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Goal Setting Strategies for Tough Times

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This year hasn’t exactly delivered the fresh start we had all been hoping for. In a reality filled with illness, school closures, cancelled plans and events, and other Covid-related challenges, it’s hard not to feel disappointed, or even defeated. Goal setting during uncertain times can be confusing to say the least, even paralyzing at times, but often a big part of getting through a hard present is looking ahead towards a brighter future. Regardless of what challenges or setbacks you might be facing, there are still plenty of ways to move closer to your big goals. The key is starting super small. More tips and ideas to get started are straight ahead…

goal setting

Reflect + Clarify

Before I set any new goals, I always like to reflect and clarify my intentions for the year ahead. Here are some of my favorite clarifying questions:

What am I proud of from the past year that I want to carry into the next year?

What do I want to do more of?

What do I want to do less of? 

What am I holding onto that I want to let go of?

What new results do I want to create this year?

How do I want to show up differently in 2022?

Try it: Grab your favorite pen and jot down your answers.

Set Tiny Life Goals

Next, I like to evaluate each area of my life with an open mind in order to see where I want to make small changes. l spend a few minutes reflecting on the following categories: career, finance, relationships, health and wellness, personal growth, and philanthropy. Once I’ve clarified the new results I want to create in each category, I’ll jot down a few small, specific, and measurable things I can do to improve each area. These can be super tiny like taking my girls out for a hot cocoa date, consolidating all of my important papers, or making a single donation to a cause I believe in.

I suggest keeping the bar pretty low at first so you can experience success and then build on it. For example, if you’d like to improve your physical fitness, start with a daily 15-minute walk instead of trying to take a cross fit class. If you’d like to take better care of yourself, try going to bed a half an hour early. Start small, repeat, and add slowly until you reach your bigger goals. A little progress is still progress, and each step forward will help build confidence and momentum.

Clear the Clutter

A new year is a great opportunity to cut the physical clutter from your life and improve how you feel about your surroundings. Start super small – recycle old calendars, junk mail, and holiday cards. Pack up the holiday decor and box it up neatly so it’s ready for next year. Clear your nightstand and replace the pile of dusty books with the one book you want to read right now. Clean out your sock drawer. Declutter a single shelf. Ahhh, breathing room.

goal setting

Create a Not-to-do-List

Here’s the part where you realize you may not be able to do all of the things on your own (nobody can!) and you have an opportunity to lighten your load. I suggest creating a “not-to-do list.” Consider: What can you seek support with? What can you delegate? What can you let go of altogether? Example: A few years ago I told my kids that I was done packing lunches and handed the dreaded task over to them. Now, they pack their own lunches and snacks every day after dinner. This simple habit shift has helped me reclaim some precious time for myself, and I no longer have to hear about how I used the wrong sandwich bread, or how they no longer like apples (the nerve!).

Get Organized and Schedule

Once I’ve clarified the specific things I want to accomplish in the new year, I set aside a block of scheduling time so I can make sure I am prioritizing my goals on my calendar. This year, I’m planning two family trips out of the country, and I’m sticking with my daily morning walks, a weekly friend dinner, and bi-monthly date nights with Jordan. In addition, I want to add a weekly yoga class (may need to be online) and I want to block out some time for more family hikes, dinner dates, and weekend adventures. Even though it may feel tedious to spend time planning and scheduling, I’ve found that if it doesn’t get prioritized and added to the calendar, it doesn’t happen. Get out your little black book (or your digital calendar) and let’s get down to business. What are a few tiny goals that would feel good to complete?

Practice Constraint

My mind tends to get overwhelmed with all of the things I want to do, create, and pursue – (learn a new language! start a podcast!), but I’ve learned I am much more successful when I force myself to pick one thing to focus on at a time. To help quiet and reassure my busy brain, I jot down all of my other ideas on a doc called “Future Projects” so they have a safe place to hang out until I’m ready for them. My friend Jill calls this “the parking lot.” I urge you to pick one or two goals to focus your energy on and park the rest for now.

Whatever you decide to focus on this year, I hope you’ll be gentle and patient with yourself and make sure to celebrate all the little wins along the way, no matter how small. I’m rooting for you!

Photography Credit: Vivian Johnson

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10 comments on “Goal Setting Strategies for Tough Times

  1. Shira, Thank you so very much for this article!! My year has begun with illness and medical issues to be solved. My husband and I both feel overwelhmed!! Your approach calmed me as I read it!! This is so realistic!! I’m disabled and often feel I can’t do enough to help my husband!! You gave me some insight to a better approach!! I love your articles!! I love your book!! If you wrote another book I would buy it!!

  2. Yippee… Podcast !! Cant wait for you to start that. I can just imagine that will be fun and wonderful to listen to.

    I have heard the Future Projects also called the Ideas Garden.

    As usual I love your simplicity and clarity. Yes Philanthropy is one of my categories too as I feel giving back to our community is super important too and yet I don’t always get it done in terms of physical volunteering (I started and then covid hit). My daughter and me wanted to cook meals and share with frontline workers this year. I would like to do that at least once a month.

  3. Take a look at Ojas Yoga Center in El Cerrito, Shira. The founder, Nicole Becker, was my tenant for almost ten years, and she is a wonderful, comfortable, productive, gentle human being, and is a very popular Yoga teacher. I think you can do both online and in person classes now, but check it out. I don’t think you would be sorry.

    BJ Thorsnes

  4. Where can I buy the small basket with lid beside three books in photo used in ‘Goal Setting Strategies for Tough Times’ ?

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