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

(But this year, it’s not goals. It’s aims. More on that below.)

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 aim to make yourself 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 often 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.]

Thought #3: So here’s a how to set goals. 
Right now, imagine it’s December 2021.

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 2021?”

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 2021 was a great year.

Thought #4: Forget Goals. Think: Aims.
Goals can be achieved, followed by sloth. Aims set direction for continuous pursuit.
Goals can be missed, sparking self-loathing. Aims never punish.
Goals can spark ambition that can work against the original intent. Aims simply inspire growth and improvement.
Aims (rather than goals) comes from W. Edwards Deming, the management guru who changed the world. This post isn’t about why aims are better than goals. Just try it. (For an enjoyable introduction to Deming, visit and search for The Deming Lens: A New Way to View Your Business by Michael Carr.)
Thought #5: Make your aims SMARTY.
Now look at that list — of what, in the future, would have made next year a great year — and translate each item into an aim. Use the worksheet at 

What are SMARTY aims? Everyone talks about SMART goals. I like my aims SMARTY:

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

What are my aims?
I haven’t yet set my own SMARTY aims. Here are my current aims: 

  • Relational: tea with Alisa every day
  • Wealth: reuse rather than purchase
  • Intellectual: write another poem
  • Physical: daily exercise, on the bicycle whenever possible
  • Spiritual: return to the present breath, for moments of alignment
  • Work: improve remote Vistage as the preferred mode

For more on those categories, and setting your own aims, here is that worksheet:

I am pursuing all of these.

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

  • Serve the dying. 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 aims. Good doggie!

And, now, let us plan.
Here’s a tool — yet again — 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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