How to Set the Right Goals for the New Year (and the Rest of Your Life)

Photo by Lara Laing
Photo by Lara Laing
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The Challenge: Sometimes we lose our sense of purpose in life.
The Science: Thinking about our impermanence can dramatically increase our well-being.
The Solution: Here’s a simple practice to help you get started!

New year, new you! This is a time when we think of our goals for the new year. In fact, off the top of your head, think of four goals you have.

1. _____________________

2. _____________________

3. _____________________

4. _____________________

Before you jump into plans for reaching these goals, consider this data on setting the right goals.

Setting the right goals

The data is clear, at the end of their lives, people often wish they had done some things differently. And research suggests that doing things differently now will not only delay your death, but also make you a healthier and happier person right now.

Here are the top 5 regrets of the dying (data recorded by hospice workers):

1. “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”

2. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”

3. “I wish I had let myself be happier.”

4. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my true self.”

5. “I wish I’d lived a life true to my dreams instead of doing what others expected of me.”

This information sheds light on what it really means to live a good life. Dying people don’t wish they had more money. They dream they had enjoyed what they had more and had pursued authentic and deep relationships with themselves and the people they love. If we are to live well, we’ll need to re-evaluate how we’re currently living and deliberately pursue more valuable goals, purpose, friendship and happiness.

A recent analysis of modern research suggests that contemplating your mortality can help to improve physical health, promote pro-social behavior, prompt positive change and re-prioritize goals and values.

We need to set the right goals before we get motivated to achieve them. Is it a more meaningful job? Living more authentically? More travel? Contacting some long lost friends? Finishing that creative project?!

Now rethink your four goals for the year:

1. _____________________

2. _____________________

3. _____________________

4. _____________________

A Meditation on Impermanence

The following meditation is meant to attune you to the impermance of things – not as a somber or depressing fact, but as a way to remember what, ultimately, is most important to you.

Sit comfortably and take a few deep breaths

  • Let your mind settle on the fact that death isn’t just some abstract concept. It’s a tangible reality that you confront every moment of your life. The hard truth is that if you don’t act now, you may expire without flourishing.
  • You may not have 1000 tomorrows to chisel that 6-pack. You can’t be certain you have another year to visit a temple in Thailand. How do you want to spend your time?
  • There will be a last moment of your life. Use your most precious resource – time – wisely.
  • Pick one thing today that works toward the goals you listed in part one and you will be working toward living your good life. Feel proud and tell your friends.

Read through Existential Meditation whenever you would like to re-prioritize. Focusing on these thoughts for even a few minutes a day is enough.

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Taylor Kreiss
"A UCLA philosophy graduate and UPenn Positive Psychology grad-student, Taylor Kreiss is currently the Director of Special projects for the The Imagination Institute at UPenn, an executive producer for The Psychology Podcast with Scott Barry Kaufman PhD, an editor for TheCreativityPost and a life design writer for Creativity/Philosophy/Positive Psychology blogs. He would call himself “A (sometimes) rational animal helping people get real about happiness, meaning and purpose." Specializing in practical philosophy and positive psychology, Taylor Kreiss is a writer on a mission to share the art and science of the good life.
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