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Number One Mistake Before Goal Setting

“My plan for this year is pretty much done and I’m ready to start fresh. Can we just work on a new plan for next year?”

My coaching client had unknowingly uttered a common end-of-year refrain. It’s the number one mistake that people make even before they begin goal setting for the year. I had been coaching this client all year, carrying out an ambitious plan to grow his business and renew his focus on his own health and well-being, and in his mind, the current year’s plan was old news. He was ready to move on.

But in my mind, there was still unfinished business. We needed to bring some closure to this year’s plan – to acknowledge what had been accomplished, as well as what lessons had been learned along the way. He needed to wrap up one year and “put a bow on it” before moving on to the next. I always encourage clients not to settle for this lack of completion with a plan that can cause us to miss out on so many blessings – things that can propel us forward in our new plan, providing information that makes our goal setting for the new year that much stronger, more attuned and more focused – often leading to even better results!

Fortunately, he accepted my insistence that we close out his current plan before creating a new one. We reviewed his achievements and lessons learned, scored the plan, and talked about the impact his guidelines and new paradigm had made in his life. He even thanked me for insisting that he remember the importance of the fourth stage in the Cycle of Productivity – the pause to acknowledge and gain momentum for moving forward. It’s this step that separates Best Year Yet® from most other goal setting programs and it’s one of the most powerful tools in creating goals that really matter to us for the coming year.

I have become an impassioned advocate for this idea of “closure” and I’ve seen the difference it makes in many clients’ experiences. But I had not put a name to it or applied the lesson to myself until I made it a guideline in my own personal Best Year Yet plan two years ago. This is when my personal lesson about “wrapping up one thing before starting another” turned into the simple phrase, “Put a Bow On It.” It became a powerful reminder for me, and I found so many applications:

  • Taking time after a meeting to make notes in my file, schedule action steps I had committed to take, and put the file away, rather than add it to a pile in my office.
  • Finishing one project before setting it aside to start on another.
  • Planning a transition event to celebrate the end of one leader’s term on a board and welcome a new leader.

It’s hard to describe the difference that “putting a bow on it” makes. Sometimes it’s like the feeling you get when you clean out a closet or clear off your desk. You feel organized and confident that you know where everything is. You release the mental clutter from the finished project and your mind is unencumbered, free to address the next challenge with clarity and energy.

Sometimes it’s the warm glow of knowing you’ve done a good job – and being acknowledged for it. When we rapidly move from one project to another without taking the time to reflect and feel good about what we’ve accomplished, we start to feel burned out and taken for granted. Making time to acknowledge hard work can result in a new boost of energy and optimism.

It can also reward us with pleasant and unexpected surprises. Most clients are amazed at how much they accomplished, even in areas where it felt like they had not done much. It’s a reminder of the power of intention in our goal setting. Our minds will often continue to work toward our goals even when we are not conscious that it is happening. The proof is in the results – results you may not ever notice unless you stop to complete the process of review.

Putting a bow on it can also result in a sense of wholeness, or feeling complete, even when it involves more than one person. When many people share an experience (a group traveling together, a team working on a project, etc.) it’s important to meet as a group and give each person the opportunity to talk about the experience, share insights and different perspectives. In this way, each person feels a sense of closure and completeness.

And even when the closure is about the sadness of an ending, a friend moving away, a team member’s retirement, losing a client, etc. the act of putting a bow on it brings a sense of peace, knowing that everything that needed to be said had a chance to be said.

When I think about putting a bow on it, I’m reminded of my friend’s 5-year-old grandson who received a hastily wrapped gift from her for his birthday. He looked at the gift and then looked at her and said, “There isn’t any ribbon on it.” Even HE knew it wasn’t finished.

Don’t fall victim to the same mistake. The next time you conclude a yearly plan or project – even if you’ve worked on it all by yourself – take some time to wrap up all the loose ends and put a bow on it. Then sit back and enjoy that feeling of completeness before jumping into your new year.