Here's an annual message in a bottle: it's time to set goals for next year!

Don't like goals? 
I hear that from several smart folks every year. "I don't like setting goals." "Too much blame and shame." "Not ambitious enough." "I just live right and everything takes care of itself."

Fair enough. So don't set any goals. 

But — and now here is the Curse Of The Cat People — if you don't set any goals, don't be surprised if you don't achieve them. 

So there. At the bottom of this post is a handy worksheet for setting goals for next year. (Oh, what the heck, here it is right now: 

But wait! Before setting goals, here are two thoughts to consider.

Thought #1: The Paradoxical Theory of Change
At the Gestalt Center of Cleveland — and nothing says "Gestalt" quite so much as "Cleveland" — I learned about the Paradoxical Theory of Change.

Here's how I remember it.

The paradox is that we can only become more like ourselves. We can't change to become something that is not authentically us. While we do, of course, continue to learn, grow, and evolve, the only willful change that is sustainable is change that makes each of us more authentic. (I acknowledge that there is a bit of tautological ipso facto-ness to this, but stay with me here.)

Perhaps this is why so many new year's resolutions are abandoned by March. Any of us can subvert our true selves for a month or two. But by March, the false intentions from New Year's Day are out the window. (The intention was true, but in a unsustainably false direction.) 

Implications for New Year's Resolutions
The gymnasiums and fitness centers are packed during January and February — and predictably empty by Spring. What happened? It's more than the change of seasons. It's the revealing of us for who we truly are — and only what we can truly become.

I, for one, am not drawn to exercise. Exercise happens during hiking, walking, and restless moments on the treadmill, but I'm not drawn to exercise as an activity. I wish I were. But I am not. (I'd rather write. I don't have a dog. I'd rather take you for a walk.)

Someday, perhaps, I will fall in love with exercise. (I know I will welcome a variety of emails from readers of Net Cotton Content on how to do so.)

For example, here are two resolutions (or goal-ish statements) I cannot keep. They aren't authentic.

  • I resolve to be a Buddhist in 2016. Fiddlesticks. Isn't going to happen. I don't know much about Buddhism, but I know this: I'll have to work on detaching myself from life, you, and ice cream. I understand detachment and admire its practitioners. But the paradoxical theory of change teaches me that I can't simply claim to adopt Buddhism. I am hopefully attached to this world, to this life, to those I love, to each day and each moment, to each passing thought. To every cookie, to every cup of coffee. I don't want to be detached. Detachment has its advantages (no sadness, no anxiety, no taxes), but detachment is not authentically me. So I resolve to study detachment, but I am not resolved to becoming detached.
  • I resolve to not be sexist, racist, ageist, and other 'ists during 2016. Poppycock. Isn't going to happen. I can't help but see all the differences among people. And what I sense influences my behavior. Differences among people naturally, authentically fascinates me, even if it isn't any of my business. But these 'isms are more than my seeing differences. The 'isms are the systemic result of my benefiting from my status. This isn't about guilt. This is about reality. I'm all those abominable 'ists, not because I wake up every morning with a desire to stomp around in my White Middle-Aged Educated Affluent Male Privilege. But I do wake up every morning coated in WMAEAMP and I have to admit: the systemic rewards are intoxicating. I'm not happy about this. I'm just happy. (Read George Yancy's piece from Christmas Eve on The New York Times website. It's a piece called "Dear White America:" So I'm resolved to study my authentic prejudice — and better identify, understand and counteract my implicit assumptions — but not to become inauthentically blind to the differences among people and the systemic benefits that come my way every day. 

The above paragraph seems buried in this post. But I think it is the most important point.

Here's a resolution I can keep. (Read the fine print.)

  • I'm going to exercise every day during 2016. Until March.

Those, then, are my resolutions. They aren't the easy ones. They are resolutions in contrast to my authentic self. (Gamblers out there might bet against my resolutions.)

Time to develop goals for 2016? Not yet. First, this second thought…

Thought #2: Think Minimally
A very smart fellow I know — a Vistage member who has allowed me to share this here — asked a question of his peer group recently: "What is the minimum I need to do to be a CEO?"

Everyone laughed. The fellow is an engineer and, like the best engineers, his embrace of his Inner Robot is always both charming and persuasive. (I always like peer groups to have a mix of engineers and English majors. Then I stand back and watch the design of metaphor.)

Anyway, everyone laughed. The very idea of it! What is the minimum one needs to do to be a CEO?!

But, wait, the fellow added. "This isn't so I can be lazy. This is so I can identify the essential tasks that I cannot delegate. If I'm doing anything that isn't on the List of Things Only I Must Do, I have to ask myself why haven't I delegated it. And, conversely, if I am not doing something on the List Of Things Only I Must Do, am I being reckless with my duties?"

Powerful thought. Now let's extend it: What is the minimum I need to do to be…

  • …an effective CEO?
  • …an beloved spouse?
  • …an inspiring parent?
  • …an attentive sibling?
  • …a neighborly, uh, neighbor? 
  • …an engaged citizen who is actively building this civilization? 
  • …[and so on.] 

And, now, let us plan.
Here's a tool that we use in my Vistage groups. Here's a suggestion. Print several copies. Complete it once. A few days later, start fresh — not revising, but starting over. Do that a few times. You'll be surprised how ideas develop. You'll remember the important parts. 

Go for it:

Happy new year!