By Christine Kane
Here comes a new month. It’s a great time to set goals to inspire you into action. I know some people who swear by their quarterly goals or yearly reviews. I do better with smaller chunks of time. And I’ve gotten fairly good with my monthly goals.
This process is invaluable to me because I have so much open time this year. Anyone who’s self-employed knows the value of prioritizing and planning. It’d be so easy to hang out and watch When Harry Met Sally for the 75th time. It’d be easy to melt down and sink into a float-y depression wondering what’s next or what the hell I’m even doing with my life. (Steve Seskin and I just finished co-writing a song called “What the Hell Am I Doing With My Life?” that had us laughing so hard we cried several times. The song was inspired by a message I left on his voicemail.) Two ways to ensure that this old habit doesn’t get hold is by setting intent and taking action. Monthly goals keep me connected to my intent, and inspire me to take the action.
My belief is that you make changes in your life by intention, attention and action. In my recent post 10 Ways to Set a Powerful Intent, I wrote about intention. Setting monthly goals is a way to hone the other two steps.
Why bother? Shouldn’t life just be spontaneous and carefree and creative?
This is a good question. In my experience, I’m more likely to be spontaneous and creative if I have things written down and if my yammering brain knows that those things are getting done or are scheduled to get done. Otherwise, I have this perpetual voice in my head reminding me that I still have to turn in my taxes or schedule a dentist appointment. It’s an energy drain that makes it harder to be present for the spontaneous events that show up.
Monthly Goals First Step: Have a Thinking-About-Your-Life Session
Over this coming weekend, schedule in a few hours just for you to do some reflecting and planning. When you sit down, use your intents as a background guide for your monthly priorities. Even if you’ve never done this before and you have no idea what you’ll be thinking about, just carve out time to think. You can write in your journal or just ponder.
Ask yourself a few overview questions to get started. Are you in a place of clearing out and creating space for new things to come in? Are you letting go of something? Are you starting something new and big? What are your priorities now? Get a feel for the overall picture. Even if you think you know the overall picture, just bring it to mind. This is an exercise in getting clear, without any emotion or judgment. For instance, if you know that you’re in a time of clearing things out, your goals will focus on that kind of activity. You won’t be as likely to strive for something counter to this that you’d probably not be ready for.
Write down or call to mind your big goals. Examples might be: Writing a book, cleaning out the basement, organizing office files, hiring someone new, learning how to create a budget, etc.
Monthly Goals Second Step: Asking What’s the Very Next Step
Look at each of your big goals and ask, “What is the next step towards that goal?” This is a crucial step that I borrowed from David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. In the past, even when I was clear on some of my goals, when it came to money, I’d often write down, “Get clear on financial stuff.” When the end of every month came around, I’d look at that one goal and have no idea whether or not it actually got done because I had no earthly idea what it meant! When I realized that getting clear on financial stuff meant that I wanted to set up an automatic monthly deposit for my Roth IRA or that I wanted to read a book on personal finance, then that became the goal for the month.
Similarly, if you want to write a book, your next step is probably to schedule writing time each day for the whole month. Or to set a goal of finishing one chapter by the end of the month. If you goal is to clean out the closet, then maybe the next step is to take the old clothes that no longer fit you to Goodwill.
Monthly Goals Third Step: Set Small Goals
I just wrote a post on Sabotage. One of the most common ways people sabotage themselves is by setting such huge goals that there’s no way they could possibly begin to complete them. If you’re a mother of three, and you can only go to the gym four days a week, and you’re just now learning how to prepare more healthy food for your family, it’s probably not productive or kind to tell yourself you’ll lose 10 pounds by the end of the month. You’re likely to wreck the small progress you’ve made already. The idea behind this is to make goals that are do-able so that you build momentum and continue through to the next month.
A Note on Creativity
What if your goals are more nebulous, like songwriting, or sketching or painting, or writing a book? You can still set goals. Just be cautious about being too hard on yourself, as creativity is tender territory.
I can be really hard on myself. My committee chairman will enter my mind (He looks a lot like the Bergermeister Meisterberger from Rankin Bass’s Santa Claus is Coming to Town) and tell me that I have to finish three songs by the end of the month. (“There’ll be No Toymakers to the King!!”) For some songwriters that’s entirely do-able. I have actually done that on several occasions, but never when I set a goal like that. When I set a goal that’s too big, my heart shrivels up, and I have no desire to write.
The idea behind this process is to get you excited and motivated, not driven. So, for June, I set the goal of writing one song that I love. And I did it. The song isn’t totally done. (It needs a bridge.) But again, I sat down with it everyday and kept at it. Without the goal, I might have written everyday, but my habit is to spend a little time on each song I’ve started until I get so scattered that nothing deep ever happens. By setting the goal of the one song, I know I’ll focus on that one song and have a better writing session.
You can also set a time goal instead of an outcome goal. “Write for 1 hour each day Monday through Friday for the month of July.” That kind of goal is more about showing up and opening yourself to your creative side.
If you’re an artist and you believe that artists should just be inspired at any given time, and that they should just wait for the inspiration to come, I would ask you how’s that working for you? If it works, great. For me, with so many other items on my plate, I have to set some kind of priority. Otherwise too many other things will occupy my time.
Check out Elizabeth Perry’s blog. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t sit herself down at the same time each day no matter what, but I’ll bet she does have the goal to do one sketch or painting everyday for her blog. And she does it. It might feel like pressure sometimes, but the outcome is that her work has become stronger (from my untrained eye, at least) over time. (Elizabeth, feel free to debunk my pronouncements in the comments!)
Monthly Goals Fourth Step: Write Your Goals on Neon Index Cards
Here’s the fun part. It’s a requirement. Get the ridiculous colorful neon index cards made for 8-year-olds. (My artist side can’t stand setting goals and making lists, so I find that it helps to make this stuff at least a little more colorful.)
Write down one goal per index card. Word it in the present or past tense. Avoid future tense. Here are some examples:
By July 30, I turn all my tax stuff in to my accountant’s office.
By July 30, I have written two poems that I love.
By July 30, I have cleaned out the closet in the hallway.
By July 30, I have had a yard sale.
By July 30, I have researched incorporating my business and found a lawyer.
Don’t overload yourself. Six is a good number. Especially if this is new for you.
Monthly Goals Fifth Step: Read Your Neon Index Cards Each Morning
This is the key thing. Begin your day with intent. You don’t have to make a big deal out of it. At first, it might even feel pretty stupid. But just stay with me on this. Read them aloud.
I’ve found that just reading my cards has had an organic affect on me. Some of my goals have just gotten done effortlessly. I did them without any major scheduling or announcing, “Today I’m going to do this thing!” If I’ve procrastinated on a goal (anything involving my accountant is cause for procrastination), I’d finally make that announcement (usually in the last week of the month) and just finish the goal in a concentrated effort. As my coach used to say, “Hey, I don’t care if you waited til the last minute on this one, I’m just proud that you got it done!”
When you set intent daily, then you keep yourself on track. You become your own coach and mentor. You remind yourself that this is something that’s very important to you.
Monthly Goals Sixth Step: Add Some Neon Affirmations on Your Index Cards
When you create your index cards, write a few affirmations too. One per card. These act as guidelines for your thoughts each morning when you read them. I love Marc Allen’s technique of beginning every affirmation with the phrases “In and easy and relaxed manner, in a healthy and positive way” It keeps the goal and intent clear and relaxed. None of this is worth you losing your health or your spirit. A reminder: Affirmations should always focus on what you do want, not on what you don’t want. “I am creating total health.” “All the money I want and need comes to me.” You get the idea. Make these as big or bold or gentle as you need them to be.
Monthly Goals Seventh Step: Congratulate Yourself on Completions
Each time you finish a goal, write “YAY!” across the front of the index card of that goal. Then paste it in your journal, or in a goals notebook that is for this very thing. Make sure you have some way of celebrating small things. I’m certain that this is why the coaching model works for so many people. We often forget to congratulate ourselves for getting things done. Especially scary things. Also, call a friend. Tell her to congratulate you too!
Monthly Goals Eighth Step: Remember It’s a Process
Setting goals acts as a guideline if you do it with intention and kindness. If you do it with gritted teeth and driven-ness — well, not so much. The feeling of completion at the end of the month is rewarding, and you’ll want to do the process over again. And if there’s anything that you didn’t get done, you don’t have to dwell on the reasons or on how very bad you are, just write it down again with a different completion date and do it again. Even if you got started on something, it’s probably more than you would’ve done had you not set the goal.
Keep me posted on results!