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

I’m not the goal-setting type.
I prefer to wing it. That’s my strength. When it comes to setting goals, I’m a wingnut.

Goals seem too limiting. Or too ambitious. Or both. Or neither. In any case, they remind me of the Five Year Plans of the USSR. (And how did that work out for the Soviets?)

For most of my life, I didn’t set goals. A professional colleague once asked me why: “Everywhere I have ever worked, there was a goal on the wall. Why is there no ambitious goal on the wall?”

Because I disdained goals. They felt like the first step in a prolonged game of Blame ‘n’ Shame. (Ever play Blame ‘n’ Shame? Bet I can beat you.) I would imagine, 12 months later, scolding myself like a bad dog.

Didn’t meet your goals.
And on the carpet, no less.
Bad dog.
Bad Artie.


So, for most of my life, I didn’t set goals.

I prefer improvisation. Live right. Just keep the intention clear.

Oh, wait: “intention.” That’s a helpful word here. What is my intention? What do I intend to accomplish this year?

Even an improviser needs goals. Not high-falutin’ conceptual goals. Just a few goals — a few things I’d like to get done around here.

Don’t like goals?
Don’t want to set goals?

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. We do, of course, continue to learn, grow, and evolve. But 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.)

So set goals that would make you more like your true self.

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


So here’s a how to set goals. 
Right now, imagine it’s December 2018.

We are sitting for a cup of tea and chatting.

I say: “Say, how was your year?”

You say: “It was great.”

I say: “Oh, yeah? That’s super duper. But let me ask this: how do you know? What happened that makes you so happy about 2018?”

What do you say? How would you know it was a great year?

Make a list right now of the ways you would know if 2018 was a great year.

Make your goals SMARTY.
Now look at that list and translate each item into a goal:
  • Keep it to no more than four goals. Keep it to four, so you maximize the probability that you achieve them all. (Covey taught that, the more goals you have, the less likely you will accomplish them. And if you have too many, you won’t reach any of them.)
  • Let them percolate. Are these truly your highest ambitions? Do other goals arise to win a spot on the list? Keep it to four.
  • Make them SMARTY goals:
    Everyone talks about SMART goals. I like ’em SMARTY:

    • S — Specific and Savvy
    • M — Measurable and Meaningful
    • A — Attainable and Ambitious and Actionable
    • R — Realistic and Relevant
    • T — Timely and Time-allocated
    • Y — Yours. I added this one, because you want goals that you can attain without relying on someone else’s success, so you never blame the failure to meet your goal on others. (Good example of a bad goal: get my kid into college. It’s important and noble, but it relies on the kid, doesn’t it? This is your goal, wingnut, not the kid’s.)

What are my goals?

  • Business:
    • All groups at 14+ membersThis benefits members, who want a vigorous conversation even when attendance is incomplete. Details here:
    • New group. Add a Vistage group for CEOs of not-for-profit enterprises. Details here:
  • Family: 
    • Build the nest for the third phase of marriage. Margaret Mead said there are three marriages (or three phases of marriage with the same person): sex, parenthood, companionship. We are working on the home for companionship.
    • Love our children with care when they want it.
  • Learning: I’m taking courses in the following topics.
    • Principles of Graphic Facilitation. I’m enrolled in this.
    • Civil Discourse. I’m enrolled in this.
    • Creativity & Personal Mastery. I’m taking an online version of Dr. Rao‘s celebrated class — and have just signed up for the in-person version next year.
    • Sales. I’m enrolled in a course with this expert.
  • Adventure: nine nights below the rim of the Grand Canyon. I’m booked for this river expedition and partially booked for a separate hiking/camping expedition to here.

I think I can achieve all of these.

Still don’t know what your goals might be?
Here are some suggestions. Take what you want. Replace the others.

  • Get certified as a Hospice Volunteer. Be someone’s last new friend. Here’s where:
  • Learn enough Spanish to chat poorly. I took classes at Columbus State a few years ago and found them extraordinarily well taught. Here you go:
  • Read eight books from your tenth grade English class. You are finally ready to understand why they were assigned! Start here:
  • Cut your debt by __%. Fill in the blank. Fill in the bank. Here are some debt-cutting ideas:

C’mon. You can do it.

Sit! Set some goals. Good doggie!

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 develop the important parts.

Go for it:


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