The start of a new year always brings with it an evaluation of where you are now against where you want to be.
As humans with the ability to make a big mess of good intentions, we like the idea of drawing a line in the sand and starting over.
That’s what the month of January represents to most of us.
In my own life, and in my work with others, I’ve noticed one of the most obvious missing components in getting where you want to go is, well, knowing where you want to go.
It sounds overly simplistic, but many of us have, at best, a fuzzy idea of exactly what we’re trying to accomplish here.
We set goals every year and, have mercy, do we love setting goals.
- We make vision boards and post-it-note collages.
- We create detailed spreadsheets with metrics and columns that do the calculations automatically (sheer wizardry, in my book).
- We create the perfect environment that uses the perfect tool to do the thing.
- We shout out to all things social media that this is the year we are gonna get that thing done.
By January 15, which is right about now, we have already figured out that the goals we spent weeks crafting during the ho-ho-ho season have to now be lived out.
And it’s hard.
- It’s hard to get up early to do the thing.
- It’s hard to stay up late to do the thing.
- It’s hard to stay up late to do the thing, and then have to get up early to do the thing.
- It’s hard to fight against the cobwebs trying to suffocate and trap the momentum of the thing.
- It’s hard to pay attention to just one thing for more than eight seconds.
- It’s hard to say no to people and things when you just wanna hang out and be the fun-in-the-sun person (if you live in Florida, this is totally do-able in January).
Some people get super motivated when things get hard.
But for most of us who don’t chase back-to-back Superbowls or Wimbledon wins, it’s easy to get discouraged when you aren’t seeing any progress.
Now you start to wonder if this was even a goal worth pursuing. Why am I even doing this?
Maybe this isn’t the right year, you tell yourself. As if.
Sometimes it’s a discipline thing, and you should, you know, just do it.
But part of the problem is that we haven’t done the hard work of determining what all these goals are supposed to add up to — our values.
We don’t get a lot of instruction on values as kids.
Often we’re asked what we want to do when we grow up. This usually means some kind of career choice that requires specific goals and actions to get there (astronaut, doctor, secretary — literally just those three choices in my own 4th grade class).
Hardly anyone asks us what kind of person we want to be, or what we want our life to represent or stand for. That won’t get you invited to parties.
Early on, we become conditioned to look at goals as a measure of how well our lives are going.
But understanding what you want your life to mean makes all the difference in actually achieving your goals.
The biggest difference between values and goals is this: you will never accomplish your values.
Values are not limited by time or effort, they are always ongoing.
If you can accomplish something, complete it and move on, then it’s not a value. It’s a goal.
If one of your values is to use your business success to improve the lives of others, then you will never accomplish this value.
You may set a goal this year of donating $1 million to your favorite charity, and you may accomplish that.
But you still have plenty of room to continue investing in others. As long as you’re breathing and making money, this effort can continue.
So, financially investing to support the needs of others is one of your values.
Pledging a certain amount this year is one of your goals to help you express this value in your life. You will either accomplish it, or you won’t.
Why is this distinction important?
Confusing goals and values makes it hard to make good decisions, and doubly hard to persevere through challenges.
How do you even know if this is something you should be pursuing?
When you understand what your values are, the opportunities that come your way will either take you towards your values or away from your values.
Honestly, that’s really the benchmark, it’s that simple. For real.
When you have honed in on your values, then it is so much easier to look at an opportunity and decide if it takes you where you want to go.
Yes, I know there are off-the-wall, amazing, unexpected opportunities that happen in life. But if you try really hard, I’ll bet you will find underneath that spontaneous opportunity, it either takes you where you want to go, or it doesn’t.
One of my values is to be a healthy, fit and active grandmother to my two young grandsons so they don’t mimic my grunting noises when I bend over to pick something up.
There are a variety of goals I can choose from to accomplish that value, everything from walking to weight training to martial arts.
I can engage in any of those activities and set goals, but my goals will reflect the fact that I am doing this for my health.
I’m not trying to be world champion (anymore). I’m not trying to be the best at any particular exercise.
I just need it to take me towards the health and energy I need to mix it up in that toddler life.
This takes a lot of pressure off of me because I know why I have the goal and what I need it to do for me. As I get older, my goals may have to change a bit to make sure I’m continuing to move toward that value.
Understanding this concept makes decision-making so much easier, especially when you have multiple variables in play, or you’re choosing between two good things.
It also makes for a more SuperBowl-style steely resolve when things get challenging because you know why you’re doing this in the first place.
Think about it
- What values are most important to you right now?
- How do your current goals take you toward these values?
- Think of a time when your goals didn’t align with your values. What impact did this have on you?
- What one step can you take today that will move you toward your values? Start there to create meaningful goals for this year!