Instead of creating New Years resolutions or random goals throughout the year, you are better off doing something meaningful that will last. You need to take time to figure out what you should make a priority in the immediate future. To do this, you need to reflect on the immediate past and determine your current values. This way, you’ll create a system of reflection and planning that you can do as a habit going forward. This is how you start to live intentionally, which leads you to living a happier life with fewer regrets.
Step 1: Reflect on your past choices
The first thing you should do if you want to get the most out life is look back on the past year and evaluate your choices. Think about your year and reflect on your life and every area in it. Spend a sufficient amount of time reflecting and thinking about your choices and what regrets you have for the year. Don’t leave anything out. Look at your health, relationships, career, finances, personal development, religion, organization, and service. Where did you succeed? Where did you fall short? Write down how you did in each of these areas, including how much time, energy, and money you put into each area.
Remember: Experience teaches you nothing; it’s evaluated experience that teaches you something.
Step 2: Decide what your values are
After you have taken inventory of the past, including your mistakes, successes, and everything in between, write down your values. Your values are what you believe in — your values are the ideal. It’s important to write down your values so you definitely know what your values are. Putting them on paper will bring clarity to what you believe in and what you want from your life.
Writing down your values will give you a baseline to compare your choices to. If your values are your ideal, you can compare what you actually did with your ideals in order to gauge how well you are doing.
Step 3: Compare your past choices to your values
Now that you know 1) your values and 2) have taken inventory of your recent choices, it’s time to compare the two.
Ask yourself whether your decisions align with your values. Did you spend the appropriate amount of time, energy, and financial resources according to how you value each area?
For example, if you value religion very highly but did not attend church, volunteer, or donate, this would be an area where your choices did not align with your values. You did not prioritize according to your values.
The point here is to be very honest with yourself. Identify where you succeeded and where you fell short. The more you know about where you can improve, the better suited you will be for creating goals for next year.
Step 4: Create a plan that moves your toward your values and away from past mistakes
Once you know where you prioritized appropriately and where you fell short, you can then plan ahead and start setting goals that move you toward your values. When it comes to setting goals, there are three critical components. Goals should be 1) definite (specific and realistic), 2) time bound (have a deadline), and 3) in writing (not just in your head). Aside from these characteristics, you want to create goals based on the priorities you have for the New Year.
- Related: How to set goals
For example, if you are broke and in credit card debt, you should be hesitant to prioritize running a marathon or traveling as your top priority for the next year. You should want to make your finances a top priority. Even though it isn’t sexy and may not be fun, it is what’s best for you and your family. (Dave Ramsey calls this being a grown up!)
By creating goals based on what you need to be a priority, you are standing in your truth. You’re cleaning up your mess from last year and getting on track for next year. Your choices will be more in line with your values. You will live with fewer regrets. By prioritizing your goals and living a life that is intentionally in line with your values, you are setting yourself up to win in life.
Step 5: Implement systems that support your plan
What happens when you set goals is that you get excited at first, then life gets in the way. Your busy schedule takes over and before you know it you don’t remember what your goal was at all. To avoid this, take the time now to set up a supportive system so this does not happen.
A great way to implement your plan is to put deadlines on your calendar. If you want to read two finance books this year, put “read finance book” on your calendar and include the deadline. This way, you have an expectation that is concrete with a deadline. Do this for all of your goals. If you have goals that look more like habits, you can put reoccurring events on your calendar to serve as a reminder. For example, if you have a goal of cooking one new recipe every week (which is more like a habit), put that as a reoccurring event on Sundays on your calendar so you see it. Of course, this means you have to get in the habit of checking your calendar.
Whatever works for you, implement that system. The key is to have a system that supports your goals and helps make it easy for you to remember them and accomplish them throughout the year. Taking the time to set up a supportive system now will pay dividends later.
A Final Note
To win in life you need to be on purpose, which means you’re in alignment with what you want and you’re minimizing your regrets. I think you can do this by:
- Reflecting on your past choices
- Deciding what your values are
- Comparing your past choices to your values
- Creating a plan that moves your toward your values and away from past mistakes
- Implementing systems that support your plan
Take these five steps seriously, put them in writing, and follow through. You’ll be happier, more content, and have fewer regrets. I know because I did it and it works. I quit my job as an attorney, started a blog and am pursuing my dreams. It’s worth the time to think about what you want from life because after all, you only live once.
Up Next: Read one of my recommended books on Intentional Living