You've set your goals. Now set up your lifestyle & surroundings.

It’s a fresh start and a new year. You’ve likely set new goals or resolutions or whatever you like to call them. You probably did it last year too. Were you successful? If not, it may be because you didn’t take the next step – the most important step- in the process: setting up your lifestyle and surroundings to reflect those new goals and support them.

Willpower will only get us so far when trying to change a habit or adopt a new one. And our memories fail us – we quickly forget the goals we set or why we want them to begin with. So the next step after setting our goals is to make sure that our environments and lifestyle support us on our mission.

Because as James Clear says: “New goals don’t deliver results. New lifestyles do.”

Here are some next steps to design your new lifestyle and refresh your surroundings, in support of your goals.

1. Plan out your goals, and keep reminders of them.  

Make sure to write out your annual and also longer term goals in detail in a journal, and then break them down into manageable chunks. I use my normal writing journal to figure out my big goals and values and mission and then switch over to my Best Self Journal to plan out my goals based on 13-week chunks. The journal is based on one-quarter of the year, so you write out your goals for that quarter, then the actions and tasks you need to take to reach them. Then it allows you to schedule each day with those actions in mind, so you keep them front and centre and do the essentials first. What I also like about it is that it has a page for each week to reflect on what you’ve achieved, what you’re grateful for, and what you can do better next week. It’s a constant reminder of your goals so that you don’t lose track of them when daily life and distractions inevitably creep in.

Whether or not you use the Best Self Journal, write out your big goals, and then break them down in whatever planner/calendar you use so that your weeks and days are scheduled with your essential activities and goals first. Always.  

Also, consider having reminders of your goals everywhere, so they creep into your everyday life distractions, not the other way around. Use post-it notes, a desktop wallpaper, and screensaver, or perhaps a vision board that you see every morning.

2. Create “your sacred spot” to journal and to visualize your goals.

If you don’t have one already, create a comfortable spot in your home or office where you can spend quiet time to reflect and journal about your goals, and visualize them daily. This will be your own sacred spot just for you, where others in the household know not to interrupt you. You need this quiet spot to keep your goals top of mind and visualize yourself achieving them. It’s also your meditation spot to breathe deeply and be grateful for what you have now, and for what your life will be like when you reach your goals. Taking a few minutes each and every day for quiet time, journaling and visualizing is an extremely important element in a lifestyle that allows you to reach new heights.

3. Filter out the noise.

If we’re not living deliberately, the noise of life – the constant busyness, distractions, and meaningless activities- will drown out all of our good intentions. We need to be aware of and filter out the noise.  Determine what your noise is. Mine is Netflix, Facebook, email. and Instagram. If you decide that your goals are worth missing out on some of this noise, then set up systems and a lifestyle that reflects that.

A few suggestions on how to do that:

  • Set a specific and limited time each day when you watch TV/Netflix. For example, you may say that you only watch for maximum 2 hours/day after 7pm, and then you’ve limited how much time this takes up in your life.
  • Do the same for reading blogs or news sites.
  • Turn off notifications on your phone and computer, including that tempting unread message count on your apps.
  • Delete apps that aren’t helpful and organize the ones you keep so that they’re quickly found.
  • Unsubscribe from everything you can that’s not meaningful in your inbox. You can do this really quickly with  
  • Do the same with the blogs in your newsreader and your bookmarked pages.
  • Set a time (and a time limit) to check social media and email only 1-3 times per day. For example, you may check email in the morning, right before lunch and clean it all up before you end work for the day. The important thing is to set a limit, even going so far as to set a timer when you do this task. And also tell people when you will be responding, so that it sets expectations and they’ll get used to responses at certain times.
  • Set quiet times with your team. Negotiate with your supervisor and colleagues a certain time each day when there are no meetings, no pop-ins, and no interruptions. This time is used to be disconnected and focus on your essential work and creativity.
  • A cool idea – set Friday as a day for to catch up on business reading, professional development, networking, and social media for business – all at a local café, just like Sol Orwell did. In this way, you can eliminate doing these things through the week and batch them on Fridays.

4. Design your environment to support your activities and turn them into automatic habits.

It’s simple - make it easier to do the tasks required to move closer to achieving your goals. We’re less likely to cook at home if we don’t have the spices we need in a handy location. We won’t bother stopping at the gym if it’s not convenient on our way home from work.

The changes we make may seem small initially. For instance, it might not seem like much to move a book you want to read from the shelf to your nightstand. However, when you make incremental improvements to your environment, it becomes much easier to make incremental progress on your goals. Which in the long run becomes substantial progress.

Some ways to potentially set up your surroundings to support specific goals:

  • Clean out the kitchen cupboards of all the unhealthy foods that tempt you.
  • Organize your prep space to make cooking easier, and have lots of glass storage containers ready so you can have leftovers and freeze extras.
  • Set out your workout gear on the chair beside your bed the night before so you have no excuse not to do your morning workout.
  • Don’t keep your phone in your bedroom.
  • Load your phone with a running playlist that's ready to go.
  • Download audiobooks to listen to on your commute.
  • Bring a jar of healthy snacks to your office.
  • Buy a pretty water bottle you’ll like carrying around with you.
  • DIY a standing desk.

5. Start with a clean slate. 

Starting with a clean slate – not only mentally but in your physical environment as well - creates powerful subconscious motivators that make working toward your goals much easier. While properly setting up your surroundings makes it easier to consciously make progress on your goals, refreshing your whole space will subconsciously begin to make you the kind of person that would be able to reach the goals you’ve set. Like it or not, we are products of our environment. A small change in surroundings subtly shifts your entire identity and begins to change you. It’s also much easier to create new habits when we start fresh. As Gretchen Rubin, author of Better Than Before states, “because we are creatures of habit, the first marks on that slate prove indelible.”

You don’t have to spend a ton of money or time to refresh your surroundings. Here are some simple suggestions:

  • Paint the walls a bright white so that it feels fresh, new and gives you positive energy.
  • Ditch the yoga pants, ripped jeans and t-shirt for more business-smart attire – or at least an outfit that makes you feel confident and like someone who’s already reached their goals.
  • Buy a new bookshelf and fill it up throughout the year with all the books you’ve made it your goal to read.
  • Set the table with beautiful dishes each morning so that by dinnertime you resist eating in front of the TV, and therefore eat more mindfully.
  • Declutter your desk, table, and counters so that clutter from “before” doesn’t visually interfere with your fresh start.
  • Rearrange your furniture to be conducive to reading or perhaps yoga at home. Make sure to also then rearrange your wall decorations so that your “new” space feels permanent, not temporary.
  • Clear your nightstand of everything but essentials for a healthy bedtime routine and sleep (more ideas on that here).
  • Clean everything from top-bottom with a natural, non-toxic cleaner.

Often, we think that change comes from within. We set goals and believe that achieving them is about changing ourselves and exerting willpower. We discount the fact that optimizing our environment significantly impacts our actions. Setting up your surroundings and designing a lifestyle to match your goals makes it easier to accomplish them without having to think about or expend extra energy staying motivated. It’s the next key step to making your year a successful one.