New Year’s Resolutions are seriously unhip, as far as I can tell, but that’s never bothered me. I thought I would share my process publicly as I work on my goals and resolutions for next year. Maybe it will change someone’s perceptions about the usefulness of an annual review and strategic planning session. Yesterday, I posted my annual review, sharing my successes and failures from 2015. I like to make plans for all the areas of my life, plus at least one ‘stop’ goal for a habit I want to eliminate. These are decisions. Formalizing decisions and holding ourselves accountable for them has radical power.
First, allow me to recommend the book on which I have based my New Year’s planning for the past 16 years. It’s called Your Best Year Yet! by Jinny S. Ditzler. I always used the 1994 edition, but I decided to buy a digital copy and realized that it’s been through a few editions since then. As I flip through it, it appears to have been upgraded! The life wheel illustration on page 172 changed my life. If I ever meet Jinny Ditzler in person, I’ll have to restrain myself from shaking her hand way too long, or tackling her in an unsolicited bear hug.
A resolution is a commitment to do or not do something. It’s open-ended. An example of a resolution is when I decided to double my cruciferous vegetable consumption. Other examples include walking every day, setting a bedtime alarm, flossing, and packing a lunch. Resolutions can wind up significantly exceeding any goal we might have set. The main pitfall is when we shrug and give up the first time we “blow it” and “break” the resolution. The idea is to bring our attention to the area of the desired habit, hitting the mark more and more often until it becomes a natural part of our day. First we’re aware of it, then we’re trying it, then we’re doing it a few days a week, and eventually we no longer have to focus – we just do it. Flossing two days a week is better than no days. Perfectionism is the death of resolutions. The idea that a habit takes “21 days” is a totally false urban myth. It varies from person to person, but the average is more like 66 days.
A goal is specific, measurable, and has a time dimension. (There are various definitions for the SMART goal acronym, all of which are helpful). An example of a goal is when I ran the Portland Marathon in 2014. Other examples are reaching a goal weight, getting rid of a storage unit, and paying off a credit card. The main pitfall of a goal is to feel “done” and not think about what happens afterward, meaning we often wind up right back where we started. This is why it helps to make goals and resolutions that work together, such as “weigh the ‘healthy weight for my height’ [goal] and cut back on treats or going out if my weight goes up more than 3 pounds [resolution].”
The concept of the ‘stop’ goal is a big part of how most people define a New Year’s Resolution. It might be something like ‘stop smoking’ or ‘stop biting my nails.’ I had a conversation last weekend with a grocery clerk that went like this:
Me: “Are you making any New Year’s Resolutions?”
Clerk: “MAYbe. I just decided to quit chewing my fingers after 20+ years, and it’s been three weeks.”
Me: “Wow! You have the power to make a decision like THAT [snapping my fingers]. That’s really strong. It’s like, ooh, what next?”
This happens all the time. We have a moment of clarity, when we realize that we are annoying ourselves and we don’t have to do it anymore. The sort of change that comes from a lightning bolt realization is a permanent sort of change. I’ve experienced these, for instance when I realized that I always spilled in my lap when I ate on the couch, and I started eating all my meals at the table instead. At the New Year, I rack my brain and try to come up with the most obvious areas where I hold myself back. Last year, it was my super-irritating habit of leaving tissues in my pockets and running them through the washer and dryer, where they shredded all over everything. Goodbye and good riddance to that!
Working on goals and resolutions with someone else can be tricky, but the fact that my husband was willing to do my New Year’s process with me is part of why we’re married now. Last year, we started meeting for breakfast every Saturday to go over our goals. We made a spreadsheet with goals on the 1-year, 3-year, and “Blue Sky” time horizon. He busted through all of his goals for the year in three months. For this year, I had the idea of taking off for a weekend every three months for a quarterly review. He liked that idea. We’re planning to go camping in March and September for this purpose. We already do a New Year’s planning session, and the summer is covered by my July birthday and our August wedding anniversary, when we also discuss goals. The reason this is a romantic, fun activity for us is that we see goal-setting in a positive light. We’re rushing toward things that make us happier and more fulfilled. We’re casting aside negative habits and traits that feel much better when they are gone. We remind each other of how far we’ve come. We are each other’s cheerleaders. One term for this is ‘accountability partner.’ It doesn’t have to be a romantic partner or spouse, but for Obligers especially it can help to have someone to remind us of our decisions.
Since we started dating, my husband and I have lost 100 pounds between us, stopped drinking soda, and paid off over $20,000 in debt. Those are big highlights, but we’ve also done a bunch of smaller-scale stuff. Our life together is more streamlined, both more relaxed and more productive than when we were single.
Okay, now for the process of setting down goals and resolutions for 2016!
Couples stuff: We decided to have a set dinnertime every night. We’re adding quarterly reviews to our annual planning, going camping if possible. We’ve had a years-long agreement to go to ballroom dance lessons for a few months, and hopefully this will be the year we make that happen. [glares at ankle]
Personal: One of my biggest regrets is that I decided to join Toastmasters in college, then never went back for a second meeting because it conflicted with an open mic night where this particular boy sometimes sang. “You have chosen poorly.” (Thus my past ‘stop’ goal of “Stop dating musicians.”) As with running, I feel that public speaking makes my legs shake, is extremely scary, difficult, contrary to my nature, and not something I would really voluntarily ever want to do, and thus likely to be really valuable. I REALLY REALLY HATED running for the first three weeks, but I forced myself to keep at it, learned to love it, and four years later I ran a marathon. I’m feeling similar resistance combined with awful curiosity, and knowing I will push myself to do this awkward, onerous thing. Future Self is shouting at me through a megaphone, and I hear her. “DO EEEET!”
Career: I’ve never had my own business cards, and it feels like time to get a set made. My goals are to expand my coaching business and start a weekly (free) subscription newsletter. I’ve decided not to announce new books and writing projects until they are released, because discussing my projects and deadlines seems to do something weird to my creative energy. I published over 700 pages in 2015, so productivity is not my problem.
Physical: I’d REALLY like to start running again and train for my second marathon now that my ankle is better. My overarching goal is to grow stronger, faster, and more agile at a pace that my body can sustain without injury. My focus will be on experimenting with a cross-training schedule that balances running with strength training and yoga. I will definitely run another marathon, and I’m allowing that goal to persist without a specific timeline. One specific goal I am making is to get a blood test to check my micronutrient levels. More Metrics, Less Guessing.
Home: I’d like to learn more about interior design and make our new place look cute. It’s clean and organized, naturally, but I’ve never taken it past ‘comfortable’ to ‘beautiful.’ We’re putting in a vegetable garden (the third one in 3.5 years, Hope Springs Eternal) and I’m going to try growing saffron.
‘Stop’ goals: I’m struggling with how to phrase it, but I have been having a real problem injuring myself lately. In the last month, I’ve smacked my head three times on furniture and doorframes, drawn blood slamming my thumb in a drawer and pinching my finger in the gate, and generally bruised and banged myself up. “Stop beating myself up on stuff.” This is classic ADHD attention and body awareness stuff. I suspect that more yoga, dance, and meditation will help. I need to slow down and pay attention to what I’m doing, and to focus on being calm and graceful. My other ‘stop’ goal is to “stop rage-crying when I go through TSA secondary screening.” I need to find a way to “bend the knee” and deal with this obstacle. Obviously being a “Trusted Traveler” does not mean what I thought it meant, and IT IS WHAT IT IS. Suck it up, Buttercup.
Lifestyle upgrades: We’re going to eat on the patio when the weather is warm enough, and I’m going to use it as my new writing spot.
Do the Obvious: The most obvious thing for me to do right now is to focus on my business and start earning more money.
A Quest: I took on a quest last year to be ready to go to a Polyglot Gathering and have at least a short conversation in more than one foreign language. Due to a sad ongoing family circumstance, I can’t make firm plans for the next unspecified number of months. It’s unlikely I’ll be able to attend the May event I wanted, but there are two positives. One is that there are also Polyglot Conferences in various world cities throughout the year. The other is that we’re signed up for the World Domination Summit in August! That’s a different sort of a quest, but a pretty great one. I need to dip my toe in and have at least one language exchange in which I talk to another living human. There’s no point spending as much time as I have in studying other languages without speaking them, although it is nice to go to the movies and understand at least parts of the dialogue in French, German, or Spanish.
A wish: I wish to make a new friend in 2016.
That’s a lot of stuff! I feel about 90% exhilaration and 10% pure dread. I have a couple of easy, specific, one-shot goals, like ordering my business cards and finding out where to get the micronutrient blood test done. I have a few habit and perspective changes to work on. I have a few special events scheduled. I have a few new projects. I have this public record of commitments, which is actually pretty intimidating. I do, though, have a long track record of positive change in my life, even counting all the times I’ve overcommitted or completely failed. I can look forward to liking at least parts of my life better by this time next year.
How about you? What are your hopes and plans for the New Year?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.