I'm a big fan of goals (or targets, or headings, and so on). In fact, goal-setting in my household has been an annual thing for so long that my husband even prints them out as a business card-sized list that he can refer to throughout the year and keep forever for reflection.
Because of this, we attribute a lot of our success to our ability to set and focus on goals. But this past summer, as I was speaking with a friend who's been so crazy successful with nothing but opportunity ahead, I realized that setting goals can also be overwhelming and cloud our ability to take the action right NOW.
I could see how she felt like there was so much to do, yet wasn't sure what to do next or whether she'd get it all done. Through our discussion, the mantra, "Priorities make decisions a lot easier" rose to the surface. All of a sudden, the sequential order that her goals should take became clearer, and the path was less daunting. She felt capable — it wouldn't be easy (no great thing is), but it felt doable, and she made a sticky note with this exact message to keep on her laptop.
After this experience, the mantra came to me often while contemplating my options: Should I go out or stay in? Should I have that chocolate bar? Should I go back to work after my maternity leave is done? Each time, I felt relieved when my decision aligned with my priorities.
Now, here are how priorities differ from (and complement) goals:
Priorities should reflect the foundational concepts of your ideal life — like physical health, family, financial comfort, career and so on — making them less quantifiable than goals.
Unlike goals, priorities are allowed to shuffle often — sometimes, an epic night out with friends is more important than eating healthy.
Re-evaluating before making the decision is key. Let me use a yoga example: people often want madly just to be able to touch their toes, and it's great to have that focus and direction; however is it worth it at any cost? Obviously the answer is no, but sometimes it's easy to get too focused on the singular goal instead of pausing to reflect on what's most important in that moment.
Priorities don't have to follow a timeline. They don't expire when the year is over, new ones can be added at any time and others may fall off the list completely.
Some priorities trump others simply because they're required for basic survival — sometimes finances or living situation prohibit decisions that are 100% aligned with our desired priorities and we must honor these basic needs.
Should you ever feel like you're not sure what to do next, where to go or whether to stay, consider an exercise with a paper and pen where you list all of your potential priorities and then cut them out and shuffle them around until you think the order reflects your priorities at this time. Then consider your decision again in the context of this newly discovered hierarchy. Take a photo, make the decision, save the slips of paper in an envelope or jar and get em out next time your in a decision-making jam!