It’s here. 2017. Let us talk no more of Harambe (May he rest in peace), the Election or any historically-inspired, hip hop Broadway productions.
And while you stare down the barrel of another year, can I propose another term that we can eliminate from our daily jargon? Self-improvement.
While the concept of self-improvement is certainly a worthy one, it seems more of a necessary evil and often leads to an experience not unlike this…
Often times you peak and trough so frequently between success and failure that the sickness of surrender sets in and you find yourself completely shipwrecked somewhere between where you started and your end goal.
That’s because we grew up with the following commandments about goal-setting: write them down, make them measurable and do or do not, there is no try. Ok, that last one was Yoda but still…
These rules then suggest that success is easily measured by your ability to achieve an annotated and numbered goal and failure is anything else.
This stacks the cards in the house’s favor, sets us up for inevitable disappointment and worst of all, straps us into the roller coaster of personal improvement. One of the main problems here is that when it comes to progress, success can’t always be measured in numerical terms and is almost never absolute.
For example, you have the classic goal to lose weight, 20 lbs for example. So you start out the year strong and see the weight start to tick away. But then, work ramps up, you find yourself traveling and stall or maybe even put a few pounds back on. According to this model, unless you get back on track you have failed. But have you? You’ve made strides to be a healthier and better version of yourself and you’ve hit a snag, and that should never be considered a failure.
Or perhaps, you achieve your goal to lose that weight. Fantastic! What is next? Will you continue to eat well, exercise frequently and make measured progress towards being healthy? Or will you, like over 90% of people that lose weight, return to the same habits and work your way back up the ladder? Goals seem ultimate, but this attitude can cause more harm than good.
Tunnel vision is another common pitfall amongst goal setters, getting so fixated on hitting some random number or measure of success that the important things around them start to fall by the wayside.
That being said, I think we should change the rules. It’s fine to have goals (it’s even ok if they are written and numbered) but let’s instead build them into broader mission statements that encourage progress, reward effort and allows for set-backs.
A quick word about mission statements before we get into an example of how to apply this. A personal mission statement shouldn’t follow a template, or bend to a word count.
You don’t have to show anyone your mission statement, so make it work for you. Make it one short sentence, several pages, whatever. But, it should accomplish the following:
Determine your ideal self - Broadly speaking, describe how your ideal would life be. This can be as open ended as possible. There is something to be said about a general direction, especially in the early stages of any journey.
Consider your purpose - Ask yourself “Why are you hoping to be better?” or “Who am I trying to be better for?” and then identify that purpose in your statement.
Clarify your aptitudes - Pick a few qualities that you already possess but want to refine and strengthen. Your specific goals should then fall under these aptitudes so that you can start to map out a plan to get there.
For 2017, here’s mine “Be patient, diligent and eager to learn, so that I can be more physically capable and mentally resilient for my family and myself.”
While in some ways it will be impossible to quantifiably measure whether or not I have achieved this mission statement by the end of the calendar year, in some ways it will be more meaningful if I can look back and say, “I am not where I want to be, but I have made significant progress.”
And this is one of the main things that I love about mission statements. With goals, there is a certain sense of self-accountability. But with mission statements you have to be completely honest with yourself and for most people, me included, that is truly frightening.
This level of accountability leads to meaningful discoveries, provides deep purpose and helps shape your future plans. It shouldn’t be a simple yes/no question, instead it should be a question of why you did or did not make progress in the outlines areas and what you can change to get there.
Goals can be made and applied to support the overarching vision of your mission statement, but take care to look beyond the mark and focus just on these goals. Revisit your mission statement often, daily if possible, and make small adjustments to goals if necessary but continue to work towards that vision, every single day.
This is our invitation to you this year. Do not drive yourself crazy by writing down a list of lofty goals. Take some time to write a meaningful mission statement that creates a grand vision for the next year and then make goals tailored to that statement. It’s a simple exercise that may take you 20 mins but will provide a much more complete picture for the year ahead.