This is it. Photo by Parowan496.

This post is a little more personal than normal for this blog, but what better way to kick off Eternal Suffering Society for 2012?

Each New Year, I observe two rituals: an Annual Review (analyzing and evaluating the previous year) and the Setting of Yearly Goals (choosing my direction for the next).

These two rituals, together, are probably the single most important new habit I have ever started.

It isn’t an exaggeration to say that doing these two simple exercises was the difference between feeling unmotivated and helpless and finally taking control of my life.

In this article, we’re going to talk briefly about why goal-setting works, and how to do it yourself. Then you’ll see all my actual goals for this year.

Let’s do it.

A Ship With No Captain

How much of your life do you think you are conscious of?

Think about your environment right now. You’re definitely aware of these words, if you’re reading this. What about all the other sensory input around you – are you aware of the things in your peripheral vision, maybe the things on your desk? What about the quality of the light? The feel of the chair or couch against your body? Are you really feeling the ambient temperature in the room? Are you becoming aware, at this moment, of how your tongue feels in your mouth?

Have you ever walked into your house and completely missed something huge and obvious – a large package in the corner, or someone standing off to the side? The truth is, we’re unaware of most of our surroundings, most of the time. We don’t have the available mental resources to constantly pay attention to everything, so we just assume most things are as usual and pay attention to what’s going on in our own heads.

The same goes for the decisions we make in our lives. We don’t have time to debate the benefits and drawbacks of every tiny decision we make – cream in my coffee? go out or stay in? beer or wine? stay at this job, or look for another one? – so we spend most of our life on autopilot. We react to the immediate thing, the thing that’s happening right now, in front of us, and ignore the rest.

The problem is that this approach is really great at saving energy, but often leads us into situations we wouldn’t have purposefully chosen. We’re like ships with able crews but no captains: great at keeping the boat afloat, horrible at choosing where to go.

This is why setting purposeful, yearly goals – especially at a time when people feel they are “starting over,” such as the New Year – can radically change the way you live your life. You are no longer just moving forward, focusing on the here-and-now. You have a mission, a purpose, something you can compare your actions to and say “Am I doing well, or poorly? How can I improve?”

Setting Yearly Goals

Contrary to my daily/monthly goal-setting process (I discuss practical goal setting in depth in my email course), my yearly process is ambitious and pretty loose. Here’s what I do:

1. Brainstorm things I would like to do, achieve, or get this upcoming year. Be ambitious, but keep within what you think is doable in one year (Making a million dollars if you’re currently making 100 might be too much, but you could definitely double your income). These can be big or small goals. Difficulty doesn’t matter, only whether or not you want to achieve it.

2. Whittle the list to around 10 things. That’s a big list. If you’ve got really big goals, make your list smaller (perhaps 5). If you’ve got smaller goals, 10 is good. I usually have a mix.

3. Convert the goals you keep into concrete, measurable things. “Lose weight,” for example, can be turned into “Lose 15 pounds.” “Be more creative” can be turned into “Record every Saturday” and “Release two albums this year.”

Once you have your list, do the following:

– Save a copy somewhere. Computer, online, in your phone, wherever; just somewhere safe, where you can access it if you need it.
– Take another copy and post somewhere you will see it often. By your desk is a good place.
– Every once and a while, review your goals. Once a month is good. Once a week works, but you’ll probably find that you’ll remember them enough that you won’t need that, especially if your goals are prominent posted.

And that’s it.

It doesn’t look like much. But everything you do, now, has a purpose, a destination. Your actions either take you away from, or towards, these goals. These were the things you chose for yourself; don’t you owe it to yourself to pursue them, rather than whatever the randomness of life chooses for you?

My Own, Actual Goals

I publish my own goals every year, because I like to be open about what I’m doing, and also because public accountability can help you follow through. Also, it’s hard to lose something I posted on the blog, and I lose everything. So.

My Goals For 2012

1. Double my self-employed income. This was by far my best year for making money outside the bounds of my regular job. In fact, it was really the first year I made any significant amount of money on my own. I want to take that progress and build off of it, doubling my income from web design and hosting. To that end I invested a fair amount of the money I made into business training and resources. I’m going for it; this is the year, do or die.

2. Weigh 180 pounds by July. I started last year about 15 pounds lighter than I am now, and that’s a bum out to me. There are reasons – I got injured and stopped exercising, more stress at the job, etc. There are no excuses, however. This is something I have to address, and this is a much more realistic goal than I set for myself last year.

3. Exercise regularly, twice a week. Part of achieving #2. I always try this, and always fail. To beat myself into submission I actually hired a personal trainer to make me go, as well as to help rehabilitate my back (the injury I mentioned earlier). So far, it’s working.

4. Release two records. I went through a long period, after releasing my last record, of not recording or writing at all. That sucks, and so I’m observing a strict recording schedule, good or bad. Two records is certainly doable, but it’s a bit of a reach, considering my usual pace.

5. Get married. I’m getting married in October. It’s more work than I thought it’d be. It also requires a pretty rigorous savings schedule, which I’m observing now.

6. Produce a podcast. This is something I’ve always wanted to do, though I’m not sure why. I’m going to give it a shot.

7. Record label reboot. I’m redoing my record label’s website, online store, and a few business-y things (printing a mailorder catalog, etc). I spent most of 2011 gathering data on what works for us and what doesn’t, and this is the year I streamline much of the process to max out what works and reduce what’s wasteful.

That’s it for 2012. A bit shorter than normal for me, but I’ve got some really major things in there.

Go, today, and do your own. Really. It’s important.

If you liked this post, consider signing up for my free email course. It’s got a ton of really in-depth stuff in there on goal setting and motivation that I think you’d really like. You can sign up over here.