The fireworks for New Year’s Eve haven’t even begun as I’m musing over this post. I’m thinking of all of the years I made resolutions and am trying to remember what in the world they were. I do remember the one where I was never going to eat sugar again. I think I lasted a month before I ate a couple of chocolates at the office (and then rapidly fell off that wagon!) I’m sure there were other ones about making more time for creativity and getting into better shape, but what baffles me is trying to recall the rest of the resolutions that fell along the way. I honestly cannot remember them.
Writing that makes me realize that as much as I want positive changes in my life, and as much as I want to grow and develop as a person, resolutions are not the way to do it. Resolutions are airy dreams; goals are concrete steps to those dreams. No, I’m not saying that if you set goals all of your dreams will come true, but what I am suggesting is you are much more likely to succeed when you set goals for yourself. Here are a few things I’ve learned in my goal-setting journey that I hope will be helpful to you.
How to Make Goals Instead of Resolutions
First, don’t set yourself up for failure.
Make realistic goals. But also make some slightly out-of-reach goals to stretch yourself. Maybe that sounds like I’m saying two different things but let me explain. Several years ago I started running regularly. I didn’t run more than two or three miles at a time, but coming from someone who was not athletic at all, this was an achievement. I set the goal of running a 5K and wow, it was much more difficult than I had imagined (I didn’t know I needed to pace myself and shot out from the start line—learned that lesson!) But even though it was difficult, I did it. That is what I would call being realistic.
I sat on that goal and continued to complete it every few months. Honestly, it wasn’t until I met a woman at my office who ran marathons that I even considered running a longer race. I believed marathons were for the elite, and I was certainly no elite athlete. I was me—working and then going home to finish 20 craft projects! But she told me that if I could run a mile, I could run a marathon. That all I needed was a team and they would show me how just adding one mile to every Saturday long run (and following a training plan throughout the week) would eventually land me on the finish line at a marathon.
And you know what, though I had my doubts, I decided to set finishing a marathon as a goal. And I did that. Believe me, it shocked me more than anyone else. So what I’m suggesting here is set goals for yourself that are realistic but also set some goals that are out there, that will take some serious training for you to get to the finish line. You never know until you try!
Break your goals down into easy and doable steps.
This is the same concept I discovered in training for marathons, and since this is a creative blog, it is the same concept for starting and finishing any project. You come up with the project, buy the supplies as needed, and get to work. Goals are going to take time, so realize that at the beginning. Try to not make the mistake of assuming you’ll kick out the novel you’ve been wanting to write in one month. Maybe you can do that with the place you are in life right now but more than likely, your goal is going to take some time.
For the past few years I have set goals in several areas of my life—broad goals that would take a while to complete—and then cut those up into reasonable monthly-sized goals to keep track of in my journal. Honestly, my greatest problem with goal-setting is forgetting I even made them so reassessing each month has been a great help for me. I write them down in my journal and tab the page so I can go back to it frequently.
A side note here: it is okay to abandon a goal. There, I said it. Goals are not God. They will not save you. They are meant to grow you and to bring positive changes into your life. There are many people out there (and I admit to being one of them) that make goals into little dictators. They don’t even want to do that goal but since they set it, they feel the pressure to see it through.
For your monthly reassessment, ask yourself what the purpose is behind the goal if you are struggling. Sometimes you’ll find reworking your goal mid-year will give you more clarity and traction. I also suggest writing down goals and ideas throughout the year, not just focusing all of your goal-setting for one time. What seemed like a great idea in the dark, cold days of January might be a bit ridiculous in June.
Remember when you’re trying something new, it will take time to succeed.
This is called growing. Own it! As a recovering perfectionist, this one is hard for me. Even though I know that change is a process, I tend to circle back with each goal and think this time I’ll get it right away. But the purpose of goals is growth, not perfection. So for all of you perfectionists out there, tell yourself right now that it is going to take some time to reach your goals. In fact, I would like to suggest that as soon as you can enjoy and even laugh at the process, the better.
I remember saying in the months before my daughter was born that the most important thing for me to accomplish every day would be taking a walk. That became my goal. What I didn’t take into account was she was born in December. It was cold and rainy and then snowy. That goal was put on hold for a while, and that was okay. I wanted to be the mom who jumped right back into running shape but turns out, I’m not that mom. But we did eventually start going on walks, and they are wonderful!
Since writing this post, I created a habit and goal tracker that I’m completely in love with. Okay, maybe that’s a little extreme, but it has helped me so much with making sure that I’m staying on track with my goals. I write out my goals for the month, and each day as I’m sipping my morning coffee, I quickly review the day before.
My point is not to make this into a perfectionist’s nightmare (I have to fill this out perfectly or else!) but rather to have a more accurate record of what I’m actually doing. I have found it helpful to have all of my various goals ranging from small to big on the same page so I can easily check them. A lot of goal and habit trackers only track one thing at a time. I also can put things on the tracker that I only need to remember to do once a month or once a week which I love. (Get your habit tracker for $1 here!)
My hope as you look over this new year and think about how you would like to grow and develop is that you would set realistic (and fun!) goals for yourself, that you would see how amazing it is that we can even set goals and change, and that you would enjoy this journey of process. Let’s make some real and beautiful changes in our lives this year that will nurture us as well as the people in our lives.