As the year ends, it’s time to reflect not only on your goals for the next year but for the decade beyond. Don’t be intimidated, it’s not as daunting an exercise as you’d think. It comes down to asking yourself the right questions, ones that spur goal setting to not only maximize achievement and success but to create deeper meaning. The goal-setting questions must go beyond the usual, like “Are my goals time-bound and specific?”
Here are 11 powerful questions to guide goal-setting, informed by a review of existing research and many interviews I conducted for my books Make It Matter and Find the Fire on what constitutes a fulfilling work-life (and life in general). As you set your goals for the next year and 10 years, consider what follows.
1. “What are the Tempting Parking Spaces to Avoid?”
Life is dotted with many tempting parking spaces. Safe places to pull into and put it into the park. For years. What are the patterns you keep getting caught in? What are the traps that could derail you from what you really want to accomplish?
For some, it’s coasting through another span of years in corporate. For others, it might be sticking around in an industry that bores you, but pays well. Whatever it might be, get out of neutral, put it in drive, and set your goals accordingly.
2. “How Can I Live a Life True to Myself and My Values, and Not the Life Others Expect of Me?”
This is the top regret of the dying according to palliative nurse turned author Bronnie Ware. You don’t want to look back 10 years (or even one year) from now feeling like you lived someone else’s story. Might a big goal be for you to live your own?
3. “How Can I Work On My Life, Not Just In It?”
Routines gobble our time, energy, and mental space, and are, well, just routine. This question spurs proactivity versus constant reactivity. It’s about recommitting to the concept of challenge, embracing once again the thrill that comes from learning and growing, and moving towards the best version of yourself. Set goals that help you get “next” going.
4. “What’s the Difference Between a Good and Great Next Year or Decade?”
The danger in setting goals is not that we aim too high and fail, but that we aim too low and achieve them. You have a chance now to reset the bar on what you accomplish and the happiness you create.
Ask yourself what a good year or decade looks like, and what a great one looks like. Set goals that move you towards the latter. And ask yourself, “If I knew I couldn’t fail, what would I try?” Greatness often lies in the answer.
5. “What are My Superpowers and How Will I Use Them For Good?”
We all have things we’re extra-good at. Everyone. Consider setting a goal that forces you to use those superpowers to accomplish something that matters.
6. “What Deeds Need Doing?”
This goal-setting question forces you to consider your cause. What things simply must be done at work (or in life) that would gnaw at you, your cause, and your values if they weren’t accomplished? A meaningful goal will arise.
7. “What Can Only I Lead?”
You likely have a unique set of skills or are in a unique position to accomplish something of importance, something you’re best suited to make happen (and that likely won’t happen without you). The answer can spur a specific goal.
8. “What Part of Me Hasn’t Shown Up in My Life Yet?”
You get one shot. If there’s something about you you’ve been wanting to explore or put on display, goal-setting time is the time to put the wheels in motion.
9. “What Have Been My Happiest Moments?”
Reflect to consider what the happiest moments in your life have been. What goal would force you to engage in the kinds of activities that created that happiness? Goal-setting should be about fulfillment, not just fulfilling obligations.
10. “Who Will I Have Served?”
When you look back one or 10 years later, who will you have served with your time and energy? It’s easy to get too self-centered in setting goals, but true joy comes from knowing you made a difference in other people’s lives. Set yourself up to lift others up with the goals you set.
11. “Will I Have Done What People Say I Was Meant To Do?”
This question speaks to leveraging your unique talents. What would others say you were meant to do? Will the goals you set help you use these skills to accomplish something that matters?
To set up next year or the next 10 years, ask these questions. Then set goals with soul.