Best Self

10 inspiring books to help you set empowering goals in time for the new year

A goal properly set is halfway reached. A quote by Zig Ziglar.

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Part of this blog’s aim is to explore ways in which we can be our best selves. But before we can commit to working toward our best self we need to define what that actually looks like and devise a clear map of how to get there. Although in truth, we never do really get there. In fact, we need to keep raising the bar so that we’re always improving, learning and growing. Which means we have to become highly adept at continually setting, evaluating and accomplishing goals.

Much has been written about the profound impact that writing your goals down has on your success in actually achieving those goals and, by extension, your success in life. But do you also find it difficult to get your dreams and ideas out of your head and onto paper in the form of clear-cut goals and a plan of action?

In this post I seek out some motivating and practical resources to help articulate our dreams, translate them into goals and formulate a strategy for accomplishing them.

From projects to pumpkins. Why am I talking about goal-setting in October?

Even though it’s spring in the Southern Hemisphere, October has always felt orange to me. Rich, spicy, roasted-pumpkin orange. I’ve never been big on Halloween, but maybe all the pumpkin-infused trick-or-treating toward the end of the month has etched some subliminal orange messaging deep into my optic nerve.

This year, more than ever, October also feels like a month for reassessing before the end-of-year madness descends. I have so many projects on the go, or still unstarted, that I’m struggling to focus and feel like I’m barely treading water on any of them, let alone making progress.

Do you also have a lurking sense that your projects and good intentions might all turn into pumpkins if you don’t keep your wits about you? Shops are already starting to push Christmas on us and the internet is bulging with planners and diaries for next year while I’m still getting used to writing 2017. Well, I want to be sure that next October is different. I resolve to start 2018 equipped with jedi-like focus and powerful goal-setting machinery. So I need to start preparing.

Big fiery butt kicks

It seems I’m not alone in this onset of urgency to get my act together. Apparently the second Monday of October is National Kick Butt Day (in the USA, admittedly, but if Australia can celebrate Halloween, surely we can appropriate National Kick Butt Day as well).

It’s a day for re-evaluating our goals, making a start on the things we’ve been intending to get around to, cranking things up to eleven on the goals we haven’t yet achieved, the positive new habits we’ve been meaning to develop or the not-so-good ones we’ve been promising ourselves to break.

And it’s at this point that I need to take a harsh reality check. Because the thing for which I most warrant a hefty metaphorical kick to my derrière is — to my shame — the very act of writing down my personal and life goals.

I know. It seems almost sacrilegious in this age of productivity and bucket lists to admit to this weakness. But there it is.

It’s not that I don’t have goals. Quite the contrary. I have a wild mental jungle writhing with dreams, grand visions, ambitions and aspirations. But because I struggle to break them down into bite-sized chunks and list them out, I feel like I’m stuck in an endless inner game of “pin the tail on the donkey”.

And that donkey is now asserting itself with a couple of big fiery butt kicks!

Big Fiery Butt Kick #1
How can I evaluate my goals when I haven’t even written them down!

Big Fiery Butt Kick #2
How can I bring all of my crazy ideas to life if I don’t know what to focus on next?

Mastering the skill of goal-setting

I’ve always clung to the delusion that goal-setting is a natural attribute that you’re either born with or without. For too long I’ve hidden behind the excuse that they’d completely exhausted the supply of goal-setting widgets when I was being assembled in the factory.

However, according to Brian Tracy, maestro of personal development and author of the classic book on overcoming procrastination, Eat that Frog!, goal-setting is a learned skill. So if you too struggle with formally identifying your goals, there’s hope for us yet.

To help me master this elusive ability, I’m going to need some hand-holding and prodding, along with a few simple yet heavy-duty tools and techniques. But whenever I start to read that my goals must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Bound, my brain glazes over and the thrill gets sucked out of my glorious visions.

I can’t be the only person who finds the S.M.A.R.T. formula dry and clinical, energy-sapping and counter-productive. I sometimes don’t think in specifics, but in big, idealistic pictures. Other times I focus in way too close on the detail and minutiae. So how specific is specific, exactly?

As for measurable, achievable and realistic, the very words feel restrictive, suffocating even. I might as well tether my magnificent, lofty dreams to a meter-long chain in a concrete desert. And even if I do try to shoehorn my dreams into these confines, my inner critic kicks in and starts coming up with 100 reasons why I’m doomed to fail.

Conceptually, I can relate to the time-bound element. As so many sages have wisely noted, a goal without a deadline is just a wish or a dream. But the practical reality is that I struggle to assign time limits to my personal aspirations, which means they remain firmly rooted in dreamland.

Finding focus, and an alternative to S.M.A.R.T. goals

If I’m to succeed in mapping a path through the old-growth forest of ambitions in my mind and knowing where next to take action, I’m going to need something more inspiring and liberating than S.M.A.R.T. goals.

Enter The Focus Course.

I only very recently discovered The Focus Course, a self-paced online program offered by Shawn Blanc. As soon as I did, I had an a-ha recognition that it’s exactly what I need: A 40-day guided course to help you find clarity, gain momentum, and set yourself up to do your best creative work.

Yes please! Can I have an extra dollop of lucidity with that?

I’m not affiliated with this course, and this isn’t a review. I’ve literally only just started it, as in: I’ve hit the Completed button on Day 0.

These are a few things that immediately appealed to me about The Focus Course:

  • In its very structure — daily lessons that work you through your visions, goals, action plans, habits, and schedule — it’s already creating a framework for new habits to form. I’m really hoping that by the end of it, writing down my goals will have become a natural habit.
  • Since the best way to learn is by “doing”, each day has some homework which actually sounds do-able: 15 to 30 minutes of working on daily questions or tasks. Shawn describes these as simple, although not necessarily easy. Just the prodding I need.
  • Even though it’s laid out in 40 days, you can set your own pace. I like a bit of wriggle room.
  • It’s beautifully designed. At the risk of sounding superficial, I really appreciate the visual look and feel of the course. The typography is clean and unobtrusive, making it very easy to work through the material, while still being attractive and inspiring. And the minimalist layout and photography contribute to the sense of creating mental space and finding clarity.

Shawn offers a free 6 day email course on Time Ownership which I found a great taster for the teaching style and what to expect in The Focus Course. I was able to nab the course at a very good discount so it’s worth keeping an eye out for a future offer.

Practical and motivating books for mental decluttering, life plans and goal-setting

For extra inspiration, and because I like to draw on information from a variety of sources (some might call this procrastination; I call it synthesis) I’ve also curated a list of focus-finding, goal-setting related books I plan to read, and maybe even review. I know there are a lot of blog posts on this topic, but in this instance I’m looking for some deeper insight.

To be clear, this is not a list about productivity, time management, habits or meditation. While there’s inevitably some overlap, I also feel that those are whole other topics which I plan to explore in future posts.

My sole criterion for selection has been “will this book help me to get my ideas and dreams out of my head and onto paper in the form of clear goals and an actionable plan?”.

If you prefer books over an online course (certainly they’re the less expensive option), I hope something in this list will help you with the process of clarifying and writing down your own goals.

The Life Plan

by Shannah Kennedy

I already own a print copy of this elegantly designed book by Australian business and life coach, Shannah Kennedy, which I bought because I loved the typography and inspiring minimalist photographs. The body copy is set in Harriet by Okay Type, a typeface I swoon over every time I see it. But I digress.

This “practical guide to effective life planning” offers thought-provoking exercises, questionnaires and charts to help you uncover your true values and record your life goals. Similar to The Focus Course, it takes a “one day at a time” approach to helping you form new habits for long-term success.

Clearly, I need to move beyond just admiring this book and actually do the work!

The author also offers a free vision board worksheet on her website to help with the process of clarifying your goals.

What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It! A Guide for Teens

by Beverly K. Bachel

A book aimed at teens feels like a gentle way to coax my short attention span for goal-setting into the task. The blurb states that “readers learn how to articulate their goals and put them in writing”. Well, that’s exactly what I need to get a handle on so into my cart it goes!

Get Your Sh*t Together: How to Stop Worrying About What You Should Do So You Can Finish What You Need to Do and Start Doing What You Want to Do (A No F*cks Given Guide)

by Sarah Knight

Now it’s time to stop acting like a teenager and pull on my big girl socks. I’m looking forward to reading this book, wha the author describes as “a delightfully profane one-stop shop for tidying your mind”.

Within seconds of reading the preview, I was drawn to her sense of humour and butt-kicking attitude. I don’t usually go for expletives in book titles but she won me over with this comment in her Author’s Note:

…unlike many traditional self-help authors, I am going to use the word shit 332 times (including shitmanteaus of my own invention), so please do not go on Amazon saying you were expecting sunshine and kittens and got shitstorms and shittens. My mother reads all of those reviews and it really upsets her when people don’t “get” me.

Nothing like a bit of humour to rev the motivation engine. I might even start with the predecessor to this book, The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck. Socks even get a mention in that one 🙂

Declutter Your Mind: How to Stop Worrying, Relieve Anxiety, and Eliminate Negative Thinking

by S.J. Scott and Barrie Davenport

While the title may sound like this book doesn’t really belong in this list, I’ve included it because it starts with a section on mental decluttering, followed by one on how to create goals that connect to your passions.

There’s also a free online companion course that offers some guided meditations and delves deeper into decluttering the mind through mindfulness.

The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan

The One Thing probably belongs more in the productivity category but I’m including it here because the first thing it says you’ll learn is how to cut the clutter. I’ve also heard about the “Goal Setting to the Now” technique he presents in this book, which sounds a simple but powerful way of finding focus.

The Magic Lamp: Goal Setting for People Who Hate Setting Goals

by Keith Ellis

Aside from the perfect-for-me title, this one caught my eye because the author recognises the importance of retaining the emotional connection when setting goals, promising to transform the goal-setting process “from a dull routine into an exciting adventure”. Contrary to the aphorism I referred to earlier — that a goal without a deadline is just a wish — he offers an alternate take:

Wishes are goals—but goals with snap, crackle, and pop. Goals provide the process that can take you anywhere you want to go, but they lack the inspiration to get you there. Wishes are different. They have impact…they let you dream. They let you soar. They let you tap into a source of limitless possibility and boundless energy that gives you the power to accomplish what you might otherwise never even have imagined. If you want to make good things happen in your life, think in terms of wishes instead of goals.

Creating Your Best Life: The Ultimate Life List Guide

by Caroline Adams Miller MAPP and Dr. Michael B. Frisch

This book draws on research in positive psychology to explore the connection between goal accomplishment, success and happiness. I’m keen to get going with the accompanying exercises and worksheets. As a taster, the author has provided a few goal setting and happiness worksheets on her website. According to one reviewer, it also provides a good discussion on the inadequacies of SMART goals.

ACHIEVE: Find Out Who You Are, What You Really Want, And How To Make It Happen

by Dr Chris Friesen

What intrigues me about this book, written by a psychologist, is that it approaches goal setting from the angle of personality type. He defines 5 basic personality tendencies in order to help us better know ourselves and use that understanding as the basis for identifying and setting goals. This excerpt from the introduction secured this book’s spot in my cart:

The key to success is to know your WHY — your purpose or mission. And to really find out what your purpose or mission is, you need to know your core personality and what you truly value. Only then can you try to discover how you can use your strengths, interests, passions, talents, and skills to work toward your purpose or mission. Once you know your purpose and mission, then you can choose goals that truly are meaningful to you and then work toward them.

Goals!: How to Get Everything You Want — Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible

by Brian Tracy

Since I mentioned Brian Tracy earlier, I’d be remiss not to consider his book on goals. If for no other reason than to get an old-school perspective on this age-old topic. I’m a little reluctant as I know he pushes SMART goals, but the book also goes into clarifying your values and eliminating limiting beliefs. And I do quite like his straightforward style.

This excerpt from the preview succinctly captures my current state of mental fog:

Living without clear goals is like driving in a thick fog. No matter how powerful or well engineered your car, you drive slowly, hesitantly, making little progress on even the smoothest road. Deciding upon your goals clears the fog immediately and allows you to focus and channel your energies and abilities toward what you really want. Clear goals enable you to step on the accelerator of your own life and race ahead rapidly toward achieving more of what you want in life.

Dailygreatness Journal: A Practical Guide For Consciously Creating Your Days

by Lyndelle Palmer Clarke

The Dailygreatness Journal: : A Practical Guide For Consciously Creating Your Days

I’ve been eyeing out the Dailygreatness Journal for a couple of years now and think the time has come for me to take the plunge. Needless to say, I’m already sold on the bright orange cover! Being in Australia, I was held back in the past by the cost of postage from the US but they now ship directly from their Australian store, which makes it a little cheaper.

If you’re looking for more of a calendar tool with prompts and suggestions to tease out your goals on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, this undated planner could be the solution. Although it really does belong in the productivity category, I’m listing it here because it includes life clarity worksheets and a goal planning system and I think it’ll make a great companion to The Focus Course.

There’s also a Dailygreatness Business Planner: An Actionable Plan for Expanding Your Mind & Exploding Your Business, and if you can’t decide which you prefer, they can be purchased as a duo.

Phew! One 40 day course and 10 books. With only two and a half months until 2018, I’d better get cracking!

I intend to make a start this evening, with a crisp glass of wine and my beautiful new, intensely orange Bookbinders Design notebook which My Beloved bought for me on a recent trip to Sweden. (If you read my previous post, alas, it wasn’t wrapped up with some Happy Socks® in case you were wondering.)

Which brings me, somewhat off topic, to…

The Orange Wine Festival in October

No, not wine made from oranges. Orange liqueur maybe. Orange wine, no thanks! But in a deliciously satisfying case of serendipity — referring back to the orange-feels I always get in October — I just discovered that the region of Orange in New South Wales holds its Wine Festival in October.

This year it runs from 13 to 22 October, which means the fun is already underway. I’ve never been to Orange, but I’ve savoured more than a few good glasses of cool climate Pinot Gris from the region since moving to Australia. As I’m actually in Tasmania, Orange is sadly a bit far away for me to attend this year. But maybe it’ll make it into my list of goals for 2018.

I hope you’ve found something in this selection to catapult you into fired-up, goal-setting mastery. Do you have any favourite goal-setting resources to add to this list? I’d love to learn about them so let me know via the comments below.

Casting more limelight on the humble but mighty sock while also illuminating ways to live simply, fully and meaningfully.
  1. Loving the Dailygreatness Journal! I wish I would’ve known about it yesterday – I just ordered a planner/gratitude journal but it’s on backorder. Still will help me with my goals. I tend to get so overwhelmed with my goals and ideas to the point that it’s debilitating. I need to focus on making my goals more focused and pay attention to what I can do NOW instead seeing my “overall plan” and being overwhelmed by it. Anyways, loved the post!
    1. Hi Jessie, So glad you loved the post, thank you! Which journal have you just purchased? I’m thinking of doing a post entirely on journals, as there are so many of them. I know exactly what you mean about being debilitated by the overwhelm. I hope that by the time I’ve read through all this material (I wondered if maybe I’d included too many options!), I’ll be able to construct a system that works for me. Best of luck with your own goal-setting journey 🙂
  2. First off, I’m so glad you mentioned “Eat that Frog”, I’m like 3/4 of the way to completing that book and goodness it’s ah-ma-zing! I loved this article and appreciate all the links you provided for people who prefer audiobooks vs physical books. The only other book I’d recommend for goal-setting is “Scrum” by Jeff Sutherland. It goes over a system that sets goals on a week-by-week basis. My short explanation probably doesn’t do the book justice, but do some research and see if this book is right for you.
    1. Thanks so much for the suggestion of “Scrum”, Carprincess. I haven’t come across it before so am off to take a look right away! I didn’t include Eat that Frog in the actual listing because I wonder if it falls more under actual productivity. But it probably does deserve more than the passing mention I gave it 🙂 Really glad you loved the post, thank you.
    1. Thank you, Jessica. I hope you find something to help you. At present I’m working through ‘Creating Your Best Life: The Ultimate Life List Guide’, and it’s really got me thinking and acting!
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