficult (and most rewarding) challenge you ever take — one that gives you the chance to take the next step towards your goals, whatever they may be.

So whether you need my challenge to take a moment to breathe and be present or you already a mindfulness practice, pause and ask yourself a couple of questions. How is your vision coming along? What about your goals? Would you be willing to share one and make it scarier?

If you haven’t set your goals and would like a copy of the Vision and Goals worksheet we use at imageOne, reach out by social media!

I wish you a joyful, mindful, and fulfilling 2018.