checkI’ve never been more excited about a new year as I have this one. After a long, challenging 2009 and 2010, we can finally begin shaking off past difficulties, and lay the foundation for a bigger, brighter, happier, more rewarding 2011.

This is the best time of year for a guy like me. Every get together is a chance to meet new people and discover what makes them tick, what motivates them. Maybe because I earn my living understanding people, for me this is a season full of great opportunities to learn. I love getting to know people by asking deep questions.  I ask about their personal goals, what they want from life. You’d be amazed how often I get surprised stares in response.  Usually, they’ll recover with something like, “I just want to be happy.”   Do they ever leave the party wondering if maybe there is a better answer?

It blows my mind how many people never take the time to identify personal and professional goals. We live in a world where the majority operates in an amorphous “I want to be happy” state.  It’s no mystery to me why substance abuse is rampant today.  It’s a temporary fix, a quick and easy way to feel happy.

But life should be so much more than a series of sporadic glimpses of happiness.  In order to achieve real meaning, success, and satisfaction in life, you must define worthwhile, well thought-out goals.

Let me give you a personal example: I’m currently training to compete in the U.S. Pole Vaulting Masters series. I’ve been an athlete my entire adult life, but over the past couple years, I’ve suffered from chronic knee problems. Now that I’ve had knee surgery, my goal is nothing short of returning to the top of the sport I love. That means losing 26 pounds. That means getting to the gym by five a.m. every day and pushing myself – hard. It’s not fun.  But because I have a goal and I’m working to achieve it, I feel great! I’m in a better mood, and I feel more passionate about life.  The secret of long-term happiness is simple, but never easy:  it’s the pursuit of your goals.

The New Year is the time to start planning success for 2010. That means creating a roadmap to prosperity, one that will lets us achieve the hopes and dreams that somehow eluded us in 2009. By answering some very specific questions, we can set very POWERFUL goals—with the horsepower to achieve them in the face of any obstacle.  I know it sounds a little heavy….but trust me.  Spend a good 30 minutes writing the answer to each of the five questions below. Then internalize them; get them attached to the core of your being; and let New Year—and a new prosperity—begin.

Five questions that need to be answered before Goal Setting

What were my successes in 2010?

Take stock of what went well last year; you might find it was better than you thought.  When I asked myself this question, I identified some important successes that were achieved because I hired the right people. There were some key new accounts we brought in thanks to those smart hires.  Learn to celebrate your successes.

What were my shortcomings in 2010?

Let’s face it: It’s not that hard to compile a list of the things we’ve done well.   But it’s just as important to honestly evaluate what didn’t go as well as it could have.  Was it something you did?  Something you didn’t do?  Was it the economy? Was it a bad decision or an inability to make a decision at all? Did you make some regrettable changes or did you not change fast enough?  One point to remember: don’t let yourself off the hook by blaming something or someone else for the year’s shortcomings.

What can I learn from 2010?

When answering this question, also list three things in both your personal and professional lives that if changed today would significantly impact the quality of your life. It might be tempting to go crazy here, but three will be enough – if you take the time to truly prioritize. Once identified, these are the things to take action on today – to keep 2011 free of the distractions that can sidetrack your quest to reach your potential.

For what am I truly grateful in my life?

When goal setting, never lose sight of what matters most to you.  By reflecting upon that for which you are truly grateful, your goals will be consistent with your priorities.  Goals that conflict with the most important things in your life tend to be self defeating.  It’s never a good strategy to give up everything to win a battle and ultimately lose the war.

For example, if you set a goal to expand your business to gain customers all across the country, what are the costs? If that worthy goal means it will take you away from your family more often than is healthy, you may need to rethink that goal.

Sit back.  Reflect.  Smile… It’s such a great feeling to count your blessings.

What is my why?

This is probably the most important question of all.  Your “Why” is the reason you get up in the morning.   It’s the thing that drives you.  It’s what you are passionate about.  It’s the excitement, the enthusiasm in your life.  It’s the person, event, or purpose in your life, that you would climb any mountain for, walk through any brick wall for – or even take a bullet for. Your “Why” is always most powerful when it’s NOT about you. If you can develop and internalize your “Why” the “How” will be easy.

The “Why” that drove me to obtain my life goals is an event that happened 23 years ago.  All at once, I had a lot going on in life. My wife and I built our first home, purchased two new cars and became first-time parents of a beautiful baby girl. When my daughter Danielle was just three months old, I decided to take another job – but it was 100-percent commission.  It seemed like a great decision until a few months later. The economy slowed and so did the commission checks. All of the sudden Danielle’s six month shots were due and I didn’t have the money to pay for them. I couldn’t sleep at night knowing I didn’t have enough money to provide a basic need for my daughter.

And that’s when I had an epiphany. I vowed to never again let my family down.  That event drove me to achieve a level of success that may never have been possible had it not occurred.   I became the company’s top rep, was promoted and eventually left the firm to found my own company.  I look back at that event as the launching point of an unbelievable career.  Figure out your “Why”….the rest will be a given.

So there you have it, ‘The five questions that can change your life’.  Answer them, really internalize them, and you will be well on your way to making 2011 your best year yet.

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