If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t predict what’s going to happen in the future, in spite of our best efforts. But this doesn’t mean we should forget to set goals! There’s always something we can do to empower ourselves and work towards improving our situation, whether that’s learning a new skill, being a more ethical person or connecting more with friends and family. And the best part for long distance couples? It helps you stay connected and it’s so much more fun to create the life you want together with a partner.

But, where do you begin? There’s so much advice online about how to set goals individually, but what about setting goals as a couple, especially when there are miles between you?

Well, thanks partly to quarantine kickstarting a bunch of new digital innovations, there are now so many tools, apps and awesome resources that can help you. I’ll cover some of those here, as well as how to have goal-setting dates with your long distance boyfriend or girlfriend, how you can keep each other motivated – and have fun doing it!

Step 1: Pencil in your goal-setting coffee date

Set up a Zoom, Facebook or WhatsApp date with your partner and brainstorm!

But wait – before you do that, make sure you have everything organised (see, we’re starting as we mean to go on 🙂 ). You could either invest in a physical planner, or you could use one of the online tools below. I recommend using a digital tool so that you can collaborate and sync up your notes.

Here are some amazing ones I’ve used:

  • Notion – an all-in-one personal wiki that does almost everything
  • Bullet journaling – if pen and paper is your preference (though this is harder to share with a partner)
  • Pinterest boards – I’m going to assume you’re familiar with Pinterest – it’s great for making a shared vision board!
  • Todoist – a simple, categorisable to-do list

Personally, I LOVE Notion. I use it to plan my whole life to a T.

As for Todoist – ah, I had such good intentions with Todoist… now my task list from 8 weeks ago pops up every now and then, taunting me. So I soon figured out that this particular app doesn’t work for me. But my partner loves it to keep track of his workout schedule. It might be great for you, too! Try different things and see what works.

So, now you’ve got your planning tools, what’s next? Everything is better with snacks, coffee or perhaps the odd glass of wine… So break out the comfort snacks and start your date!

Step 2. Identify the shared goals that are right for you

Your goals can be literally anything, but here are some ideas:

  • Savings
  • Travel
  • Learning new skills
  • Career or study goals
  • Social goals (making new friends or staying in touch with existing friends and family)
  • Moving in together
  • Fitness or diet goals

What are the best goals for you?

The goals that will make you feel fulfilled will be:

1. According to your values as a couple

Shared values are an integral part of a successful relationship, but we don’t always end up living, or even acknowledging, our most deeply held values. This is where it’s so incredibly helpful to do this exercise with a partner: if you’re not really sure what to do, just by spending a little time discussing what’s important to the two of you can set you on your journey to living a more intentional life.

It’s likely that some values will be so obvious that you don’t have to think about it. Others might take a bit more exploration. We’re told every day what we should find important and meaningful – so it can be difficult at first to know what we really feel and think. Talk together about it: What makes you feel energised and purposeful? What makes you feel terrible? What have been the most meaningful events in your life? It’s likely that your best times allowed you to live out your core values and the times you felt awful were the times when you were prevented from doing so.

2. Honest and transparent

Make sure you’re not using the idea of shared goal-setting to control what your partner does or try to change them. It’s perfectly okay to motivate each other, but you both need to be transparent about your ‘why’.

Step 3. Create a specific action plan

‘Saving for a vacation’ is a great goal, but normally too vague to be achievable. So how can we be more specific about it?

Here’s where it can help to walk backwards from your goal. If you succeeded in saving (for example), what would need to have happened for you to get there? Perhaps you would have to put some money away each month. That’s a good start! Now, be even more specific: when and how are you going to put some money away? How much will it be?

Going through this example will help you to break things down into very specific, actionable steps. For instance, you’ll have an action plan like every time I get my paycheck, I will put aside $100 into my savings account.

Once you have your action plan, put it in your diaries (use one of these apps to sync up your calendars). Not only will this help you keep each other motivated, it will also give you lots of small milestones to celebrate, which is important (more on this later).

Step 4: Start small

In Atomic Habits (which I highly recommend), James Clear talks about the concept of ‘standardising before you optimise’.

So if your daily goal is to walk for 30 minutes every morning, begin with a 5 minute walk until it’s automatic for you to take that walk. Then slowly scale up the amount of time you spend until you’re fulfilling 100% of your goal.

Step 5: Check in regularly

As well as keeping track of your shared goals with apps, texts and reminders, keep on having goal-setting dates with your partner and check in with each other about your progress.

Things don’t have to be super structured – your relationship isn’t a business meeting – but here are some things you could talk about:

  • What have you each found difficult?
  • Has anything been easier than you thought?
  • What has surprised you?
  • What are you most proud of?

Step 6: Reward yourselves and each other

Possibly your ultimate reward and your achievement will be the same thing, for example if your goal is to save for a vacation. But it’s also really motivating to have smaller milestones to celebrate.

Agree beforehand that when you reach certain stages on your journey, you’ll do something you love or treat each other to something special 🙂

The rule that helped me stop stressing about my goals

What’s the golden rule of goal-setting? To me, it’s figuring out what you can control and what you can’t.

You can control your actions, but you cannot control other people’s actions. This is why a goal like ‘I will get promoted at work’ may not be the best goal – the decision is ultimately not something that sits with you. Nor can you control huge, random life events (like a global pandemic). By all means, go for it, but your action plan may need adjusting if your reality changes – and that’s okay!

So, don’t be too upset if things don’t happen exactly as you’ve planned, because of things outside of your control. There’s a saying that when you shoot for the moon, if you miss you’ll still land among the stars. A bit cheesy, perhaps, but I think it’s actually quite helpful. Perhaps you don’t get that one specific job you were going for, even after months of networking and improving your skills. Or perhaps your goal was to lose 10 pounds by April and you only managed 9. I would still bet that you’re in a much better position now than you would have been if you’d not done anything at all. That’s something to celebrate!

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