As you write down your goals, don't forget to keep this in mind.

The Goal-Setting Question You Don’t Want to Forget to Ask

‘Tis the season for goal setting… and goal forgetting. Lured by the fresh promise of a new year, many of us set our goals with hope. And then hope we don’t screw it up.

Even if we start out strong, so many of our goals fall by the wayside.

Why is this?

Well, there are all kinds of hurdles we may fail to overcome. I won’t try to list them all. But there’s one hurdle I think we sometimes create for ourselves from the get go. One hurdle which, if eliminated, would drastically increase our goal-setting success.

The Goal-Setting Guideline We All Know

But first, for my own sake if not for yours, I’ll briefly review the golden standard for goal setting: S.M.A.R.T. goals.

You’ve probably seen this before. It stands for






These are the elements we want in our goals. If we say, “I want to lose weight,” that’s not a S.M.A.R.T. goal. It’s rather vague and wishy washy.

But if we say, “I want to lose a pound a week over the next 10 weeks, which I will do by consuming no more than 30 grams of fat a day and going for a 20-minute walk five days a week,” now we’re getting somewhere.

But I didn’t come here to write about S.M.A.R.T. goals. You probably already know about them, and if you don’t, you’ve probably already Googled it to find out.

I want to talk about the questions we ask ourselves when we set goals, and the one question we often fail to ask.

The Goal-Setting Questions We Often Ask

What do I want to accomplish this year?

What do I want my future to look like?

How do I want things to be better?

What did I fail to do last year that I want to do this year?

What’s the most important thing on my bucket list?

These are excellent questions. These are the kind of questions that help us build the life we want, rather than letting the current of life take us wherever it wishes. This is how we turn dreams into reality.

Many of my past accomplishments came about because I asked these kinds of questions.

The One Question We Often Forget to Ask

What do I want my life to look like right now?

This isn’t, what do I wish my life looked like right now. As in, I wished I were more fit… better off financially… the world’s greatest bocce player. Whatever. Those are still goals for our future.

But what about our goals for today? This very day.

Let me explain with a personal example.

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you may suspect I’m an A-type personality. And you’d be right. I love to set goals. I love lists. I love the challenge of accomplishing something I wasn’t sure I could accomplish.

I’m also a dreamer. I dream big. I envision a certain kind of life and rather than wistfully pine for it, I ask myself, how can I get there?

For the past six years or so, I have been (and will always be) a recovering codependent. For those of you who think codependents need other people, I’ll clear things up for you. You can be contentedly single and still be codependent.

Codependents tend to be the strong ones. The little go-getters of the world. We get things done and we get them done in a hurry.

But we also tend to overschedule, overcommit, neglect ourselves, struggle with boundaries, torture ourselves with perfectionist ideals, and… well, I could go on for some time. There’s a mighty long list of dysfunctions common among codependents.

Once you really know what it is, you’ll see it everywhere. Many codependents have no idea they have this problem. For years, I had no idea either.

So, tuck that little factoid about me into the back of your brain.

This year, as I set to setting goals for 2015, my little A-type self started quivering with anticipation. I started envisioning all the grand things I’d do this year. Aside from the obvious book-writing goals, there are all kinds of things I’d love to do on the editing and teaching side of things.

They went on the list.

Then there were the usual new year’s resolutions. I’d like to get back in shape, get back to dancing, eat better.

I’d like to read more books, spend more time with my kids (who are growing up at an alarming rate), and build up my savings account.

All worthwhile goals.

Next, I pulled out my calendar and started working on the specific and measurable aspects of these goals.

It did not take long to realize something. In order to accomplish all these goals, there was one goal I’d have to scrap. One goal I didn’t mention in the list above.

It goes something like this:

“Be mentally and emotionally healthy.”

I suppose I could phrase it, “Continue to be mentally and emotionally healthy,” but codependency is (literally) a type of addiction. And like most addicts, regardless of how many sober days you have behind you, you always start each day from the beginning.

So, what does “be mentally and emotionally healthy” look like, for me, if rephrased the S.M.A.R.T. way?

In part, it means not overscheduling myself; leaving time for my children, my spouse, and myself every day; accepting the limitations of what I can reasonably accomplish in a year, let alone in a day; and scheduling time to breathe. Every day.

Among authors, it isn’t difficult to find examples of people who work day and night week after week, and month after month, in order to build their career more quickly. I sometimes see this held up as a worthy example to follow.

And because the end result is so enticing, that pathway is sometimes tempting.

Isn’t this true for so many of our goals? We want that final destination. That’s where we focus our attention and our desires. As a result, we sometimes fail to consider what getting there will really mean. We fail to recognize that the path we claim we want to follow has more hurdles than we’re truly, honestly willing to climb over the mere course of a year.

We set ourselves up for failure before we’ve even begun.

Thus the question, what do I want my life to look like right now?

How much of today am I willing to sacrifice for the sake of tomorrow?

There’s no right answer to that question. It will depend on the individual and our individual circumstances, which change from month to month and year to year.

My answer to that question may very well be different ten years from now, when my children are out of the house.

It may have been different right now, if my children hadn’t already lived through some difficult years and I didn’t want to give them more difficult years for the sake of accelerating the pace of my personal accomplishments.

It may have been different if, over the past three years, I have not lived with an acute sense of my own mortality. There are no guarantees in life. None.

I’m 41. I might be at the half way point. Or I might be far closer to the end than I imagine.

If I knew I only had a year to live, would I spend it working night and day? No. No, I would not.

Of course, I don’t have any idea how long I have to live, and the notion of living each day as if it were your last is kind of misguided. Can we really spend each day saying good bye to all our loved ones? Spending our last dimes on a trip to Italy? (Cuz if I’m ever told I have six months left to live, my butt is on a plane to Italy for sure.)

There has to be a balance between working for our future and living life right now.

As I realized my little codependent shadow self had popped up and written this overly ambitious list of goals for 2015, my sober self started crossing things off.

There are other years to accomplish some of those things. And if it turns out there aren’t, well, I will cherish those close to me as much as I am able.


2 thoughts on “The Goal-Setting Question You Don’t Want to Forget to Ask

  1. Keith Sikora

    Hi Donna,
    Boy! Am I glad I bookmarked this link from you from my Twitter messages. You brought up questions that I’ve been asking myself for as long as I remember but especially since my first poetry book was published in 2000. The problem was I was asking myself from a wishful point of view. This blog has caused me to take a hard look at myself and my short and long term goals now. I wrote those 6 questions down and plan on keeping a copy of that list in my wallet so I can refer to it often. I haven’t changed my goals, both personal and my life, just my focus on how to approach reaching them. Thank you for your blog and the adjustment of my focus!

    1. DonnaCookDonnaCook Post author

      Hi Keith. Thanks for commenting. I’m so glad the post was helpful. I like how you said you’re not changing your goals, just your approach. I think it’s good to work for big dreams if you truly want to, but we can only go as fast as we can go. As I am ever reminding myself. 😉 All the best to you and congratulations on your book of poetry!


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