The turning of the year is a human construct, but we still imbue it with all kinds of meaning. I don’t go in much for resolutions, and the statistics about people actually keeping those resolutions (Save more! Eat healthy! Call my mom!) is kind of laughable. Still, to the extent that the new year helps us live examined lives, I’m all about it.

One of the things that LEAD 24/7 drove home for me was the importance (and perennial difficulty) of leading myself. I run my own businesses, and as it turns out, I’m very often the worst boss I’ve ever had. I waste my time and get off mission on the regular, and it’s no wonder. In our social media saturated economy, my attention is being sold for pennies everyday. I am the product.

But this post isn’t a rant about that. Instead, it’s about taking back your attention and leading yourself well in 2023.

We Set Goals for Our Teams, and Forget About Ourselves

When goals are established in alignment with our mission and purpose, they serve as a kind of north star to keep our teams oriented and pulling tougher in the same direction. Rodger has kept the entire Leading by DESIGN team laser focused on the goal of graduating 1,000 leaders in west Michigan who’ll go on to touch 10,000 more. He regularly updates the team and all LEAD 24/7 alumni on progress toward the goal.

I’m not sure if it’s the financial incentives often associated with reaching those goals, or the satisfaction that comes with team accomplishment, but for I’ve found it often to be true that we take a “best practices” approach to goal setting in the workplace with our teams, and then forget that those same practices work at the personal and familial level.

Goal Setting is Key to Leading Yourself Too

For my part, one of the most effective countermeasures I’ve found to wasting my time is the practice of establishing personal goals–writing them down and regularly revisiting them.

There is, of course, a whole cottage industry around goal setting. We probably all know something about SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound), and James Clear has been a godsend in terms of demystifying the small habits that help us realize our goals.

But how do you write a good personal goal? 

After all, the systems of our lives are perfectly calibrated to deliver the results we’re getting, so isn’t it true that we’re already getting what we most desire? Sort of. The reality is that we’re all a hot mess of competing desires. I want to run a 7 minute mile, but I also want to sleep in and relax on the weekends. And so, I can run an 8 minute mile (if I have to).

It can be intimidating to write goals for ourselves because we know that at some level it will require us to change. The operating system that’s (largely) unconsciously running our lives will need an update. We’ll have to make a change, and change is hard.

ABC Framework for Goal Setting

A few years back I came across a framework for setting goals that gave me permission to look at multiple areas of my life and make changes. Very often it’s the boundaries we set that allow us to be creative, and that’s just what I found with this method. It’s called ABC goal setting and it works like this:

A level goals are things that you’ve done in the past that you want to repeat. Let’s stick with the running example:

In 2022, I ran an 8 minute mile. An A level goal for 2023 would be to run another 8 minute mile. Based on my past performance this should be very doable.

B level goals build on something you’ve done in the past, and function as a kind of logical next step along that spectrum. As an example:

In 2022, I ran an 8 minute mile. In 2023 my B level goal will be to run a 5K. Based on my past performance, this is a good, achievable growth step.

C level goals are a bit different. They represent a significant stretch. They’re something that you’ve never done before. They should be sufficiently “out there” that you don’t know how you’d achieve them. Yet. With C level goals, you’re asking your unconscious mind to go to work on your behalf in order to help you solve the problem of how to get there. C level goals should be a bit scary, and also should inspire you as totally cool if you could do it. As an example:

My C level goal is to run a full marathon in 2024. (Don’t hold me to this, it’s just an example!)

It’s true that your brain will raise all kinds of legitimate and ridiculous objections as to why your C level goal is out of reach. But in my experience it will also begin to nudge you to think about what you’d need to do to reach the goal. Opportunities and circumstances will reveal themselves in ways that scootch you closer to your C level goal. It’s not magic, but getting your C level goals onto paper brings greater consciousness to those things you want and the path that will get you there.

ABC Goal Setting Across Multiple Areas and Time Horizons

On an annual basis, I take personal balcony time to review and set A, B, and C level goals over six areas of my life:

  1. Spiritual Life
  2. Family Life
  3. Adventures
  4. Physical Health
  5. Vocation
  6. Finances

As a general rule, I have multiple goals in each of these areas. Some are very simple and function as kind of a restatement of my values. For example, “experiences over stuff” is in my family goals, but it’s more a value than a goal.

I also set goals across 1, 3 and 5 five year time horizons. In the 1 to 3 year time horizons, it’s primarily A and B level goals that take up the most space and attention. Within the 5 year time horizon, however, I place more C level goals.

Let me give one more actual example from my Family Life category of A, B, and C level goals across time:

1 year: A level goal – play games together weekly
3 years: B level – establish weekly one-on-one dates with my children
5 years: C level – graduate two teens from a thorough coming of age process

Those goals are obviously very personal to me, and reflect my age and stage of life. But each of us can take back our attention back in 2023 by setting goals that are meaningful to us.

The last thing I do is to make these goals visible, by printing them out, or placing them prominently in my journal or calendar so that I see them on a weekly basis.

Start Where you Are, Not Where you Should Be

If you’re not already engaged in goal setting for yourself, my encouragement would be to start where you are, not where you feel you should be. Pick an area or two of your life, and take a stab at writing A, B, and C level goals there. 

Goal setting is a part of leading yourself well, and we’d love to hear what you come up with in the comments below. If you have other suggestions on ways to lead yourself well in 2023, whether that’s about goal setting or something else, be sure to reach out or leave us a comment.