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Goal Setting with 20/20 Vision

Many psychologists have tackled the question of “What makes humans different from other animals?” There have been several different answers, many of which have since been disproven. One given answer was that humans are the only animal to use language. However, chimpanzees have been shown to be able to communicate through sign language. Another given answer was that human are the only animal with self-awareness. Then Gordon Gallup Jr. put a red sticker on a chimpanzee’s forehead, turned it toward a mirror, and watched as the chimpanzee recognized itself in the mirror and reached up to remove the sticker.

So what is the answer to this question? As of now, our best answer is that humans are the only animals who can anticipate the future. While other animals may be able to anticipate what is going to happen in the immediate future, they do not have the capacity to anticipate what will happen a week from now or a month from now. This human ability to visualize our future is a large part of goal setting and striving. However, it can sometimes be difficult to have a clear vision of our desired future state – leading to a blurry picture of our desired future self.

When setting your goals for 2020, here are several tips to help do so in a way that creates a sharper image of where you want to be.

Take your time. New Year’s Resolutions, contrary to their name, do not need to be set right at the beginning of the year to be effective! There is nothing magical about starting your goal striving at the beginning of the year that will make you more likely to achieve your goal. In fact, research estimates that approximately 80% of New Year’s Resolutions fail (Luciani, 2015). So don’t feel like you need to rush into setting a goal to fit in with the status quo; instead, take your time to choose a goal that really inspires you.

Practice Visioning. We have all heard the stereotypical performance review question – “Where do you see yourself in five years?” While cliché, these types of questions – if carefully considered – can help us create a better idea of where we want to be in the future and what steps we need to take now to get there. Try some of the following visioning questions suggested by Randall S. Hansen to get your creative juices flowing:

  • What would you want to do today if all your bills were paid and you had relatively unlimited cash reserves?
  • What would you like your obituary to say about your career accomplishments and the types of impacts you left with the people you worked with?
  • Who are the people you most admire? What is it about them or their careers that attract you to them? Is there something about what they have or do that you want for your career vision?

Adjust as you go. Just like your optical vision, the closer you get, the sharper the image. You may find as you approach your desired goal state that it doesn’t look like what you thought it would six months ago. This is perfectly okay – as long as you adjust your goal plan as your vision changes. This is why it is important to make goal striving a purposeful part of your entire year – not just the start of each year. Try to set aside time on a regular basis to re-evaluate your progress and your end goal. And remember, readjusting your goal isn’t a form of failure. It’s a sign of growth.

Set goals that YOU want. It can be tempting to set certain goals based on the pressure we feel from those around us: our colleagues, our bosses, our significant others, society at large, etc. However, if this future state isn’t truly what you want for yourself, it can be difficult to picture. Goals that come from an intrinsic, personal place will not only be more focused, but they will also more fun to strive toward!

Don’t forget your SMART goals. To end with a classic goal setting tip, make sure your goals are SMART! As a reminder, the definition of SMART goals is below, along with questions you can ask yourself as you set your goals for the year.

Specific: What exactly do I want to achieve? Try to use as many descriptive words as possible.

Measurable: How will I know when I am successful? How can I track my progress?

Achievable: Is this goal attainable for me right now? If not, what are some smaller goals that I could work toward on my way to this larger goal?

Relevant: Is this goal worthwhile and connected to my bigger picture?

Time-bound: By when do I want to achieve this goal? What are some of my goal milestones along the way?

As we move forward into 2020, remember that we can all be our own future tellers. Using these tips can help you create a clearer picture of your future so that you are able to goal set and strive with 20/20 vision!