Goal Setting: Process for Releasing the Past and Supercharging the Future

by Patrick J. Harbula

This article was written as to inspire powerful transformation at the time of the new year, but can be applied at any moment in time.

What were your new year’s resolutions last year (if you made any)? Did you follow through on your resolutions the last time you made them? Would you like a process for increasing the effectiveness of your intentions and your ability to use the new year as a springboard to create greater success and fulfillment? I have used the formula below in various forms with phenomenal results in achieving my own goals, corporate consulting, life coaching, and as a manager and director for over 15 years in the publishing industry.

Most people have set new year’s resolutions at some time or other in their lives. Many have given up on this cultural tradition because the resolutions didn’t work . . . or more accurately, because of lack of follow through on the part of the resolution maker. The new gym membership was used three times per week in January, once per week in February, and no times per week in March or beyond—a pattern that matches the trends in health club new member usage. The diet, which began right after January first, lasted a few weeks, or maybe just a few days. The decision to quit smoking almost worked for a whole day.

The number one reason for failure in achieving resolutions or goals is a lack of commitment and follow through, but there is a subtle problem with the whole notion of new year’s resolutions. The number one definition for “resolution” in the American Heritage dictionary is “The state or quality of being resolute; firm determination.” Having determination toward a particular goal is important, but it generally takes a number of other factors to succeed. Another definition cited in the same dictionary is “An explanation, as a problem or puzzle, solution.” This seems to characterize how many people approach resolutions—to get over or eliminate a problem or some unwanted behavior.

When we try to eliminate the negative, we give it power by focusing our attention on what we don’t want. What we focus on is what we tend to get more of. Have you ever made a commitment to not do some behavior like giving up eating too much and found that you instantly started wanting to eat more—and probably did? It’s like the proverbial “Don’t think about a pink elephant.” It’s virtually impossible.

To increase success in resolutions, we must focus on what we want rather than what we don’t want, which is exactly what is done in goal setting. A simple re-framing of the resolution can set us in the right direction. If I am resolute to quit smoking, I am actually creating an image in my mind of smoking (or at best of resisting smoking) every time I affirm that “I won’t smoke.” If I reframe my intention as one of becoming smoke free and focus on how healthy I will be as a result, I am creating an image in my mind of a life without smoking. The unconscious mind does not hear the word “not” because it receives an image of the subject of a statement regardless of whether a negative accompanies it. Rather than focusing on eating less unhealthy food or large portions, focus on eating small portions of healthy food and how good you will feel as a result.

Another reason resolutions can be less effective than goal setting is that they are so easily broken. Many people have become so resolved to the breaking of their resolutions that the unconscious resolution becomes “resolutions don’t work.” If I start out an intention with a “firm determination” and I slip up, then my determination wavers. If I didn’t succeed in the beginning with all my will power behind it, how will I ever succeed now that I have already missed the mark? In goal setting, I set a realistic goal and a practical plan for how to arrive at its fulfillment. I build into my plan how I will respond to difficulties or even failures, learn from my mistakes, and carry on toward the completed goal. In truth, my resolution is simply the first step in achieving my goal.

Using the new year as a springboard toward new successes is and excellent strategy and can be used to focus and empower setting and achieving goals. Below is a formula for goal setting and actualization that has worked for countless individuals and corporations I have consulted with. This exercise can be done with a group, a partner, or on one’s own. You can also use this formula as a ceremony. Every year for the last 13 years on new year’s eve I have performed a more elaborate version involving various ceremonial elements, as described in my book The Magic of the Soul. You can sit quietly by yourself or with a partner or group, light candles, sing songs or chants, or include prayers if you want to add a spiritual component to this process.

Reflect on the things in your life for which you are grateful including personal talents, accomplishments, relationships, opportunities, freedoms, possessions, and so on. Give special attention to the accomplishments and gifts you have realized in 2005 and write them down on a piece of paper or input them on a computer. Reflecting on what we have accomplished and gained helps to begin the resolution process from a perspective of success and gratitude, which for most people, gets us excited about accomplishing our intentions for the future. Most people and groups are amazed at what has been accomplished in the past after thoughtful assessment.

Focus on the important goals you have for your life in 2006 including relationship, health, financial, business, personal growth etc. Write (or input) each goal and put a realistic date for accomplishment next to it. Listing all of your goals will help you with achieving the more difficult ones, perhaps those you have failed at in past resolutions. As you chart the progress of all your goals throughout the year, you will increase your confidence in your ability to achieve results by fully acknowledging the minor goals you achieve, thus increasing your resolve to achieve those goals you have found most difficult in the past. It is not important at this point I the exercise to know how you will accomplish the goal but simply to commit to achieving it. Leave space in your document for adding action items for each goal.

Brainstorm ideas for how to accomplish the goals you have written down. Begin by simply allowing ideas to come into your head. If you are doing this exercise with a partner or group, voice your ideas. The reason for beginning this process as a brainstorming session is to allow the opportunity for new ideas to emerge. Write down the ideas as they come up. In brainstorming, no idea is a bad one. In fact the more bizarre the answers the more opportunity is created for really great outside-the-box ideas. Once you have completed the brainstorming process, transfer those ideas that you will use (the practical ones as opposed to the bizarre) to the corresponding goal or goals on your goal list. Fill in any additional action steps for any goals still needing them.

Elaborate on the personal growth factor of your action plan. What are the qualities and strengths that you must develop to succeed at your plan and how will you develop them? What are the weaknesses that you will overcome or minimize to increase your success? Write these down as well.

1. Use visual cues to keep yourself on track. Place your goals list with action items where you can see it regularly. Update it as you take your action steps and achieve your goals.
2. Reward yourself whenever you achieve a goal or action item. Celebrate your successes by sharing them with others. Have dinner or lunch out specifically to reward yourself for important accomplishments. Make time to do the things that you enjoy and connect them to the accomplishment of the small steps you achieve.
3. Create a support system. Especially with goals or resolutions that have been tried and failed before, communicate them to others. Enlist support from others. Get a friend to join the gym and go together; Become smoke free with a friend and support each other to success; Create a weekly or daily communication with someone else who is focusing on achieving specific goals--share your ongoing goals, plans, failures, successes, and commitments, thereby creating a system of accountability.
4. Use visualization and affirmation to enhance your efforts. Regularly sit down and close your eyes and visualize your accomplished goals. The power of the imagination cannot be overestimated. Studies have shown that people who visualize success are more likely to achieve it in reality. Also create affirmations to support the images of your success. Everyone has negative self-talk that comes into play when they are trying to accomplish a goal. The greater the goal, the more intense is the negative self-talk. Catch yourself in negative self-talk and replace it with positive reinforcement or affirmations that convey the opposite message of the negative self-talk.
5. Journal your successes. Acquire a journal or notebook that is dedicated to journaling about your success and ongoing planning. Writing in it each morning or evening is an excellent way to keep you motivated toward your goals and resolutions.
Once you have succeeded at this process, you will move into the next year with greater confidence and ability for achieving your goals. Imagine how actualized your life will be ten years from now having implemented this strategy for a decade. Imagine your life in 20 years. Have a happy an prosperous year in 2006 and increasingly fulfilling life each and every year.

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