Goal Setting for a New Year

goal_imageI used to belong to a women’s group where each January, the leader of the group would pass around a bowl of cardboard angels cut out from old Christmas cards. On the back of each colorful angel was a single word, the word that was the special word for the recipient for that year. Sometimes the words would imply action, like persistence or fortitude or adventure. Sometimes they would imply a gift such as gratitude, love or family. But the word, she assured us, was specially chosen for each of us that year and as we watched throughout the year, sure enough, we often saw our word take shape in our lives.

As I sit here, this dark, chilly January day, I wish for a cosmic hand to offer up to me the perfect words to direct my goals for the coming year. Where do you look for inspiration when the idea of goal setting leaves you dry and unimaginative?

Perhaps the first place is to review a few basic goal setting questionnaires, just to get the ideas firing. I like http://www.smart-goals-guide.com/free-goal-setting-worksheets-forms-and-templates.html for its general focus on your whole life, not just the work portion. Searching out those other life goals might provide some guidance about what would complement in your work life goals. Spend some time considering why you entered the career you chose. What made you passionate about your work? What kinds of challenges fed your enthusiasm instead of draining it? What do you offer others through your work? Why is it important?

Martin Seligman, a professor from University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center wrote a bestselling book in 2011 called Flourish. In it, he describes his PERMA model, outlining 5 elements existing in a person experiencing a state of well-being. It also provides some clues for us to consider when we are developing our goals.


In order to remain in a state of well-being, Seligman asserts, we need to be experiencing some form of positive emotion. This could occur in many forms, as gratitude, excitement, love, intellectual curiosity, or any one of a number of different positive emotions. One of the ways for many of us in the academic community to feel a positive rush of feeling is to find ourselves totally engrossed in pursuing a topic of personal interest. Reaching a state of flow, where we lose track of time and place as our attention is totally focused on our present pursuit of knowledge is a good illustration of Seligman’s second step of Engagement. What areas of academic pursuit allow you to reach this state of engagement? How is this pursuit represented in your annual goals?

Seligman’s third point is the importance of Positive Relationships. Who in your personal or professional life inspire you? How might you be able to interact with them more in the coming year? What common interest might you be able to work on together? Surrounding yourself with positive relationships helps you lift your own emotions and energizes your work.

Why do you work in the field that you are in? What Meaning does it have for you? What inspires you about your work? Is it working with students? Personal research? How can you fit more of what you most love into your annual goal setting process?

As we have considered the positive Emotions, areas of personal Engagement, positive Relationships, and Meaning of our work world and how they might fit into our professional development and goal setting for the new year, we reach the final letter of Seligman’s PERMA model: Accomplishment. Hopefully, by aligning our goals with the other aspects of the PERMA model, we already have a good idea of several areas in which we can focus for the coming year. Identifying and listing specific accomplishments for the coming year in each of these areas gives us the focus and incentive to make the coming year one of great personal satisfaction and fulfillment.

For more on goal setting and discovering your purpose in life, in addition to the resources previously mentioned, I can also recommend Michael Hyatt’s podcast: How to Create a Life Plan.

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