In the run up to the New Year we are all seduced into believing that now is the perfect time to make ‘resolutions’ or set new goals, both personal and professional. A few days ago I found myself engaged in a discussion about Philip Larkin’s poem Deceptions and in particular thinking about the meaning of the line where he wonders why anyone would want to ‘burst into fulfillment’s desolate attic’. The discussion concluded that what Larkin meant was that once you have fulfilled your ambitions, you might find yourself feeling rather empty with nothing left to do or no purpose in life. If you agree with Larkin’s sentiments, then there is a paradox in even having goals because once achieved you may feel empty, and be left asking the question – now what? And if that’s the case, is it better not to have them at all? Are we all deluding ourselves?

Whether that is the case or not my personal goal for 2014 is to run a half marathon and in order to achieve that goal I will need to plan a training schedule, check which races are available and most importantly, be sure that this is a realistic goal. Clearly, if I had never run any distance or experienced running in a race, I might want to change my goal to something less ambitious but because I successfully completed a 10k last year and learnt that I love the feeling that running gives me, this seems like an achievable and logical next step. It will undoubtedly be hard work and I will need to be determined and focused, but I know enough about myself to realize that having a goal is what motivates me to even get out there and run. For others, it’s the pleasure of just being able to run and they don’t need a specific goal.

So, the key to setting goals – if that’s what you want to do is to be very clear about why you are doing it. Whether its professional or personal, I would suggest that any goal you set should be measured against the four criteria below.

It is meaningful (to you personally) so that you are willing to invest the time and effort needed.
It is achievable insomuch as its within your capabilities and gift.
It is realistic in terms of time scales, resources and ambition.
It is enjoyable, so you don’t resent spending time and effort on actually trying to achieve your goal.

The next step is to recognise the feelings you experience, good and bad whilst working towards the goal. For example, when I am reading about the best trainers or running kit to wear I feel excited about the prospect of trying out my new kit even though it’s the running itself which is the ultimate goal. When I am even thinking about running I experience positive, energizing feelings and being aware of this is sometimes referred to as mindfulness. That awareness of self and how you feel, in the moment and over time will encourage you to both recreate that feeling and acknowledge it when it happens. You will celebrate the successes and put the challenges into perspective so that the goal is not just an end in itself but part of a process of self discovery that will help you to learn more about yourself and understand what is truly important to you and whether that does involves setting specific goals or not.

Isn’t it more important to understand enough about what makes you happy and successful that setting the goal? Whether it’s recognition for a job well done, learning a new skill or valuing strong personal relationships, understanding what makes you truly happy is the first step in working out what’s important and therefore how to achieve it. Whatever your views (and I’d love to read about them) may I wish you a happy, healthy, successful and fulfilled 2014.