It’s a few days into the new year. The Christmas lights are down, decorations put away, and holiday magic now lies dormant for another year. There is almost something peaceful and restorative once everything is over. As a Christmas fanatic, I can assure you I’m one of the first to turn on the Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving and play it until the songs are tired of even themselves. But after the stockings are neatly folded and the ornaments carefully wrapped and put away, I find the end of the holiday season almost cathartic. A fresh start to a fresh year.
I always tend to laugh at all the people making resolutions on January 1. They have such big plans for the year ahead. Inevitably there is always “eat healthy”, “exercise”, and a “be more”/”be less” on the list. Don’t get me wrong, I love goal setting. I think it is an important thing to do for yourself, and evaluating and revising our goals is how we grow and see evidence of that growth as a person. However, setting these arbitrary goals that tend to only last a month or so seems like an ineffective use of our energy. Lord knows there isn’t enough of that around to waste!
What is it about the new year that drives us to, sometimes desperately, try to change ourselves? Maybe it is because there is nothing like the feeling of that fresh first day of the first month on a brand spankin’ new calendar, especially if the year behind you was difficult or long. Maybe it’s because now feels like the right time to become someone else, especially if we don’t like who we have been. Maybe it is because of a birthday, marriage, divorce, baby, or some other catastrophically good or bad life event.
Whatever the drive is, it is great to set goals. I think it is important, though, to recognize that goals are a work in progress, and need continuous evaluation, changes, and restarts through the year. We cannot just rely on a date on a calendar to set and work towards goals (although it’s a great place to start if you haven’t yet!). We also need to rely on our ability to constantly change, improve, and refocus.
How do we set these goals? When goal setting, it is important to differentiate goals from action steps. “I want to be happier this year” is a great goal, but what does that look like? What does that feel like? How will you measure this? It can change from person to person. Some action steps might look like this:
Goal: Be happier in 2017
Measure: Less stress, more inner peace, accomplish three personal projects
- Sign up for (and attend!) yoga class to learn how to meditate and control physical stress.
- Set aside one hour both Saturday and Sunday for personal projects (writing one day, painting the other).
- Set aside 20 minutes on Monday, Wednesday, Friday to pick up the house (less clutter and mess = less stress).
Here we can see several things. We can see the actual goal in mind for the year. We can see how movement towards this goal will make us feel (calmer and more tranquil in mind and body), and we can see specifically how this goal will be accomplished.
I have a bad habit of making lofty goals for myself—Painting! Writing! Exercising!—but end up getting so overwhelmed by my goals that I don’t know where to start and quit before I even begin. My failure is not because I tried and it didn’t work out, it was because I didn’t even begin! What is that cliché phrase? You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take?
Look, no one is perfect. Life is hectic, and things happen. To be really honest, I (and maybe you, too) won’t accomplish every single step and every single goal this year. Or you might discover that downward dog really sucks and you hate your ass in yoga pants and drop the class. That’s totally fine, too. As we change, goals change. The more I try to force something to be resolute, the more I get angry and resentful at it. Instead of aiming for perfection, aim for just starting. Begin the process. Frequently, I find that once I get started my motivation increases and I accomplish, and follow through with, a lot more.
My first goal I’m making a relatively easy one. I hope it is, anyway. I want to live in the moment more, and primarily I plan to accomplish this by putting my phone down more and not living through social media. I don’t want to miss a moment with my handsome son or that wonderful big guy that married messy ol’ me. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m addicted to technology. I have a zillion other goals, so I should probably follow my own advice and start making those pesky action steps.
Step 1: Walk awaaaaayyyy from the computer…