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Setting Goals that Will Increase Your Happiness

Let’s rewind to where we left off in December: standing on a mountain of happiness. As I had confessed to you last month, I’m far too often gazing up to the sky, looking for the next thing.

Yet contrary to my what’s-next nature, I haven’t set S.M.A.R.T. resolutions for the past few years. I’m proud that I’ve learned to respect how I’m feeling (hello, meditation). Buuuuuuut I have to admit: I’ve started to realize that when I’m just going with the flow, something is missing from me.

Then a couple weeks ago, I listened to Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday podcast with researcher Shawn Achor, and he said something that brought my soft-lens, flow-y state into focus:

Happiness is the joy we feel, striving toward our potential.

Aha.

In my world, this theorem explains so much. It is the essence of why many of us need goals. How are we going to reach our potential if we haven’t set our sight in that direction and take steps toward it on a daily basis?

However, that’s just the theory; what we need is to practice it. For, if you dig a little deeper, the subtext points out something disturbing: we are goal-setting, all wrong.

Last November, I was interviewed by Creative Soul Tribe, and I said something that struck a chord. I know this because many people hunted me down to ask about it. When I was asked to give advice about “crushing goals,” I replied:

80-90% of people reading this have endless to-do lists, filled with the wrong tasks, which are taking them further from their goals, not closer.

I can say this because I’ve been part of the 90% for most of my life: goals all over the place. I had a financial goal, a health goal, an education goal, a relationship goal, a work goal, blah, blah, blah.

Then one day I got a new boss, who helped me correct this bad habit. When I started working for him, I noticed that I wouldn’t hear from him for days or weeks, and then he’d be up in my biz, nonstop for a week straight.

Was this because he was a bad boss? Quite the contrary. The reason that he interacted with me in these patterns was because he was crystal clear on the company’s potential. Which meant: he was crystal clear on exactly which of my projects fed into priorities that were moving our organization forward. So he did what any master does. He prioritized. He directed his time and energy into the selective things on his to-do list that were actually moving our company toward its potential.

Ever since, I have adapted a philosophy of never having more than three goals at a time. It’s physically and mentally impossible to do really well at more than three.

Therefore, to marry the teachings of Shawn Achor with those of my former boss, I recommend that this year, you get yourself realigned with the right things – those things that will help you work toward your potential in 2018. It takes two simple (yet not easy) steps:

1. Get crystal clear on your top three goals or priorities for this year in life and work. Three should be your maximum at any one time. Not three in work and three in life. Three, period.

2. Once you have those, look at your to-do list over the span of the week. For a bonus gold star, track your time with an app like Hours. Objectively measure which of your daily actions map back to your three priorities, and which don’t. For those that don’t (there are going to be many), drop them.

The biggest mistake I see people make is powering through their to-do list, without evaluating the outcome that each task is meant to achieve. If you can follow these two steps, I guarantee that you’ll do fewer things with bigger impact; work in the direction of your potential; and even get happier along the way.

 

Hello! My name is Julie Sellers, and my company Ellevated Outcomes offers business advice to solopreneurs, small business owners, and really – anyone who considers herself creative. I write a weekly column with the overall theme of helping people work more effectively – in whatever work they do. Whether it’s work as a stay at home mom or work outside the home as a CEO. I’d love to start sharing those articles here, if you don’t mind.

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