Though most of us are accustomed to setting goals for our careers—whether it’s a raise, a promotion or another step up on the ladder—we often don’t put as much weight on personal development. This is a mistake since having our cup filled is the most effective way to ensure that we are motivated and inspired in other areas of our lives. 

All too often, eager, ambitious professionals focus on staying on the path without taking time to discover what motivates them truly, feels them with joy, and nurtures their spirit. As we prepare to bravely enter the unknown of 2021 after the chaos of 2020, consider taking the time to think critically about your unique aspirations. 

As certified life coach and the co-founder of Truthmap, Holly Nelson, says, our personal goals should be the intentions we set out to execute in life that lead to our happiness, health, connection and wellness. Here, a guide on how to set these all-too-important milestones:

Choose something you value. 

Sure, the idea of speaking three languages may be appealing and exciting, but when you think about the work required to achieve this skill, how does it make you feel? Since, by definition, a personal goal is well, personal and meaningful, it should resonate with your value system. As stress management and self-care coach Allison L. Richard explains, what makes us individuals is that we get to select what matters to us and what we hold sacred. To explore a decisive personal goal, she recommends listing out your top five values—from empathy and kindness to perseverance and so on. Then, as you brainstorm personal goals, ensure they align with at least one of your values, if not many. 

“The more of your values a goal encompasses, the more intrinsic motivation you will have to continue taking steps towards that goal. This intrinsic motivation is key to successfully reaching your goal as it will help get you through the harder moments when your energy, will power or discipline might be lower,” she explains.

Choose something that provides flexibility. 

If 2020 hasn’t drilled it into your head yet, here’s a reminder: we can’t predict the future. But we can equip ourselves to handle curveballs by selecting personal goals that allow flexibility. For example, maybe you want to create a mindfulness habit and decide to meditate every day for 10 minutes, and your goal is to get up to an hour by the end of 2021. Though you are well-intentioned, you are definitely going to miss a few days, and that has to be okay. Or, you may get to February, and you still don’t feel like listening to an app is doing it for you. That’s OK, Nelson reminds. 

“Plan accordingly, strategize for your goals, but realize that the universe is indifferent towards you: it’s not going to give you what you want,” she continues. “In the past, I would try and stick to my plan and then things would pile up. I would be hyper-focused on my goal but once I started shifting my priority to being flexible, I was able to pivot on days when things would go off track. You’d be surprised how much you can get done when you get off the tracks.”

Choose something that brings you joy.

When considering what brings you joy, in this case, we’re not talking about the kind of joy that comes from ego satisfaction or immediate gratification, Richard says. How come? Those things are felt in the moment, but they fade quickly, even leaving you to feel depleted later. Instead, Richard says for your personal 2021 goals, choose the type of joy that feels good in the moment and afterward because these are the goals that nourish you. If you’re not sure how to figure this out, take a trip back in time. “Since our souls never change, think back to when you were 5-years old, and remember what types of activities brought you joy. “You can then translate those into a version that adult you would enjoy,” she shares. 

Choose something that will help you be a better version of yourself. 

Since they are, in fact, goals, your personal aspirations should make you a better version of yourself. But rather than instantly going to weight loss or healthy eating, licensed marriage and family therapist Hanna Stensby, M.A., suggests taking the time to reflect on the type of person you want to be. And then, identify the areas of growth that you have to pinpoint concrete steps to take to improve. And remember: give yourself grace.

“Be compassionate with yourself as you’re setting goals. Avoid getting into judgment or shame as a motivating factor for your goals. Move away from the idea that you are not enough or that once you reach these goals, then you will be happy, satisfied, or accepting of yourself,” she explains. “Practicing self-compassion while noticing areas for growth is powerful and necessary for creating sustained change.”

Choose something that makes you feel empowered.

According to Richard, one of our human desires is to feel a sense of sovereignty in our ability to take care of ourselves. That’s part of the reason resolutions and goal-setting are a lifelong journey for most people since they allow us to work toward something. And perhaps more importantly, to have a sense of satisfaction, accomplishment and self-assurance when we are able to meet it. “Creating a goal, like learning a new skill, that will help you build confidence and trust in yourself as you accomplish it, will strengthen your personal power,” she shares. “It will help remind you that you don’t need to look outside of yourself to get what you need.”

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