A New Year
A fresh calendar hangs on the wall over my desk, a beautiful mountain-scape taunting me to come out and play. But, I have work to do. The mountains will have to wait. Make no mistake, part of my New Year’s resolutions include spending time in the outdoors, as usual. I have a goal to hike the entire PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) in sections and I am behind schedule. Last season, I was only able to complete two sections for a total of 185 miles. I need to average about 250 miles a year now in order to finish the entire trail by time I’m 60.
The topic at hand today, since it is a new year, is goals. More specifically, how to set goals that will help you succeed and why that’s important.
Resolutions That Don’t Bring Results
Every year, we make a big deal of our resolutions, which is just a fancy way of saying that we plan to accomplish something. Oftentimes, people set outrageous goals that they are neither ready to tackle nor firmly convinced are necessary. Take for example the most common resolution made, which is also the resolution most quickly abandoned: Losing weight.
So many resolution-intenders clog the gym this time of year that it has become a running joke that the first two weeks of January are as crowded as the mall the week before Christmas. By February, the crowds have thinned (meaning the number of people in the gym, not their waistlines, per se) and those who are firm in their resolve to become or maintain a healthy level of fitness through working out are freer to use the equipment.
The next January these same people beat themselves up for not reaching a goal that they were never serious about in the first place. It becomes a burden to set resolutions because we have to face ourselves and our failures at the end of the year. Many have stopped the practice of resolution making, which I think is a crying shame. We shouldn’t abandon the practice of self-evaluation just because we’ve come up short repeatedly.
Fix the Pattern
The better way of making resolutions, ones that you might actually keep, is to set up incremental goals, goals that will help you improve step-by-step rather than in one humongous leap. A friend of mine shared with me his major goal for the year which, incidentally, had to do with weight loss. Actually, it’s a much larger goal to be in better overall health. His goal is broken down into monthly goals. He wants to weigh a certain amount at the end of each month. To do this, he knows he has to eat better and exercise more. He doesn’t like going to the gym much, so he decided to walk a certain number of miles per week, do a certain number of push-ups per day, as well as other routines aimed at reducing his waistline. (Notice I didn’t share the numbers with you? That’s on purpose. We should each figure out our own numbers and not compare ourselves to others.)
If we can check off a goal each day or each week, we will feel our progress regularly. As we make progress, we feel an increase in momentum. That momentum builds over time. As they say, “success breeds success,” so we want to put ourselves in a situation where we give ourselves the opportunity to succeed and the ability to check something off our list sooner rather than later. Try it. It works.
So, my goals for the year are ones that I can break down into attainable chunks on a daily or weekly basis. I have already failed at some of my daily goals, but as I get back on track, those few failures are drown out by the growing number of successes. For example, I want to publish three more novels this year. To do that, I need to consistently write about a thousand words a day. Some days it comes easily and I find that I’ve overshot my goal by 25-50%. Other days it’s a struggle to get a hundred words on the screen. So far, I have four days where I’ve reach the goal and three days where I haven’t. All in all, there are four chapters of a new book written that weren’t there before. That’s exciting to me. It shows progress. Sure, the goal of three novels in a year is daunting when I’ve only been able to do one per year for the past two years, but a thousand words a day, consistently, seems a lot easier to me than staring at roughly a thousand pages that need some text on them that tell cohesive and compelling stories.
My New Year’s Wish for You
My wish for you is that you set yourselves some attainable goals that have sub-goals and that allow you to measure your progress regularly and see and feel yourself moving forward, reaching and climbing and improving. Start now, no matter what day the calendar says it is. Today is a great day to take a step forward.
As they say, starting is half the battle. Just get started and chalk up your first win right away. Let the momentum of that success propel you to take the next step. Be prepared to celebrate along the way and congratulate yourself when you hit milestones.
So, instead of just wishing you a happy and prosperous New Year, I want to wish you the will to make it a happy year by achieving something meaningful to you and reflecting on it daily or weekly and not just at the end of the year. Life is what you make it, so make it good every day in 2017.