Gabriella Nissan, Psy.D.
To set meaningful goals, use your values compass
As 2022 comes to a close and 2023 approaches, many of us are reflecting on our experiences and looking forward to new beginnings. There can be a lot of pressure to create grand plans for growth and self-improvement. However, it is not uncommon to feel defeated and wonder whether it is worthwhile trying to set new goals for this year if you had difficulty sticking to goals in the past. Here are a few tips to setting yourself up for success with new goals for the year.
It is important that goals are connected to values, rather than working toward arbitrary goals or ones that are related to others' expectations. While the terms ‘goals’ and ‘values’ are often used interchangeably, they are actually different concepts. Values are directions we want our lives to move in which bring reward and fulfillment. These values are action oriented and are not bound to a specific outcome. Goals, on the other hand, are what we want to achieve along the way, which can be crossed off a checklist. For example, someone who has the value of "learning" may have a goal to obtain an advanced degree. Once they graduate and obtain their degree, they are not necessarily "finished" with learning; they will likely set new goals to continue learning in other ways. Everyone has different values; there is no right or wrong set of values. Try to identify what the underlying values are that make a goal important to you.
It may also be helpful to identify specific roles that you play as a helpful first step toward setting meaningful goals. Some examples of roles that many view as important include your role as: friend, family member, romantic partner, professional, student, hobbyist, etc. Next, it’s important to identify specific values you want to embody in each of these roles. These might be values of compassion, connection, curiosity, exploration, honesty, kindness, love, patience, respect, or trust. Don't worry if you have certain values that show up in multiple roles, this is generally indicative or some underlying core values. For example, someone who values honesty in their relationships likely also values honesty at their job.
Once you’ve identified some of the values in these roles, think about specific steps you can take to live a life that is consistent with these values. It may be tempting to aim for the stars and make dramatic lifestyle changes. Starting off with small committed actions and gradually working your way up to more challenging goals tends to be more sustainable long-term, as it provides the opportunity to experience a sense of accomplishment and empowerment upon successful achievement of growth.
It may be helpful to keep the acronym SMART in mind when establishing new goals. SMART goals are those that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic/relevant, and timebound. An example of a SMART goal that is tied to values such as self-care and fitness may be to go for a walk for twenty minutes every day this week. While this goal may be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and relevant for one person, this may not necessarily be the case for another person. It is important to balance between holding yourself accountable to work toward goals and being flexible by modifying goals if circumstances change or if a goal seems unattainable or unrealistic.
Inevitably, challenges will arise and you will be faced with obstacles towards your goals. If you find yourself feeling stuck or having difficulty motivating yourself to stick with your goals, it may be helpful to take a step back and remind yourself why you established these goals in the first place; namely, to connect with your values. By turning towards your values compass, you can realign yourself with what brings you fulfillment and purpose and allow for greater commitment to your goals.