Goals vs. Accomplishments

One of the things I like to do around New Year’s Day is reflect on the previous year and look forward to the next, in terms of what I want to do and the things I want to concentrate on. I generally write in my journal for a few days and then come up with a very short list of goals, usually around 4 or 5 items. The goals almost invariably have to do with writing, travel, and money, although now and then something else gets thrown in.

I usually have about a 50/50 success rate on accomplishing my stated goals, but this year as I looked back over the previous year as well as the past 8 or 10 years of goals, I noticed an interesting pattern. The first thing was that in previous years, even when I didn’t accomplish a goal within that year, oftentimes it did happen a year or two later. The second thing I noticed was that even though I accomplished NONE of my goals for 2011, when I wrote out my accomplishments for the year, I was stunned. It was not just a good year for me, it was a very productive one.

All this got me thinking about the difference between goals and accomplishments, and the role of intention. Because even when I didn’t meet a goal in a particular year, my intention to focus on that particular item helped me reach the goal a year or two later. For example, I had the goal to “start meditating” as far back as 2008, but I only started doing it regularly last year. Many of my travel goals came true several years after first writing them down.

Some of the goals I set for myself last year were partially reached, but a few of them just plain didn’t happen. The ones that didn’t happen were focused on results, things I don’t have much control over, like how many stories I’d have published and how much money I’d make. I can control how many stories I write, and even how many I submit, but I don’t have much control over how many will be published, except by practicing the craft of writing and becoming a better writer. Similarly, I can control how much I try to work, and attempt to get more work, but I don’t have a lot of control over the final figure at the end of the year.

What was really interesting was comparing my rather poor results on the goals list with my list of accomplishments for 2011. Here are just a few of them: Ran a half-marathon, became a Big Sister, started two new part-time jobs, started meditating, and started knitting again. None of those accomplishments were on my goal list for the year, though all of them had been something I’d wanted to do at some point in my life. And I’m proud and excited about all of them!

What do I make of all this? I think that whether we call them goals or accomplishments or something else, it’s the intention that helps bring about the reality of what we want to bring into our life. And the words can get tricky, and can descend quickly into semantics, but at the same time I believe we need to stay open to what might sneak in and take us by surprise. Sometimes things we didn’t even know we wanted can become an integral part of our life when we’re open to it. I’ve thought about becoming a Big Sister for years, but I didn’t know this would be the year it would fall into my lap. And I never realized how rewarding it would be and how attached I would become to my Little Sister in just a few short months. I’m looking forward to introducing her to so many things she’s never experienced. And I know I’ll experience them anew through her.

Do you set goals or intentions for the year, or do you leave it open, or do you fall somewhere in between? Or maybe you begin a clean slate on another calendar day. Please leave your thoughts on goals, accomplishments, and intentions in the Comments section.


  1. says

    How neat that you’ve kept a list of your goals for so long. I haven’t done that; but, I am finding that I’m accomplishing so much more since I’ve given up this “all or nothing” resolution attitude and focused more on small but healthy changes. I think my one resolution last year was to drink more water and from there, a bunch of other things have happened. I started drinking less coffee and started getting more exercise and focused more on the food I was making and so on. For years I’ve had big goals but by doing little things I seem to be accomplishing them years later, just as you mentioned.

    • Angela says

      Daryl, I’m a huge believer in “baby steps.” It’s what’s always worked for me. I try to tell people they’re setting themselves up for failure if they resolve to do anything every single day.

      And yes, I have also had that experience, when starting off with one small goal leads to lots of others. In this case, healthy habits breed more healthy habits.

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience!

  2. says

    I have found that what works best for me is to pick one big thing I want to focus on for the year. In 2011, it was getting a book written and published, which took a lot of determination to finish, and I just squeaked it in under the wire (it was published in December, and I’d actually started writing it in 2010). This year my hubby and I agreed to focus on working on our house, which was a fixer-upper when we bought it 8 1/2 yrs ago and still needs a lot of work (now that our kids are getting older, it will be easier to get some of these bigger house-related projects done!). I like to take some time to look back over the year as you do, and I was actually surprised to see what we’d accomplished in 2011 – more than I’d realized!

    • Angela says

      Big congrats on getting a book written and published? What is the book?

      And good luck with the house projects. We also bought a fixer upper, around the same time as you, and we find that we have to do things in chunks or else it will take over our life. So my husband will get one or two big projects done when he has some energy, and then try not to think about all we still need to do when he takes time off for a few or several months.

      Happy New Year, and thanks so much for commenting!

      • says

        Angela, the book is called Cheap Appétit: The Complete Guide to Feeding Your Family for Less Than $400 a Month (While Eating Better Than You Ever Thought Possible). More info is here: http://abundanceonadime.blogspot.com/p/cheap-appetit-my-book.html.

        Re: the house, we have taken the same type of approach and done things in chunks here and there with breaks in between, because I agree it can absolutely take over your life. There are quite a few really pain-in-the-butt projects we’ve been procrastinating on for ages, things like putting a new ceiling in the kitchen, stripping wallpaper from the main rooms of the house (living and dining room) and dealing with whatever we find underneath it (old plaster walls are always full of surprises), taking out the old fireplace mantel and replacing it with a smaller one (which is going to involve rebuilding part of the living room wall) plus other stuff we’d just rather not think about :) that we are hoping to finally get done this year. It can definitely be overwhelming if you don’t take it one project at a time!

  3. says

    Good post, Angela.

    My “resolution/goal/plan/intent” for 2012 is simple . . . let go of the “OLD” to make room for the “NOW.” More specifically:

    * Remain awake and aware.
    * Stay focused on THIS moment.
    * Enjoy the journey.
    * Be patient ~ allow the path to unfold.
    * Be Here Now.

    Happy NOW Year! 😀

    • Angela says

      Thanks Nancy! Love your menu for 2012, since NOW is the most important thing of all. :)

      Thanks for being a faithful reader and commenter.

      happy NOW year! :)

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