Going on Walkabout: A Soul-Clarifying Goal-Setting Process
A recent Harvard Business Review blog post by Dorie Walker begins with: “Most of us understand the peril of adopting too many goals at once, which makes it unlikely we’ll be able to make meaningful progress on any of them.”
Many business owners and leaders can relate to this feeling of being overwhelmed and the resulting frustration from less-than-expected progress. I have observed the peril she identified in my own life and have adapted some self-reflective strategies to defend against personal scope creep.
Many years ago a friend shared with me how he recognized the potential for personal growth by reading Walden. Written by Henry David Thoreau, Walden reflects upon how simple living brings clarity of thought by removing so many of life’s distractions for a season. That idea really spoke to me and I have made it my own in the past few years.
Twice a year I venture out alone into the mountains to just think. If I don’t stop and reassess what really matters every six months, my list of goals grows, and those multiplying goals become their own distractions and hindrances. As I’ve learned to do this regularly, I’ve observed more growth in my life than I would have attained otherwise.
Each summer I throw my hammock, my journal, and some food into a backpack and ride into the national forest in eastern Utah. I venture to one of two ‘secret’ locations where I know I won’t see another soul for two days. In the winter, I grab my alpine touring skis, my backpack, and that same trusty journal and make my way to a rudimentary shelter where I can stay warm. My winter location is set among large pines on the northern slopes of the Uinta Mountains, which allows me some positive mental diversions (a little winter climbing and skiing) when the mental work gets exhausting.
I’ve found that for my planning to be successful, given the level of mental effort I put into it, I must build in some diversions. For me, those are riding my bike on game trails in the summer and climbing new mountain slopes to earn a few turns on the way back down during the winter walkabouts. Summer or winter, I follow the same mentally demanding process; I try to quiet other voices and demands on me by honestly assessing how I’ve done relative to my goals for the previous six months, and I set new goals for the months to come.
I recommend following these steps and making them your own. I have chosen to focus on five roles in my life (creating five life-wheels) and scoring each of those roles on five dimensions (or spokes of the wheel). You can adjust the number of wheels or spokes to your liking:
1. Create life-wheels
- Determine your roles (wheels) to assess (e.g. personal, husband, dad, community member, professional role)?
- Determine your dimensions (spokes) of each role you’ll assess (As a husband I score myself on five dimensions – emotional honesty, compassion, time, service, helping her fly)
- Write current feelings/status on your five spokes
- Score each spoke (1-10) and plot on your relative life wheel (you’ll end up with five separate life wheels)
2. Block out space for future life-wheel scoring by relevant parties
Quantitative feedback during the next six months will give you insight into your performance and guide you as you on your next walkabout.
3. Brainstorm Goals
Stay focused on those spokes that scored lowest on your wheel.
4. Decide Top Goals
Select ONE goal from each role/life-wheel that you can build action plans around.
5. Develop action and accountability plans
I strongly recommend that your first step for each action plan be sharing your goal and plan with a named someone by a certain date.
Sharing provides you greater clarity and accountability. Have the courage to share the entire process and all your notes with someone you trust.
7. Personal Accountability Assessment
On your second walkabout, this will be the first step before creating your life-wheels again. Rewrite your goals and honestly assess how you did…. It makes no sense to kid or lie to yourself. The idea of self reflection isn’t new, of course. In the front of the rough, leather-bound journal I’ve used for these past years on my walkabouts, I have written this thoughtful reminder by Confucius:
By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and Third, by experience, which is the bitterest.
Reflection is indeed powerful and becomes even more potent when you are truly honest with yourself, which I’ve found isn’t as easy as it sounds. To be truly honest with yourself takes real and concentrated effort, even when you are consciously aware that no one else knows what’s happening in your head. Sometimes it is difficult to face the truth, perhaps because once we acknowledge difficult truth, we feel we must do something about it. Honest awareness, however, is where all personal improvement begins.