Finish the Past Before Setting New Personal Goals

Before creating a life plan and setting new goals, it’s important to finish what you’ve started. Have you set goals before? Make sure to review them thoroughly to see just how far you’ve come.

Finish the past before setting new personal goals

No matter how big or small, we all make goals in our lives — from small goals, like promising ourselves we want to hang out with friends more often, to bigger goals that change our lives. We are continuously working on personal growth and development. Doing a checkup of your past will give you insights that act as fuel for setting new personal goals. When doing your review, keep these questions in mind:

  • Where did you start at the beginning of the year (or five years ago)?
  • Where did you fall short, and why?
  • What where your successes, and what helped you succeed?
  • What did you learn from your journey, and what did you learn about yourself?

This process gives you clarity on your strengths and the ways you’ve grown, and teaches you how you can better leverage these strengths in the future. It also helps you be honest with yourself about your weaknesses, enabling you to plan around them when setting future goals.

The result? You will be better prepared for your next goal-setting adventure, and you’ll be more confident about your abilities as you chase success.

Measuring Backwards

You should conduct a review every time you set new goals. If you set annual goals for yourself, do a review at the end of the year. If you work with quarterly goals, be prepared to do a review several times a year. These are self-assessments in which you look back on the period since your last review.

How to self-assess

Analyze the goals you have set for yourself. Ask yourself: were they too big, too small, or just about right? Be honest with yourself about the reasons why.

Look at a goal you didn’t fully achieve, including the ones you gave up on. Ask yourself what you could have done to have changed the outcome — both at the time you set the goal, and during your efforts to achieve it.

Think about what you’ve learned while working to achieve your most recent goals. Try to identify how you can use those lessons — and your strengths — when you set new goals for yourself.

Look back at how far you’ve come. Most people tend to pay attention to what didn’t happen, as opposed to what did. But by focusing on the positive, you develop a mindset that will help you better identify your strengths and areas of growth.

What to look for

During your self-assessment, try to recognize behavioral patterns and habits, those that helped you and those that held you back. Examine and challenge your personal beliefs.

Your regular habits and patterns of behavior are important, as they are what determines whether you fail or succeed. And what you believe is ultimately what determines your behavior. It’s crucial to understand what is helping you and what is sabotaging your chances of success.

Stay objective during your review and observe your behavior and habits. The goal is to create an understanding of why some things worked well and other things did not. Keep in mind that beating yourself up or judging yourself is not beneficial for this process!

How measuring backwards helps us

The true power of measuring backward is best explained by productivity writer James Clear: “By measuring backward, we have a better understanding of our strengths, weaknesses and opportunities of self-growth. Through backward measurement, we set goals that are tailored to fit ourselves.”

We generally measure progress by looking forward. We set goals and plan milestones. We try to predict future outcomes. We do this in health, in business, and in life.

  • Can I lose 10 pounds in the next 4 months?
  • Can we increase the annual revenue by 15 percent?
  • Will I find the love of my life before I am 25?

All these measurements face forward. We try to look into the future and guess when we will reach a milestone. The opposite approach? Measure backward, not forward.

For example, in business, important metrics are available to most companies. How many visitors did the website attract, how many visitors turned into a customer. Revenues, expenses, margins, etc. Collecting this data is possible in just a few minutes for a typical company.

Within these metrics, you get insight into the progress that is made in key areas of the business. You can tell what direction things are going — and if numbers in one area are falling behind, immediate actions can be taken to get back on track.

Measuring backward (looking at what happened in the business last week) gives guidance for next week’s actions.

The same method can be used in personal life. Say you are working out at the gym. When you work out a few times a week and log your exercises, you can use the same method. When you get to the gym, open your notebook and look at the reps, sets, and weights you completed during your last session. You can plan your new workout based on these figures and make adjustments for these gains.

In the gym, you can measure backward and use your records to determine your next action. By making small gains during every workout, a little at a time, you make progress. You base your actions on what previously happened — not wishful hopes for the future.

When it comes to breaking bad habits and building good habits, one of our biggest battles is knowing what we are doing. The more automated a behavior is, the less likely we are to notice it — this is why bad habits can really sneak up on us. By the time we notice the consequences of our actions, we’ve already become used to a new pattern of behavior.

Measuring backward can help us identify and become aware of how we really behave, and take note of behavioral patterns that otherwise might have gone unnoticed. By measuring backward, you can clearly see that specific outcomes are due to personal behavior. When you want to change these outcomes in the future, you’ve got to first change the habits and behavior.

One thing to consider with this strategy is that when you measure backward, the data you analyze comes from the recent past. It is short-term feedback.

If a company uses metrics from three years ago to make business decisions, their choices would be totally off. The same goes for determining your repetitions and weights when entering the gym. You base your decisions on what happened recently. The more recent the feedback, the better.

As Seth Godin once said: “The best way to change long-term behavior is with short-term feedback.”

An additional benefit to this strategy is that when you measure backward, you are enjoying the progress that you are making now. You do not have to wait on happiness until you reach a milestone or goal you have set for yourself somewhere in the future.

Focusing on immediate improvement over your past self gives you a bigger sense of satisfaction than comparing your current self to your possible future self.

Almost all improvements we wish to make in our life require some sort of behavioral change. If you want to change the outcomes, chances are you must do something differently.

Figuring out what you need to change for a desired outcome can be challenging. Setting goals for yourself is a good way to find the finish line and see where you want to end up. When it comes to improving right now, measuring backward is the best way to go. Let recent results drive your future actions.

Achievements: You made 45 sales calls last week to attract new clients? Set a goal for 50 this week.

Health: You ran 10k in 58 minutes last week? Set a goal to do it in 57 minutes this week.

Relationships: You spent an average of one hour per day with your kids last week? Set a goal to spend an hour and a half per day with them.

Measure backward and then raise the bar for yourself. What did you do last week? How can you improve yourself a little bit this week?

Failures and weaknesses

When we do our review, it’s comfortable to look for positive accomplishments — not for failures or weaknesses. But a study in the magazine “Memory” found that people who reflect on their problem-solving achievements and “moments defining their identity” showed a boost in happiness, self-esteem, and sense of meaning in life. The researchers conducting the study found that this mood boost was related to feelings of resilience and self-exploration.

Psychotherapist Paul Hockemeyer said:

It’s important to analyze not just our successes over the past year, but also our struggles and setbacks. Managing the inevitable hardships life hands us along its path enables us to cultivate resilience and home our skills at adaptation.

One of Darwin’s most important observations of successful species was not the intensity of their strength, but rather their capacity to adapt to challenging circumstances. Studying the hardships in our lives and our reactions to them enables us to cultivate are skill at adaptivity.”

Looking back at how you overcame hardships or roadblocks can make you better prepared to take on everything that awaits you a in the future. Take some time to reflect the last period and ask yourself: What hardships did I have to overcome? How did I approach them? What lessons did I learn from these experiences?

Piggyback on successes

Failures and weaknesses provide valuable lessons going forward. Logically, the same goes for your successes. Big or small, there are things you’ve accomplished — even if these things were not on your initial goal list. Take note of these achievements and use them as when setting new goals and success strategies.

On successes, Hockemeyer said:

“While we still cling to the fantasy that ‘overnight success’ exists, the truth is: it doesn’t. Success occurs through persistence and hard work. It involves steps forward, and steps back. It’s more akin to a jungle gym than a ladder.

It’s also important to acknowledge that it occurs incrementally through establishing and building upon productive habits while simultaneously minimizing unproductive ones. So instead of making big sweeping pronouncements that dramatically alter your course, tweak successful habits to subtlety move you in a more resonate and rewarding direction.”

Maybe you succeeded in a goal to bring your lunch to work every day to save some money. This success can push you forward in toward skipping your daily expensive latte macchiato, further enhancing your money-saving success.

Or maybe you ran a 10k this year. You can use that success to set a goal to run a half marathon. Use the momentum you gain through your successes to inspire yourself to set new goals. Tiny adjustments in daily habits can result in big changes in your life.

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