Looking Back from the Future

At the start of every January, amidst the dark days of my annual sugar, butter and alcohol withdrawal, I write out my personal goals for the New Year. I started doing this several years ago when I was struck by the irony that, although I help others think strategically about their brands and businesses, I hadn’t really thought strategically about my own life. Strategic storyteller, heal thyself.

A lot of people tackle this sort of thing by establishing New Year’s resolutions, looking at the year ahead and identifying what they want to stop or start doing. While this is certainly a valiant endeavor, in many respects these resolutions become a glorified “To Do” list. What’s more, a lot of resolutions have a negative, depriving nature to them – e.g. lose 12 pounds, finally stop watching “America’s Next Top Model,” give up drinking on Sundays – which makes them feel Lenten and uninspiring.

New Year’s resolutions are different than personal goals.

I’ve got nothing against New Year’s resolutions, but for most of us they just become promises to ourselves that we break. They’re often mired in the past or present, not forward thinking; and they tend to focus on actions, not achievements and the hopes and desires that fuel them. In contrast, personal goals focus on results. They reflect a situation that has yet to transpire and are therefore, by nature, future-oriented. And because they are future-oriented, they tend to be conceived in a positive light…because who really wants to think negatively about the future when setting goals?

I like to establish my personal goals for the next year by projecting myself mentally and emotionally into the future. I visualize myself on the next New Year’s Eve, savouring my last butter tart, sipping that last, precious glass of champagne, looking back on the year and reminiscing about the things I’ve accomplished. I literally envision myself in that place and time, imagining how I want to think and feel about the year that’s just passed. I think about the stories I want to be telling others – e.g. about how I learned jazz piano, secured three major new clients, booked a trip to South America, read “Middlemarch.” I imagine all these things from the future, and then I write them down. And I read them, out loud, at the start of each week (admittedly, sometimes in the mirror).

When you’re looking down the road at a brand-spanking-new year for you personally, don’t look at it from the perspective of January 1st; leap forward and look back on it from December 31st. I think you’ll be more inspired and motivated by the view from there.

TagsEnvisioningNew Year's ResolutionsPersonal Goalsstrategic storytellingStrategic Thinking

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