There’s something rather unsexy about goal-setting. It requires the discomfort of vulnerability to understand what we truly want. It demands self-reflection of the past so that we can learn from our prior missteps (and boy, if you’re like me, there are many). And – somehow this one looms largest of all – we all know the neighbor/friend/sibling that never sets goals, yet somehow regularly kicks ass in his/her/their life. Goal-setting isn’t just unsexy, it’s tough. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth it. The fact is, our lives will evolve by default. However, its goal-setting that puts you in the driver’s seat to design a life that embodies your desires, your wisdom, your purpose. Having line of sight into your current self and knowing how you’d like to grow – be it in 91 days or 10 years – we’re creating a vehicle for our hope to drive growth and change. This experience of agency and autonomy – they’re not only key ingredients to our overall happiness, but also our daily experience of aliveness and energy. I don’t know about you, but that seems pretty sexy to me.
So, how do we make Goal-Setting SEXY?
Substitute A New, Inspired Word
If you’re like me, the thought of goal-setting feels like an annoying scratch on your back that you can’t. quite. reach. And let’s be real – if you’re dreading the word alone, you ain’t making any progress today, honey! If this sounds like you, let’s rebrand. Choose a word or phrase that jives the most with you, that you find inspirational, empowering, even kick ass. It can be silly (a la Holy Grail or Audacious Wish), it can be reverent (ex: Vision, Ambition), it can be approachable (ex: Intention, Hope). Choose your flavor – no one needs to know except you. If you find that dreaded knot in the pit of your stomach loosened and an uptick of hope at the prospect of shaping your dream/target/design/aspiration/plan, you’ve found your word.
Elevate & Positivity-fy your Goal
Research shows us that the language we use to frame our goals can enhance our likelihood to achieve them and elevate us as we work towards them. At a gut check, this makes sense – saying “I will not eat junk food so I can lose weight” evokes an entirely different feeling than “I will eat my favorite fruits and vegetables at each meal, so I can feel healthier and happier.” The former is what psychologists call an avoidance goal – it’s centered on something that we want to avoid, and takes a more negative, punishing approach. Whereas the latter is an approach goal, a goal that’s uplifting by nature, emphasizing our intention to foster something that would give us pleasure, joy, or perhaps benefit us. Not only do these goals motivate us more (making it likely that we’ll achieve them), they also boost our sense of vitality, self-esteem, personal control and life satisfaction.
While it’d be nice to wake up five years from now having accomplished all of your dreams, there’s a lot of learning and fun to be had in pursuit of our goals. Reflect on the goals you had for yourself 10 years ago. Do all of those goals still ring true? Of course not! Being flexible means refining your goals in parallel with your own evolution. Every so often, be sure to check in to ensure that what you’re working towards still resonates and invigorates you – that way, when you get there, you’ll be exactly where you want to be.
Being flexible in goal-setting also means being accepting and even welcoming (!) the inevitable missteps that are made along the way. Practice a mindset of viewing mistakes as challenges to overcome and opportunities to learn and grow. This ability bolsters hope, resiliency, and self-efficacy – all key ingredients to help you achieve your goals.
YOU-ify your Goal
Unsurprisingly, your goal has to mean something to you and align to what you desire and value (not your parent/best friend/spouse). Often, we can be all too hesitant to validate our own hopes and values and instead look for surrogates around us to bear the burden of our choices. While in the short-term, it may feel safer to follow your parent’s dream to be doctor when you’d rather be a food critic, there’s also significant research telling us that pursuing goals prescribed by others are not only demotivational (translation: you’re less likely to even achieve them), they can undermine our own well-being. The key is to identify goals that we want to pursue for their own sake, rather than because the environment around us is pressuring us to do so. Not only are we more likely to achieve these goals because we care about them on a deeper level, they boost our levels of well-being by giving us a sense of agency and purpose. My recommended gut check to determine if a goal is YOU-motivated is to ask myself, “would I still want this EVEN if I couldn’t tell anyone else once I achieved it?”
Today, take some time to reflect on goals that you’ve achieved and hopes you have for the future. How can you use some of the strategies above to create your own SEXY, inspiring goal? Don’t forget that as you embark on this journey to exercise self-compassion. It’s not often that we truly ask ourselves what we desire, and it can certainly be intimidating. Create that safe place to reflect and envision. You’re only given one precious life, and this is your chance to design it.