Trouble setting goals for the new year? Do this instead.

The beginning of each new year was always a shining beacon of hope for me — This year will be different! I’d set goals and actually achieve them! That hope always fizzled out, courtesy of a total inability to stay on course. 

Everyone else seemed capable of working in a linear fashion towards a goal… why couldn’t I? The clue came when I tried a planner that was designed to link daily, weekly and monthly activities to the annual goals.

Every month, I’d do the reverse of what the planner designer intended: I’d change the annual goals to match the flavor of the month. Six months into the year, this annual goal page was nearly unintelligible with scratch-outs and scribbles in the margins.

It’s not that I couldn’t hit the target. The targets kept moving.

But I couldn’t help it! What I’d planned back in January was so… outdated. Passé. I’d gone way past January’s thinking. Other opportunities flashed before me (squirrel! squirrel!) that seemed much more interesting.

Can you relate, dear reader?

Traditional goal-setting doesn’t match how our brains work

Nowadays I no longer beat myself over my inability to work like everyone else. As a rebel with a cause, aka gifted adult, I understand my brain is wired differently.

Rebels are usually dazzled by too many possibilities. We think and move fast, love to explore, don’t stay in our lanes… which means a loss of interest in January’s goals is virtually guaranteed come springtime.

The moment we’re introduced to a new data point that changes the pattern, we see a new possibility. We need a different process that works with this gift instead of against it.

Replace goals with a compass

Let’s use the travel analogy. Goal-oriented people already know that they want to get from, say, Michigan to Brazil. This allows them to map their route and book planes, trains and automobiles accordingly.

But in the face of infinite options, we’re not 100% sure that we want to go to Brazil. I’d love to see the Northern Lights, work remotely from a fishing village in Egypt, plug into the innovation community in London, and/or ride the Trans-Siberian Rail to Mongolia. How to choose? 

We need an inner compass that consistently points us in the direction of our personal True North.

Instead of focusing on what we want to do (which changes constantly), focus on how we want to feel when our core needs are met.  Core needs, or “motivational DNA,” usually stay constant through most of our lives. Needs and feelings drive behavior, regardless of brain wiring.

Of the 12 core needs I’ve identified in my human-motivation research, three of them consistently show up in the humans I call Rebels with a Cause: Autonomy, Purpose and Belonging.

Every one of the Rebels I coach has chosen these three (plus a fourth) as part of their Inner Compass, but how they define these needs is incredibly unique. Their specialized skills, interests and their YES (what brings them alive) point them in different directions.

How do we know we’re going the right way? Not with our overactive brains. Instead, we feel it in our bodies. The compass lives inside us. We either feel impactful, free and connected (or however you want to feel)… or we don’t. And we can make our decisions accordingly.

With this reliable built-in compass, we can consistently and confidently move forward… even when we don’t know the destination. As one of my coachees wrote: 

“The Inner Compass has become more of a living document to me, a canvas I feel into and fine-tune periodically. Each time I come back to it I see more clearly how to give grace to the many facets of my identity in new and shifting work contexts.”

Play in your possibility space

The compass keeps us on track while we play and experiment to see what path lights us up, allowing the answers to emerge.

The compass sets the boundaries – we know we’re going North – and within this general direction lies a more manageable field of potential opportunities. I call this the possibility space.

“What can you take off the table?” is a question I ask a lot. The only surefire way to gain clarity on your YES is by removing all the NOs: clearing the possibility space of anything that doesn’t align with your compass.

There’s often an immediate sense of clarity once you take the NOs off the table, along with a sign of relief. This process removes the sense of overwhelm that Rebels often face, and allows the YESs to be more visible.

How will 2021 be different for you?

Here’s how you can make progress using your gifted brain wiring: 

  1. Identify how you want to feel in 2021. What lights you up? In what ways do your current job, career, relationships, geography, and life in general help you feel that way?
  2. Align or take off the table anything that doesn’t help you feel that way (this is usually a gradual process!)
  3. Pluck the low-hanging fruit. For example, since I can’t travel, I scratch my freedom and creativity itch with photography day trips out of the city. What can you start doing right now that activate your core needs and emotions?
  4. Experiment. Talk with people who are already playing in your possibility space. Try things on for size.
  5. Feel your way forwardnavigating like a bat. What feels like a YES?
  6. Each month, measure how well your emotional needs are being met… not whether you’ve checked a bunch of to-do’s.

One more option, if you’d like some help within a supportive community: join the Rebels in Transition group: an 8-week group program to design your Inner Compass, along with your unique Archetypes, and experiment your way into a more authentic life. Limited to 10 people, there are still a couple spots left. 

Authentically yours,

PS. For a more customized, hands-on experience, I have two spots open for 1:1 coaching. Book a no-obligation call with me to see if there’s a fit.

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Why New Year’s goals and resolutions don’t stick (and what to do instead)

From the archives, a post I wrote in January 2020 that’s still very relevant!

Every year on New Year’s Day, I would retreat and spend the day journaling to rehash all the things I hadn’t done the previous year, and set goals that I failed to keep for the next. After a few months, I’d beat myself up for the failures. Rinse and repeat, over and over. Not a good recipe for a healthy self-esteem, that’s for sure.

But 2019 was different: I felt no compulsive need to figure anything out. There was no puzzle to solve. Sure, I’d like to get to the gym more often and cut back on carbs, but my life is pretty simple these days. I’m a lot happier. I don’t feel compelled to make any big changes.

What happened?

I spent all of 2019 getting aligned with what brings me joy. It was an elimination diet of sorts; I literally eliminated everything from my life — stuff, job, home — and set out on a nomadic journey to feel my way back into a life that fits me like a tailored suit.

I recognize that not everyone can (or would want to) take the kind of crazy leap that I did. But I’ve made some observations from my transformation process that can apply to anyone.

  • Focus on how you want to feel. Emotions drive behavior, not logic or a list of to-do’s. When we get really clear on how we want to feel in every aspect of our lives, and start taking baby steps to feel that way more frequently, we gradually shift everything in our lives. There’s a reason why Marie Kondo’s Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is a global sensation; she’s simply helping people surround themselves with what brings them joy by getting rid of what doesn’t. This book was instrumental in helping shift my own life and I highly recommend it.
  • On a related note, start with releasing. We’re all operating with a finite amount of time, energy and resources that are currently allocated to other things. Most of those other things (people, activities, stuff, work, etc) don’t bring us joy. They’re simply the accumulations of life that we’ve picked up, like a snowball that grows as it rolls downhill. The older we get, the more of this accumulation gathers unnoticed and unquestioned. We all need to get better at saying no, setting boundaries, and offloading what we can. Let’s eliminate the NOs so we can clear space for more YES.
  • Then add easy YESes. It’s hard to commit to the tougher resolutions like diet and exercise if the rest of our lives are lacking joy; you’re just piling shoulds on top of shoulds. No wonder we don’t stick with them! Try this instead: start with clearing some space in your calendar by replacing a NO with a YES… perhaps a cooking class, dancing in your living room, or painting rocks… whatever floats your boat. Clear some space in your closet by taking NOs to a resale shop, and trade them in for something that makes you deliriously happy when you wear it (I just picked up some happy striped socks for Christmas!) Start your day with a routine that puts a smile on your face; I make a perfect soy latte, journal and write poetry. What brings you joy? Do more of it. Simple.
  • If it’s not a Hell Yes, it’s a No. How many of us agonize over whether something or someone is right for us or not? Let’s make this perfectly clear and simple: if it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no. Agonizing, debating, writing pros and cons… it’s all useless. Seriously. Look back over your life; can you honestly find one thing you’ve debated that turned out to be a hell yes? Ok, maybe 1 out of 100 times it might be worthwhile… but that means statistically you could save yourself a lot of time and trouble by moving on already. Make room for Hell Yes.
  • Let the process be more organic. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed by stepping off the hamster wheel, it’s this crazy focus on goal-oriented performance. Americans especially are programmed to operate in a linear fashion: set a goal and start ticking off boxes. But most human beings aren’t designed to work that way; like a blind person, we slowly sense our way a new life by making small changes and seeing how they feel to us. If they end up feeling good, we’re likely to do more of it. If it doesn’t, then we stop. So please stop flagellating yourself into performing according to some inhuman standard, and start having more fun with this process. Play. Experiment.
  • … but stick with it. If you’ve decided how you want to feel — let’s say strong and empowered — then the activities that directly contribute to that emotion – in this case, exercise – are no longer optional. It doesn’t matter how you feel in the moment; what counts is that you’re doing the thing that will help you achieve your bigger, more important emotional goal. Chances are the first few weeks are going to suck, and that’s ok. You’ll eventually hit a point where you realize: hey! I’m feeling strong and powerful right now! And boom… this whole process starts getting easier.

Dear reader, what will you say NO to this week in order to clear space for YES? How do you want to feel this year, and what will you start doing to feel that way more often?