January – the beginning of a new year; the time when we look at our lives and resolve to do things differently. Most people set resolutions in January but have often broken them by February. In this article, I’m going to discuss the use of more rigorous goal setting – akin to that used in the workplace – to get more out of expat life. For accompanying partners, whatever your employment status, goal setting can be a meaningful process of evaluation which enables a critical look at life and creates an intention of how to use your time. The article will also give you some tips on how to make your goal setting more effective and pass on some resources that you might find helpful in my own annual goal setting process.Why set goals?
First, some of the aspects of life that make being an expat accompanying partner challenging can also create opportunity. For instance, taking time out from your career is the most obvious example of a decision with challenging consequences but also provides the opportunity to try things that were precluded due to lack of time. A conscious planning process can be a key tool in realising those opportunities and in making the most of your expat experience.
Second, deliberate planning can be pivotal in avoiding one of the most common traps into which the expat accompanying partner can fall; that of making commitments not because they fit your values and purpose but simply because, at a time when you are vulnerable, it feels great to be asked.
How to set effective goals?
• Set goals rather than resolutions. This may seem semantic but goals are something you work towards, resolutions are things you do or don’t do. Even if you miss your goal you can make progress towards it whereas if a resolution is broken, there is a much greater probability that you will give up on it all together.
• Make sure that you are setting goals and objectives that are consistent with who you are and that as many as possible are related to things that give you energy and fulfilment. If you are new to expat life, this and the next step are particularly important as many of the ways you are spending your time may be new.
• Build on what you have. Look at the last year or the last few months and consider what you have already achieved, what you have enjoyed and what has not been good. Use that information to help you decide what your focus should be for the coming year.
• Make your goals SMART – Specific (a quantifiable goal), Measurable (will you know when you have reached the goal), Attainable (is it reasonable to expect that you can achieve the goal), Relevant (is it something which is consistent with your life at the moment) and Time-Bound (when do you expect to achieve your goal).
• Create a goal but also consider the steps required to achieve that goal – what do you want and what are the specific actions you need to perform to get there?
• Don’t try to change everything at once – if you want to make big changes, break the changes into smaller steps with shorter time-frames.
• Evaluate and re-evaluate throughout the year – what progress have you made? if you are not making the progress that you wanted to make towards a goal, why not? Don’t be afraid to add new goals, adjust timeframes or jettison goals that just don’t feel right
• Share your goals with your partner or a friend. Having someone who asks about your progress can create an increased sense of responsibility.
• Consider doing a separate goal setting session for your family as an entity, helping to ensure that your family maintains some activities that have a common focus in a time when each individual is creating a new life.
There are literally hundreds of online resources and tools for facilitating goal setting but I find myself coming back to the same two every year.
• I love Chris Guillebeau’s annual review process. It describes a comprehensive methodology for reviewing the prior year and building and achieving a set of goals for the coming year.
• Lululemon (the Vancouver based maker of yoga and sports apparel) has the Goaltender tool – registered users can use the tool to help them define their goals and track them throughout the year.
If you have an expat goal you want to achieve in 2012 share it below. Happy 2012!
Evelyn Simpson is a personal development coach who works with the accompanying partners of expats helping them to transition to expat life and to find happiness and fulfilment in their lives overseas. Evelyn has spent almost all of her adult life living as an expat on 3 continents and in 5 countries. She’s been a working expat, an accompanying partner and has founded her own portable business, The Smart Expat, while overseas. Evelyn and her Australian husband have two children who have yet to live in either of their passport countries.
You can learn more about Evelyn and her work at www.thesmartexpat.com where she blogs regularly about expat life.