I don’t like the term “resolutions.” As in New Years resolutions. As in ‘not gonna happen.’ Did you know that only 8% of the people that make New Years resolutions actually achieve those resolutions? I find that depressing.
Yet, this year when I went through the goals I’d set in January of 2015 I discovered I’d actually achieved all but 2 of the 10 I set for myself. In 2014, I hit 6 of the 9 goals I set for myself. That’s a lot better than the zero I achieved in years previous. I seem to have found a formula that works! Here’s what I did to shift the energy, get stuff done, and feel great about myself as a result.
Goals, not resolutions
The term resolution is associated with failure for me, so I changed the terminology. This year I set “Goals for 2016” instead of New Years resolutions. This may sound silly because it’s basically the same activity, but it shifts the whole energy of the experience for me.
I once heard Brene Brown talking about how she hated the terms mindfulness and yogic breathing (breathe in to a count of 4, hold, breathe out to a count of 4, hold, repeat) and resisted the concepts because of the context in which they were presented. Then she heard someone refer to them as “paying attention” and “tactical breathing” (same breath pattern, but practiced in the military) and found she digest and embrace these ideas in this different presentation.
Sometimes the context in which we learn terms and concepts are very emotionally charged. Changing the terms and the context can open you to the benefits within them.
(And by the way, if you haven’t seen it already, check out Brene Brown’s Ted Talk. She’s awesome.)
Write your goals
I don’t know how many times I emphatically stated, “My New Years resolution is to _______!” and then I didn’t ______. There is power in writing down your goals. It’s part of the reason writing was invented: to keep track of stuff! I learned from Dr. Ivan Misner, the founder of modern business networking, that what you track, you attract. Want to attract more money, build your business clientele, build up to running a marathon? Track it. Want to achieve a yearly goal? Track it.
Ritualize the experience
My partner and I ritualize this activity: we sit down together, write our goals out in short sentences, roll each one up, and put it in a special cup that sits on an altar in our living room all year long. That’s just how we do it. Create a ritual that makes sense to you.
Regardless of how you do it, this gives a formality and a sense of seriousness to yearly goal setting. We also read our goals to each other, which helps us really think about how we are wording them and gives some accountability to the process as well.
Don’t be too specific
This flies in the face of most goal setting advice, but these are big overreaching goals I’m talking about. You can get specific about how to achieve your goals as you work on them. A goal like “Improve my health and well-being” leaves you flexibility in how you achieve that and is less rigid than “I’m going to run 5 miles per day.”
What if you hurt your ankle, your schedule makes that impossible, the weather is horrible for a month in February, you discover you hate running and but find you love bicycling, you take a tai chi class instead? (And by the way, you get more amazing health benefits out of tai chi than you do out of running without the structural damage to knees, hips, and ankles. Just sayin’.)
By leaving yourself flexibility in your goal setting you are setting yourself up for success which will breed even more success in the coming years.
(When you’re ready to get specific about putting these plans into motion, check out this article. This is how you start making progress on the concrete levels of each goal, but in my opinion, it’s too early to do that when you’re thinking about your whole year.)
Break your goals up into categories
This allows you to work on several areas of your life but the goals list looks more manageable. I use three categories: occupational, personal, and family.
Don’t set too many goals
Start with just a few goals in each category: maybe three to five broad goals in each. I had 10 goals last year, which felt overwhelming when written in a 1-10 list, but seemed manageable and achievable when spread across the three categories.
Keep a copy to review
I check in on the goals I set once in a while to see how I’m doing. Taking my occupational goals as an example, reviewing the list reminds me during my in-between-patient times that I could be working on continuing education or on building my business. One of my personal goals this year is to be aware of my tendency toward judgment and condescension and replace that with compassion. This reminds me to keep a watch on my thoughts. I just taped this one to my dashboard because I drive an increasingly congested route to my office.
It’s easy for goals to get lost in the tyranny of day-to-day life. Reviewing them is a nice reminder of where you want to go and helps you get there. Kind of like Google Maps, but for your life.
Be gentle with yourself
This is a key concept. Goals are not rigid dictates. They are designed to make you a better person and to help you get what you want in life. You won’t achieve this by browbeating yourself, just as you won’t get healthier by blasting your body apart in Crossfit or any of the extreme exercise or yoga programs. (Yeah, I admit it. I’m down on all forms of extreme exercise. I’ve treated far too many of those folks for severe injuries to see them as healthy.)
Shift your view of failure
I’ve seen “fail” redefined as “First Attempt At Learning.” Failure is simply eliminating what doesn’t work for you. If one of your goals is to improve your health and well-being and you find that you absolutely hate going to the gym, fine. You hate going to the gym. Try something different. Walk for 10 minutes twice per day instead. Take a Zumba class. Whatever. You don’t crash and burn unless you totally give up on yourself and what you want to achieve.
It’s not all or nothing
Something is definitely better than nothing. One of my goals last year was “Create more art.” And I did. I didn’t pop out an oil painting per week, but I did allow myself to start photographing again and to create art that way. And it felt great. I don’t have a gallery show, but I don’t care. I indulged my artistic side and enjoyed it.
My nature is to set rigid unattainable goals. I wanted to meditate more this past year. My tendency would be to say, “I will meditate for 20 minutes every single day without fail.” but I know that’s just a recipe for disappointment. Instead, my goal said I would “meditate regularly.” To achieve that, I formed the South Austin Mindfulness Meditation meetup group and resolved that I would be there every week (barring sickness, vacation, holidays, etc.) and I did it. We met 50 weeks out of last year, which means I had a formal, sit-down meditation session at least once per week.
See improvement as a success! You have a lifetime to perfect yourself. See all of your steps forward as progress. See your lack of forward movement as your soul’s way of talking to you. If you find yourself avoiding working toward a goal, ask yourself why! Maybe that’s not the right goal for you or perhaps you are approaching it in a way that isn’t working. Try something different.
Work on the things that matter
Personal and family goals
Look at the goals you are setting. Pretend you are reviewing your whole life. Are these things you are working on the things you will be glad you set your focus on? No one lays on a death bed and regrets having more peace in their lives, working toward internal happiness, or spending more time with their loved ones. Maybe one of your goals is to figure out if you are on the perfect path for you in this life. That’s a pretty awesome goal. Be sure to include your own growth and maturation in the process.
I see employment as a way to support the purpose we came here to fulfill. Work supports your life but is not your life. Nevertheless, it is part of the path each of us is on. I see everyone as a healer regardless of professional title. When I was a computer geek in a government agency I spread as much joy and love at my job as I could. I helped people do their jobs with more ease and taught them to use their computers in ways that made them feel smart and capable. You might be a financial healer, an accountant or bookkeeper who brings order and health to people’s financial lives. Maybe your goal is to grow your business so you can bring more healing to others on some level. I have continuing education as part of my goals list so that I can keep being an acupuncturist, keep my skills honed, and can learn new ways to help my patients.
I see everyone as a healer regardless of occupation. When I was a computer geek in a government agency I spread as much joy and love at my job as I could. I helped people do their jobs with more ease and taught them to use their computers in ways that made them feel smart and capable. You might be a financial healer, an accountant or bookkeeper who brings order and health to people’s financial lives. I have a mechanic who has kept my vehicles running well for years. He heals my truck as needed and works with honesty and integrity.
See your occupation as a service you do for others and set goals that help you serve your population. That’s why continuing education is on my list. Sure, I have to have it to keep doing what I do, but it also keeps my skills sharp (pardon the pun) and teaches me new ways to help my patients.
If you feel you’re not in the right job, maybe your goal is to find the occupational path that furthers your purpose in this life and serves others in ways that make you happy. I don’t care how old you are. You can always change tracks if you need to. Life is too short to be stuck in a job you hate.
Finally, I know January 1 has passed, but it’s never too late to start. So give it a go. Create your New Years resolutions….I mean goals!