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Backwards Design Your Year

Here we go. . . everyone is about to start the 2022 countdown. With that comes the questions about your New Years Resolution. Perhaps you're one of those people who say you don't "believe in" resolutions. But the truth is we all set goals, however, maybe what you don't "believe in" is accountability. How can we get comfortable with setting and sharing our goals?

One way is to set more manageable goals and share the "chunks." What does that mean? Educators and instructional designers have a secret design weapon: backwards design. What, pray tell, is backwards design? Much as the name implies, backwards design means starting with the end in mind and reverse engineering the plan. I've previously written about setting an audacious goal which you should read first if you're still trying to figure out your C-type goal.

Let's get to an example of backwards design. If my resolution is to improve my health, that is my goal and it's the end I'll have in mind to backwards design the steps to achieve that goal. But "improve my health" is incredibly broad, vague, and, therefore, nearly impossible to achieve. That's why so many resolutions languish, or even flame out in a month. I have to work back from "improve my health" to define what that means for me.

To continue with this example, after I have my audacious goal, my next step is to define what success will look like. I can do that with a simple question: If I improve my health, what would success look like? Or an image of achievement such as, What would I look like or feel like if I revolutionized my health? What would I be able to do? Maybe it's working out four times per week, converting to an intermittent fasting plan, taking up martial arts and earning a green belt, or losing a certain percentage of body fat. Whatever it is for you; you get the idea. But the metric(s) should be observable and measurable.

The next "backwards" step is to chunk down each of those metrics into actionable items. Let's say I want to earn that green belt, I need to make a plan for the year. I tend to divide my year in quarters because three months is a good checkpoint for me. In this example, I need to spend first quarter joining a dojang, attending lessons weekly, practicing daily, and learning the routine for the first belt exam. I'll set a new and extended action plan for second quarter and so on.

Doesn't that first quarter plan seem so much more attainable than the vague notion of improving my health when it was undefined?

Now when someone asks for your New Year's Resolution, you won't say "improve my health," avoid the question, or claim to "not believe in" resolutions. Instead you will confidnetly reply, "I'm joining a Taekwondo studio to earn my first belt." That is actionable, measurable, and . . . exciting!

What audacious goal are you backwards designing for 2023?

Photo courtesy of Ann H with Pexels

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