How to Create Goals You’ll Actually Meet

[Please note: The views and opinions expressed in each post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of BayNVC as a whole.]

As the year comes to a close, if you’re anything like me, you’re starting to think about next year: What will 2021 look like? Especially as we’re still navigating the pandemic, is it even possible to plan for the future? Is it even worth it to make New Year’s resolutions/commitments/intentions? I would say yes because even as the world changes around us, something that remains constant are our needs. Sure, different needs will show up at different times, but fundamentally the list of needs stays the same. It’s why I love NVC. No matter what’s happening in the world, no matter how my strategies might shift in response to, say, a pandemic, my feelings will always act as messengers pointing toward needs.

For instance, one goal I had this year was to enroll in an education program. That didn’t happen because I lacked childcare for my son, and also I’m still working part time, and also my husband and I bought a house. Reading all that, it probably makes sense to you why I didn’t get another degree or a certificate. However, I still feel disappointed.

Relying on my NVC training, I asked myself three famous words provided to me by my mentor Thom Bond of the New York Center for Nonviolent Communication: “What is that?” I felt curious about the disappointment swelling within me and started investigating what needs were not met. I discovered I have a need for learning and stimulation. And also that I value growth and being able to contribute in new ways. As I sat with these needs, my inner judge showed up and said: “If you really valued learning, growth, and contribution, why didn’t you enroll in a course? Parents go to school and work and take care of their kids all the time.”

Ouch. My compassionate self then said, “That’s a great question, Kat. Thanks for asking. Why didn’t you?” I realized it’s because when I thought about taking a course, I felt overwhelmed and stressed. What with everything going on, did I want to add more to my plate? This information is rich with insight because it points to other needs. I have more needs than learning, growth, and contribution. I also have a need for ease, self-care, and choice. In my free time, did I want to be spending it in a structured way at a class? No, not really. I love learning but I want to do it on my own schedule when it works for me.

Looking at all the needs that are important to me, I wrote them down and came up with multiple strategies that could meet those needs. For instance, I could read a book about a topic that interests me, or watch YouTube videos. I could contribute to the world through my job. And I could grow by branching out, trying new things at work or reading relevant books in my spare time. To meet my needs for ease, self-care, and choice, one strategy could be expanding my quarantine bubble with another family and trading off on childcare so that I don’t always have to watch my son and thus have time for myself.

When I look at my world through an NVC lens, I’m reminded it’s important to connect to what matters to me, to get in touch with my needs, and then start strategizing. So often we do it the other way around — launching straight into strategies because we think they’ll “make” us happy. But if we do that, we might not be able to maintain the commitment/resolution/intention that we set for ourselves. If you connect with your needs first, you’ll give yourself more options to meet your needs.

If you’re interested in goal-setting in such a way that you’re set up for success, I invite you to try the following exercise:

  1. Consider a goal you created for yourself this year that you didn’t accomplish. Watch the story you start telling yourself. What comes up for you? How do you feel as you think about this goal that you didn’t meet?
  2. What are your judgments? Are they directed at yourself or someone else? (e.g. “If I wasn’t so lazy, I would have exercised more.” Or “If my boss didn’t work me so hard, I would have made time for exercise.”)
  3. Think of your goal instead as a strategy. What needs were you trying to meet by using that strategy?
  4. What other strategies can you use to meet those needs you listed?