I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions. I’m just not into breaking promises, especially to myself. But I do plan my year ahead — more like a ‘where I am now and where I want to get to’ deal.
There’s actually research about why people set NY resolutions and why they break them. The setting is simple — a new year signals a new beginning, a chance to start fresh, a really clearly delineated marker between who I was then, and who I am now. But inherent in that is telling ourselves that we’re better people now, or at least we want to be, and that’s kind of sad.
The reasons we break NY resolutions isn’t because we’re the less-than people we think we are, obviously. It’s because we either set vague, lofty intentions, or because we don’t actually make a plan.
We make a wish.
And seriously, unless you’re relying on a fairy godmother or the awesome foundation (criteria includes being a child with terminal illness), you’re doomed to trip up….probably around the 3rd or 4th of January…or the 15th if you’re really disciplined! Without any parameters, or ones which represent a radical departure from your now-life, you’re obviously going to stray from the path. Once you do, it feels like failure and so you give up entirely. Good bye resolutions, and good bye any hope of being the better version of yourself you started the year so optimistically rooting for.
Does this mean New Year’s resolutions are stupid? No. They’re a bit of fun if you don’t take them too seriously. But just don’t expect them to support you towards your goals and dreams.
How do I get to where I want to be? I’m glad you asked!
I definitely do take the opportunity of the new year marker to strive for personal growth because it’s an easy way to keep track and punctuate progress. Like most people, 2020 was a write off for me, but I can confine my losses to one year — in my head at least — and feel like I am still on the path.
For as long as I can remember I have been setting goals at the start of each year, but my methods have been refined over time. I’d like to share with you what I am currently doing that allows me to feel like my life every.single.day means something.
1. Start with a Review
It’s actually incredible what difference a year makes. 365 opportunities to take small steps forward. If you saved $1 a day you’d have a nice kitty come December 31. If you added 1kg a month, you’d have 12 bad boys to shift in the new year!
Huge things can happen in any given year, but in fact rarely do — not every year anyway — but lots of small things almost certainly did, and without taking the time to really examine life it’s easy to feel like nothing much changed at all. Like an enormous ship turning, you can find yourself off course if you miss the opportunity to regularly self-correct.
My review consists of a few key questions:
- Where am I at in my life right now?
- Where would I like to be in a year?
- What have I already accomplished in my life?
- What would I like to focus on next?
- What’s going well for me?
- What needs review?
- What’s holding me back?
- What’s my motivation to succeed?
There is sometimes some crossover or duplication, and other times I find that looking back my perspectives have changed. It’s a great way to practice self-growth.
Wisdom: “The unexamined life is not worth living” — Socrates
2. Decide what’s important in life — today and in the future
Before I get into the nitty gritty, I first come up with 3 or 4 areas where I really want to have impact. Unlike making four NY resolutions — which is a bit overwhelming with a raging hangover on January 1st — think about your personal values and what makes a good life for you.
Instead of “I’m not going to eat junk food, I’ll save a house deposit, spend more time volunteering, and get a promotion”….try “Health, Financial responsibility, Community connection, Career Satisfaction”. This provides clarity about where you’re actually investing your energy.
The why instead of the what or the how.
You may not be capable of saving 20% of the price of a house in the out-of-control capital city real estate market, but you can work on spending less and banking a little more each month. Getting a promotion is somewhat out of your hands, but you can commit to demonstrating your value to the company or taking some courses to develop your skills.
As for me, I’ve stretched beyond values this year and settled on some themes. My four themes are:
Wisdom: “Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.” — Gandhi
They say ‘life is a journey’, and I feel that’s true. When it comes to health, we all hope it’s with us for the long haul. We don’t get health; we must take small steps each day to either improve it, or avoid losing it. Excepting a catastrophic accident, a disease diagnosis or…um…a global pandemic, I know that if I want health in 10 years, it’s the things I do this year and the next that count.
Thinking back to the values and themes I identified, I approach their accomplishment as a life-long work in progress.
I really understand and accept the value of S.M.A.R.T. goals as outlined in every modern business or self-help book you’ve ever read. The T (Time-bound) is taken care of — these are annual goals after all. But the parts I focus on most is R — ‘realistic’. Making non-realistic pronouncements at the strike of midnight, such as finding the love of your life this year, is exactly why NY resolutions fail at the first sign of some dude ghosting you before deleting you off Tinder.
Instead, I visualise what I pondered in the review (questions 2 & 4) and come up with 2 or 3 realistic (and sometimes M — measurable) things that would take me closer to that imagined future state.
At this point I don’t worry too much about being S — specific or A — achievable. We’ll get to that bit next.
Wisdom: “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.” — Bill Gates
4. Monthly challenges, should you choose to accept them
Another reason NY resolutions fail is that we make them once, while we’re in holiday mode, divorced from our everyday lives, and then expect we’ll magically find ourselves in that place by the time Christmas rolls around as if real life doesn’t get in the way and you forgot you swore off Netflix bingeing!
Recently I listened to a podcast that revealed research that backs this up. We need to re-commit regularly to our stated goals. Monthly challenges allow you to dial up or down whether you’re in a position to push yourself and leap forward, or need a re-do if you missed the mark (without waiting till the next New Year’s eve).
Milestones are the key to making visible progress on anything, and progress is extremely motivating. Resolving to stop drinking ‘forever, the end’ is a hard sell, but most people can do almost anything for a month. At the end of the month, I have achieved something even if it’s not my ultimate goal. Sometimes the challenges are mini achievements in themselves, and sometimes they are part of habit forming so that the change gets easier over time and just becomes a thing that I do — part of the (new and improved) me.
You can choose to do one challenge per value/theme, or 3 challenges in one area, or focus on one big challenge only, or whatever works for you. The secret is making it specific and measurable — something you can answer a yes or no to, or something you can count to know whether the challenge was achieved…or not. Be sure to track it to keep accountable — to yourself if not to anyone else. Set daily reminders for yourself, use a diary to score yourself, or the calendar on your phone to record a tally. At the end of each month it’s easy to see:
Did I hit the target? Did I smash the challenge?
A couple of years ago I set a goal to save 10% of my income, which is pretty modest, and I knew I could achieve it. So during the year I challenged myself to a ‘stretch goal’ of 50% that month which seemed ridiculous on my tiny income. However, I managed to do it, then again and again over several months. Come the end of the year, with my fluctuating income, I had managed to save that 50% of my annual income stretch goal. Yay me!
This is the benefit of monthly challenges. It allows flexibility, and by not focusing too much on achievability in the initial goal-setting phase, you can push yourself beyond what seemed possible before you had any experience of success.
For some ideas of monthly challenges, these are mine for January:
- to earn $100 (outside of my salary) — tied to my Business theme
- do one fun activity each week as a minimum (I’ve signed up for African drumming classes and I actively seek out events happening in my area) — tied to Joy
- a food challenge related to using up items already in my pantry (I tend to have snacks for dinner instead of cooking a meal with the lentils!) — tied to Health (and Home actually — gotta get rid of clutter!)
Wisdom: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” — Will Durant
5. The brilliant simplicity of a To-Do List
I am a huge fan of lists. The feeling of ticking things off is immensely satisfying. Nobody can feel unproductive when they’ve listed what they’ll spend their time doing, then progressively adding a visual marker that they did indeed do that thing.
So my final step to get where I want to be is creating a To-Do list. You can make them weekly but I tend to stick to monthly or create specific deadlines as relevant.
- Make that specialist’s appointment I’ve been putting off. TICK
- Phone my bank to ask for a mortgage rate reduction. TICK
- Sign up for a belly dancing trial class. TICK
- Create the Facebook page for my new business idea. TICK
This final step simply reinforces the impact of the monthly challenges, but also helps plug holes to get me from A to B. The tasks complement my goals. They’re the small stuff that on their own don’t represent an ‘achievement’ but combined they build the foundations for success — they help me to feel I am always moving forward and filling my life with the things that matter to me.
Wisdom: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” — Lao Tzu
There’s this story about Rocks, Pebbles and Sand — each representing the value of individual components that make up the whole. Simply, the idea is that you first add the biggest and most important things (the ‘rocks’) to the jar (your life), then you add the pebbles which provide the padding and help fill the spaces in between, and finally the small stuff (the ‘sand’) which ensures you have maximised the available volume of a finite vessel.
In living my best life, the rocks are my values, the pebbles are my monthly challenges, and the sand is made up of my to-dos.
As they say, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ but by harnessing the momentum of one year clicking over to the next number in sequence, I can plan to lay one brick at a time to achieve something great. No guilt for breaking New Year’s Resolutions required. There’s always tomorrow to take another step to where I want to be.
“From little things, big things grow” — Paul Kelly
How can you get to where you want to be on January 1st,2022?