The turn of the new year is one of my favorite times of year. I love looking back on the previous year, reading “Best Of…” lists, making my own lists, and celebrating the good. I always make a “My Favorite Songs from the Past Year” list, but I don’t think anyone other than my Dad has ever looked at it.
I also love looking ahead. Anticipating the coming year, making plans, and setting goals gets me pumped. There’s something exciting about looking ahead. Fresh starts. New year, new me. Will this be the year I start flossing??? Unlikely.
However, one big truth has struck me as this new year approaches:
You don’t need the new year.
You don’t need to new year to look back and to look ahead. You don’t need the new year to set goals. You don’t need the new year to make resolutions. There are countless other measures of time you can use to break up your days on this planet than the all-powerful year. And there are countless other segments of time you can use for reflection and goal-setting.
I think there’s a solid alternative to this year-long, lofty new year goal setting.
What’s the Point of Setting Goals?
We set goals to better ourselves, to make progress, and to create tangible checkpoints along our life’s journey. They are a tool to help us become more effective in life.
Setting goals is a great thing, but there are effective and ineffective ways to go about setting them. Our culture loves the lofty New Years Resolution, but I’m convinced there’s a better way.
These kinds of goals are perfect for planning progress, but not always effective in terms of making progress.
Here are some holes I think are in the New Years Resolution approach:
Big, year-long goals have the tendency to reduce our happiness. Throughout the entire journey, it’s easy to say, “I’m just not there yet. But when I get there, I’ll be satisfied,” creating an unhealthy longing, and a constant if-I-can-just-get-there-I’ll-be-happy mentality. Not to mention the crippling disappointment that comes if you never achieve it at all.
Big goals can sometime distract us from long term progress. That’s a strange statement, I know. But when we are yearly setting goals for ourselves, we’re essentially bouncing year to year, checking things off a lifetime bucket list. Running a marathon or losing 20 pounds are awesome accomplishments, but what of them? Was the motivation just to be able to say you did something? Or was your intent to become healthier? Because simply setting a goal to lose 20 pounds frees you to return to old habits once complete, and merely creates a happy year that you can look back on and be proud of as you return to your old ways in the following year, and shift your focus to a new, standalone goal.
Big goals can unnecessarily lock us in. Back to the marathon example: you set for yourself a goal to run a marathon in 2018. You start strong of course, but three months in, you meet a group of awesome people in town who are really into soccer. They invite you to play with them. You love soccer, but have never had anyone to play with. You finally have the opportunity you’ve been waiting for, and playing with your new friends would give you the healthy cardio you need. But you committed to a marathon 4 months ago. And you can’t break your promise to yourself. So you keep training and miss out something that could have been really special, and somewhat inline with your intent – which was to live a healthier life – just because you set a big, lofty goal back in January.
An Alternative to Yearly Goals
So there’s nothing wrong with setting goals, but big New Years Resolutions aren’t the most effective approach – even if you wind up getting to throw a “26.2” sticker on your car. What does work?
A system of habits rooted in big picture motivation, and revisited often.
I promise you that building some new and sturdy habits in 2018 will have a greater long-term impact on your life than any big and lofty goal.
So how to go about this? Which habits to build?
Break Up the Pillars of Your Life
Let’s start with a quick survey of your life; what are your responsible for right now? What are the key areas or pillars of your life? In what areas of your life are you responsible to be growing in? Here’s what most people’s pillars look like:
- Personal. Not what you do, but who you are: your body, your mind, your heart, your soul.
- Family. If you have them in your life, you have a responsibility to be a parent, a child, a spouse.
- Friends. Think of all your relationships. Some closer than others. You have a responsibility to be a friend.
- Career. Hopefully you don’t have simply a means of making money, but a career and craft you’re dedicated to growing in.
You may have a few other pillars in your life, depending on your circumstances. These will vary in terms of importance. If you’re a hermit, you probably don’t have many friends. If you’re single, the family pillar will carry less weight. If you’re a student, the career piece hasn’t kicked in yet, but you do have a vocation as a student, and you are preparing for a potential career.
Go a step further and evaluate your effectiveness in each of these areas.
Start with Why
Before setting any kind of real goal, there should be a foundational need for improvement. A goal or aspiration not backed by real conviction or motivation will not last.
Setting a goal of working out 3 times a week, with no realization of why, is soft. You won’t keep that resolution, because why keep it? Other than to keep a promise to yourself. So before doing anything, using the areas of life you are responsible to grow in, find some places you can improve.
Let’s look at the Personal pillar of your life. Before jumping to, “Okay, I’ve got to get back in the gym in 2018.” WAIT.
Are you trying to bulk up? Lose weight? Relieve stress? Become an overall healthier person? You need to establish the why. If you can’t land anywhere, don’t waste your time doing something just because a lot of the world does it. Dig deep, and maybe you’ll find what you really want is to simply become healthier.
In that case, maybe you need to start eating breakfast. Or to cut out fast food. Or start juicing a few times a week. Or to start flossing! (If you floss regularly out there, DM me and tell me your secrets.)
Stop Doing Some Things
Prune. It’s healthy to get rid of some things: people, habits, etc… Make room for the things you’ll start doing.
1. Clean your inbox.
2. Unsubscribe to some emails.
3. Delete unused apps.
4. Donate old things.
5. Throw some things away.
Start Doing Some Things
As mentioned above, a handful of good habits will take you a lot further than a big one-time goal, that once completed, leaves you returning to old ways.
Do one thing daily for a month, reflect on your progress, and if you like what you’re seeing – keep it up! Here are a few daily habits that many successful creatives have employed over the years:
- Waking up early
- Socializing / Networking
What aspects of your life are benefiting you most, based on what you are currently responsible for? Perhaps a habit of working out in your early 20’s matters a lot less when you have a family and may not have time for big, daily workouts?
Or perhaps your habit of reading needs to take a break while you spend some time applying what you’ve learned after reading 1000 books a year.
I’m a big fan of the idea of seasons. I like to take some time to evaluate weekly, monthly, and yearly.
So… Don’t stress about setting “the perfect goal.” Reflect on where you are. Define your why. Stop doing some things. Start doing some things. And make 2018 your best your yet! (AND MAYBE EVEN START FLOSSING!)