Springing Forward with Purpose

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I don’t know about you, but the advent of spring awakens my urge to start new projects. After struggling to putting one foot in front of the other all winter, I suddenly feel compelled to conquer new worlds: to get new pets, travel, learn languages, and take on new professional challenges. But with so many fresh ambitions and no let-up from my usual roster of obligations, I struggle with how best to prioritize and focus my energies.

Whether you are working on non-negotiable goals (term papers, work deadlines, etc.), or pursuing new dreams, it can help to review some basics of goal setting and project management. The three-part formula I’m using this year is: Know Yourself, Know Your Dreams, Know Your Plan.

Know Yourself: A lot has been written about how to find success through effective goal-setting and leadership. Much of this material is useful if you remember that there is no one-size-fits all approach. We all have different personality styles and histories that will affect the way we tackle challenges. With my clients, I sometimes use personality profiles and work-style assessments such as the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Strong Interest Inventory. These can help you to better understand how to leverage your unique characteristics in a way that will facilitate success. For example, an outgoing person who makes intuitive decisions and is comfortable taking risks will have a very different approach from an introverted person who carefully assesses data and likes to operate by the book. Take some time to reflect on your own patterns and preferences; then you can choose strategies that are more likely to work for you. If there are negative habits or beliefs that routinely block you from pursuing your goals, get the help you need to remove those obstacles.

Know your Dreams: Some of us take on roles and goals that get us approval or stability but leave us feeling unfulfilled. Others follow their passion but need to recalibrate goals as they enter new life stages. The process of coming to know and articulate your hearts’ desires can be a scary, exhilarating, and incredibly rewarding adventure. In her book Write It Down, Make It Happen: Knowing What You Want and Getting It, author Henriette Anne Klauser urges readers to write an exhaustive list of all goals large and small, serious and silly, without judging or editing for any reason. She asserts that the act of naming these dreams gives them life and empowers the dreamer to take action. So get out paper and pen, muzzle the internal critics, and answer the question: What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

Know Your Plan: Now you get to synthesize what you’ve learned from parts I and II. Divide your wish list into Gotta Do It Now, Will Do it Later, and Might Do It Sometime. Notice correspondence between the three categories. Do the big, long-term dreams build on the foundations you’re setting with short-term goals? Is there anything you need to add to help connect the dots? Take your big plans and break them down into smaller steps. Then take the smaller steps and break these down into objectives, or mini-goals. The goal of learning Italian can seem overwhelming, but if I focus on the objective of learning five new words a week, there’s no pressure, I get to experience success on a regular basis, and I’m still on track with my larger plan. The key here is to think through each phase of your plan so you can troubleshoot. Imagine potential pitfalls, pull in resources as needed, and build in the kind of cushion or pressure you need depending on your personality.

As ancient seafarers knew, a successful voyage toward any new goal consists of dreaming big (look to the stars), planning small (plot your course), and making corrections as needed. And don’t forget to enjoy the ride!

Article by Claire Mauer

Originally published in the Kendall & Kendall newsletter, 2010