By Christine Kane
www.christinekane.com

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!

8 COMMENTS ADD A COMMENT
  • Angela

    This is exactly what I needed to read! Even though it’s Jan. 8, I’m treating today like the first of the year. INTENT–thanks for the word for this year of my life. I already had a few goals and I have lots of responsibilities; I’m definitely not wondering what to do…just what to do first, second…so that in a few days I’m not feeling behind. Wow…thanks so much for the inspiration!

  • unreliable narrator

    Well, I made my five little neon cards. They scare the bejeezus outta me. That’s good, right?

    Gulp.

    Now I want to choose a word for the next half-year….I’m thinking something like:

    SATISFIED. PLENTY. REPLETE. As in, I have enough, I do enough, I am enough. Are these good words, I wonder….

    Enough already! Thank you for your kindness and diligence.

  • Angie Hartford

    Christine: Not only do I love your blog, I really appreciate the comments about self-sabotage via huge goals. It’s happened more times than I’d care to count, all in the name of Being Virtuous.

    Currently, I try to balance my Responsible Member of Society Goals (updating my will, cleaning the back of the fridge) with Girls Just Wanna Have Fun Goals (going to lunch with a friend or finally using those pretty new beads I bought last month). Bonus: when I remember the fun goals, the other ones fall more easily into place.

  • David (meer kitty2)

    Have a look through http://www.karensblog.com/ In particular, search the blog for “Dog Wisdom” my favorite favorite words from Illo. I seem to get that this is a gallery. It is beautiful.

    On setting goals. Be aware of getting pulled into the dark side of goals – that is living in the future of your goals. “When I reach this goal, everything will be OK” is living in time other than now. Goals can give your now necessary direction, and the vision and intention is critical to making happen what you choose to have happen. Remember John Lennon’s line, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.”

    meer

  • christine

    Hey Elizabeth! Wow. Thanks for the great thoughts. I didn’t realize that you were fairly new to drawing… So, I’m even more inspired and awed. And you made a great point about anything worth doing is worth doing badly. I agree wholeheartedly. I think that’s what the bloggers of the world are really understanding — that if you keep working, there’s always another post you can do tomorrow. Thanks for stopping by… I visit your site every morning to see what you’ve created!

  • Elizabeth Perry

    Hmm. Reading along in an entry and thinking about my own goals for this month and the next, and … wait a second, there I am… me. Thanks!

    And to respond, no I don’t draw at a set time every day – but I do draw something in my current sketchbook before I go to sleep each night. (And sometimes, if I’m up too late because that’s when kids are asleep and the house is quiet, it is technically the next morning, but I’ve decided that if it is done before bed, it counts.) Sometimes it’s more of a gesture than a fully developed sketch, sometimes I get involved as it develops and I lose all track of time.

    When I decided to learn to draw a year and a half ago, I did not expect that I would still be drawing every day 540-some drawings later. I didn’t even plan to blog the drawings, but once I started, the public and shared nature of that process encouraged me to keep going. I don’t really feel pressure, because I firmly believe that anything worth doing is worth doing badly. I’ve decided that I am willing to post some REALLY bad drawings, and that’s part of the project, I will be drawing something else the next day, so no single drawing – good or bad – is going to be at the top of the page for very long. On the whole, I think they have gotten better, but I really try not to worry about that too much. I don’t want to get stuck in a set safe way of doing things, because then a) I’ll get bored, and b) I’ll stop learning new things. So I take all kinds of chances, mess around with new materials, and basically just play for anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour every single day. It has moved from being a tiny new year’s goal – let me buy a little sketchbook and make a drawing in it every day – to being an important part of my life as I learn to trust the process of working this way.

    In July I will be speaking at BlogHer, a conference for women bloggers (blogher.org), and the topic of the panel is “Is your blog a gallery or a canvas?” – meaning is your blog itself a place where you publish or show your art, or is it an art form in its own right? One of my goals for June was to begin doing some writing and thinking about what I’m going to say. Thanks to this longwinded chance to comment, I think I just did! (Now to find some colored index cards…)

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