Now is not the time to stop setting goals — it’s the time to start setting goals that feel right.

There’s no better time than right now to identify your core values, envision a future you truly want, and start taking the steps to get there. The tumult of 2020 is finally behind us, but uncertainty persists for many people – ranging from social isolation to financial concerns. Surely we can’t be blamed for putting our future goals on hold, right?

Tempting as that may be, such a pause is the wrong thing to do now, said Laura Bunch, a coach and program facilitator with Stanford GSB’s Career Management Center, who recently presented the seminar “Clarifying Your Values and Vision for a Fulfilling 2021”. Re-evaluating the plan for your future, she says, is one of the best things you can do for yourself at this moment. “Planning is challenging when you don’t know what two months from now is going to look like, and for a lot of people, that becomes a barrier to allowing themselves to think about their future,” Bunch says. “We need to understand that grounding yourself in your values and your vision is actually a powerful way to navigate uncertainty.”

Unlike other goal-setting programs that focus entirely on the end result, a vision approach is especially effective because it first considers the personal values critical to an individual’s happiness, then gives guidance on visualizing a future that incorporates those values. Use these techniques to stay focused on your personal and professional journey — even when the path seems blurry.

Reconnect with Your Values

Most of us have spent the past year in a permanent reactive state created by the onslaught of challenges delivered in 2020, Bunch says. Revisiting your core values can break that cycle. “Asking ‘What are my values? What’s meaningful to me?’ helps clarify who you are and what you want for the future,” she said. “It gives you back some control, and that can be incredibly empowering.” Bunch suggests brainstorming your values by thinking about moments in your life that you recall as “peak experiences” — times you felt aligned, invigorated, energized, and connected. “Generally, when you’re having a peak experience, you feel completely alive and fulfilled, because your values are being honored.”

Write the details that come to you, then find what values are reflected by that story. List the values that most deeply resonate with you, and use a scale of one to ten to ask yourself how well you’re currently honoring each of those values.

Prioritize Those Values

Once you’ve identified your essential values, take steps both immediately and over the next year to encourage their expression in your life.

Visualize Your Future

Our personal values can steer us toward the life we want, but getting there requires envisioning that future. Whether it’s visualizing a new job or a successful move to another country, imagining that success — in as much detail as possible — provides the focus and motivation necessary to achieve it. “There’s a lot of research that shows that visualizing your ideal future is almost like preparing and training your brain to get there,” she says. “The goal is to allow yourself to be creative and unrestrained, and that effort can focus either on a particular dream of yours or a full picture of what your life looks like in the future.”

The “WOOP” visualization technique can be an especially effective tool, because it allows you to visualize yourself overcoming inevitable obstacles as you imagine your eventual success.

W–Wish: IwanttohaveajobIlove.

O – Desired Outcome: I am more fulfilled and satisfied.

O – Obstacle: I avoid networking for fear of not being qualified enough.

P – Plan: I will contact three new people a week and, by the end of the month, apply to one job that makes me feel uncomfortable. If I start to feel “not good enough,” then I will take three deep breaths, stay present, and remember my wish.

“A big part of realizing your goals is having the mindset of celebrating small steps and being your own cheerleader,” Bunch says. “If you don’t take action, everything remains theoretical. But if you move into action and have self-compassion, who knows what will happen? Your vision and goals may evolve, but you’re moving out of reactivity and inertia and taking action on goals that are aligned with what matters to you. And that’s what it’s all about.”

Excerpt from Beth Jensen