My goal-setting game plan for 2017

Now that the Christmas frenzy is over, I’m thankful to have this week to live at a slower pace. The lab I work in is currently all packed up to move to a new location next month, so I literally can’t do any lab work this week! I’m still doing some writing and other computer projects, but I can do them from home and spend some time catching up on things around the house. I’m also using some of this time to think about my goals for 2017.

It’s really only in the last couple years that I started setting goals for myself. Initially, my desire to self-improve came out of frustration with the lack of progress I was making in certain areas of my life. I am learning to have a little more grace for myself, but that doesn’t mean I want to become stagnant. Setting goals and working toward them help me know I’m being intentional with my life.

But if you’re like me, you’ve probably failed at more goals than you’ve accomplished. I’ve realized that the act of setting good goals and achieving them is itself a skill, and one that I’ve been pretty bad at in the past.

I’ve tried annual goals… and quarterly goals… and weekly goals.

I’ve tried setting one goal at a time and setting twenty goals at a time.

I’ve tried writing goals down and telling my friends my goals.

And I still ended up feeling like I was spinning my wheels.

This year, I’m doing something a little different. I’ve been listening to Michael Hyatt’s podcast, This Is Your Life. He’s a Christ-follower and a successful entrepreneur, and his advice on goal-setting from his last 3 episodes is based on research and experience. I’ve taken the thoughts from those episodes, plus some of my other previous experience, and come up with my own game-plan for goal setting. However, I can’t and wouldn’t want to replicate all of his advice here, so if you want to get the context for my game plan, I’d recommend listening to those three episodes.

I usually start brainstorming about my next year’s goals in the weeks leading up to Christmas. I never really do that intentionally, but with all the blogs and posts about goals, it’s hard not to get thinking. This week I am taking some time each day to work through the process below and formalize my goals. However, you could probably do something similar in a much shorter time span. In the past, I have taken a few hours to go sit in a coffee shop by myself to do this sort of planning. My process this year:


1. Pray

Where there is no vision [no revelation of God and His word], the people are unrestrained; But happy and blessed is he who keeps the law [of God].

Proverbs 29:18 (AMP)

In my mind, there is no point in setting a goal that is not in line with God’s will. I want to ensure that I am approaching my yearly goals with an eternal perspective and purpose. I don’t need every goal to come to me carved in stone and delivered by angels, but I do want to test my goals against God’s commands to love Him and love others.

I’ll spend some time before each of my planning sessions praying that God would help me set and pursue goals that would be glorifying to Him, and not only for my own selfish purposes. This is something I know I have to continue to pray throughout the year, because I have a tendency to take plans and intentions which are good (e.g. eating well and working out because it helps me have the energy to better serve others) and turn them inward (worrying about my diet and exercise habits for reasons of vanity). That’s also when I tend to stop having grace for myself, so it’s bad all around, and I definitely want to start on the right foot.


2. Brainstorm

Usually by this point, I already have a few goals in mind, but I want to get them all down on paper and come up with some more.

To help me with this process, I like to use a concept from the book The Miracle Morning. I haven’t read the book; honestly I found this list on Pinterest! The concept is called “Level 10 Life,” and it’s based on evaluating and goal-setting in 10 areas of your life. For me, they basically serve as reminders of different areas in which I might want to set goals for myself. They are (in no particular order):

  1. Personal Growth & Development
  2. Spirituality
  3. Family & Friends
  4. Significant other/romance (Marriage)
  5. Finances
  6. Career/Business (or School for perpetual students like me)
  7. Health/Fitness
  8. Physical Environment (Home/Office)
  9. Contribution/Giving
  10. Fun & Recreation

Most people (myself included) tend to focus on a few specific areas like Health/Fitness, Finances, or Spirituality. Using this list helps me remember to be more well-rounded. What good would it be to have my health and finances in order if I’ve let all my personal relationships fall to the wayside? I will try to end this step with at least 2-3 possible goals per category.


3. Narrow and Hone

In previous years, I have tried to work on several goals from each category (i.e. the list I made above) at one time. That turned out to be way too many. According to Michael Hyatt, having around 7-8 goals per year is much more reasonable. So, my plan is to pick 1 goal from each of 8 categories. These will be the things which I think would have the most positive impact on my life if I accomplished them next year. After doing that, I am going to ask if they pass the SMART goals test, and modify them until they do.

If you’re not familiar with SMART goals, it’s a list of characteristics that make goals more effective. Note that there are some variations on this list, but in general goals should be specific, measurable, ambitious but attainable, relevant, and time-bound.


Unspecific goals are not motivating, or measurable (see below). Rather than saying that you want to have a better relationship with your spouse, a specific goal might be to complete a specific “relationship challenge” with or for your spouse, or to go on a vacation for your anniversary. Saying you want to “get healthy” is great, but you’ll likely feel overwhelmed by that idea unless you figure out what getting healthy means to you.


Similarly, you should be able to answer the question, “Have I completed this goal?” If you can’t, then the goal isn’t measurable. It’s difficult to see progress of any kind, which is key to staying motivated, if you don’t know how you are defining “success.”

Ambitious but ATTAINABLE

Michael Hyatt talks in his podcasts about setting goals that are in the “discomfort zone.” That is, they aren’t “comfortable,” and require a bit of a stretch, but they’re not delusional. A good goal should be something you can reasonably do but not so easy that there is no fun in the challenge. If it’s something you’ve already done before, you may want to find something a little more difficult!


A good goal should actually be relevant to what you want/need to accomplish more broadly in life. I think of this the way I described it above: What would have the most positive impact on my life if I accomplished it? Sure it would be fun to take an online photography course, but given that I don’t have the financial resources, time, or inclination to start a photography hobby right now, this goal would probably lead me to a dead end right now. Perhaps it is an idea to revisit in another season of life. However, taking a course on vegan cooking, which I already do but would like to get better at, would be fun and would help me create a wider variety of healthy and inexpensive meals, feeding into other broader goals about health and finances. This characteristic is a filter I will use when choosing my final 8 goals.


I have often heard that goals should have a deadline, but I’ve been really bad about this! I know from experience that projects without deadlines often work their way down the to-do list indefinitely. Even if you don’t meet the deadline exactly, having it there helps create a sense of urgency, and can even help people who are holding you accountable to actually hold you accountable.

Since I have 8 goals for the year, I am going to put the deadline for 2 of them each quarter of the year (so 2 will be “due” March 31, 2 June 30, and so on). I’m going to base this on the time I think it will take to accomplish each goal, also keeping in mind that I’ll work on them most intently in the quarter that they are due (so I’m not juggling the bulk of all 8 goals all year long).


4. Flesh out the details

Again, based on some ideas from Michael Hyatt’s podcast, I have a few questions I want to answer once I have each goal in its final form. They are:

What is my why? What will I gain if I accomplish this goal? What will I lose if I don’t?

This question is all about motivation. As I revisit these goals throughout the year, I want to remember why I made them in the first place.

What is my first step toward achieving this goal?

This question is all about action. A big, ambitious goal can feel overwhelming at first, but you can usually think of one or two action steps that will get you started in the right direction.  That first step is something you can actually put on your to-do list or calendar.


5. Make plans to stay on top of it

One thing I’ve sometimes done well in the past is with checking in on my goals on a regular basis. I usually like to take the first Monday of the month (or last Monday of the previous month, depending on when it falls) to have a “date” with my planner. I’ll buy myself a fancy coffee drink and sit down for an hour or so to review the previous month and make plans for the next month. It helps me to figure out when these days are in advance, so I can have them on my calendar and guard them from other commitments.

This year, I’m making sure 3 things are on my agenda for this time: 1) Review the “why” for each goal to stay motivated, 2) celebrate any progress toward each goal, and 3) identify 1-2 next action steps for each goal.

I’m hoping that this process will help me stay motivated all year long and make progress on the “big stuff.”

Do you usually set goals for the year? What kinds of goals are you setting for 2017?



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