Notes on Goal Setting & New Year’s Resolutions

In December 2018, I made a list of 19 goals for the year ahead. Throughout the year, I published a monthly update of those goals. You can see the results here.

I want to share some takeaways from that experience that will hopefully help you (and me) craft some resolutions for the week/month/year/decade ahead:

Figure Out the Why:

Before you set any kind of goal, really ask yourself why you want to change this behaviour or learn this skill or experience this experience.

For example: “I want to read 20 books in 2020”. Why? The answer could be: I want more time to myself or I want to learn about a certain subject or I want to limit my time online or I want to take in more art. There should be even more why questions that you dig into with those answers.

So maybe “reading 20 books” is not be the best resolution for you*. Rather, it could be setting daily time to read, developing a new bedtime routine, signing up for a class, setting no-phone-zones in your home, or going to a poetry reading.

If your reason why is because “reading 20 books” is a trendy goal to have, you probably will fail that goal. Or forget that you set that goal. Or get really sick of that goal because it feels like a chore.

I would really recommend a reflection activity (like this one! Or something like this!) to finish off your year before you set your goals. I wish I had done this last year because some of my goals were there to round out 19 or because they sound good and not truly because this was something I wanted to try or change.

*Read books. But ya know, set reasonable expectations for yourself.

Root Your Goals in Self-Love:

Be kind to yourself. Goals that are rooted in some self-hate or feel punitive in some way aren’t long lasting goals. Habits are in four stages: cue, craving, response, and reward. If you don’t change this process, you will eventually go back to the time-tested response which will lead to the reward.

Denying yourself something without providing a good alternative that brings you a reward means that eventually you’ll go back to the original bad habit or desire.

“I want to cut out sugar” is pretty restrictive. Eventually a birthday cake will present itself. Instead, “I’m going to bring healthy snacks to work” might be a better response when you have the craving to snack at work. There is a reason why diets fail: they aren’t sustainable long term or realistic for how humans operate in the world*.

*This article has good tips on breaking bad habits and building good ones. “Every goal is doomed to fail if it goes against the grain of human nature.”

Set Measurable Goals:

Once you’ve figured out what you want to do differently and why, set yourself a realistic, tangible goal. Create a plan to go along with that goal. If you can’t envision the steps required to get there, pick a different (or smaller!) goal.

This was another mistake I made in setting my goals last year. “Grow Rose City Politics’ listenership” is a good intention but how do I actually measure whether or not I was successful? I certainly put in a lot of work producing the show and planning events, but I don’t know if that paid off in more listenership. It would have been better to pick one measurable element of the show (social media follows, Patreon subscribers) and focus extra energy there.

Small wins are still wins. Build on previous success by setting small accompanying goals.

Be Flexible In Changing Those Goals:

Some things didn’t work out this year. I wasn’t able to do/finish some of my goals, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t worthwhile. I had an intention of passing my certification in French, but it was much more costly than I anticipated and just wasn’t working out how I wanted. Instead of sticking with something that isn’t working or sucks or that I don’t find joy in anymore, I was able to pivot or find something new.

The yoga studio that I loved moved locations to Amherstburg, so my goal of going to yoga twice a week (while measurable!) had to change. I ended up getting back into power lifting and competing in my first ever meet. That wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t set the goal of working out twice a week and wanting to keep that up.

Think Past January:

I’m a real sucker for those “I learned how to X in 7 days” videos, but truthfully, real progress takes a lot of time. Small, incremental goals aren’t the sexiest in the world, but they will bring you the most meaningful change.

If all your goals are dependent on being perfect as of January 1st, you’re more likely to fall off the proverbial wagon and not want to get back on. Instead, recognize that plans take time and think about plans that can take place in smaller ways over months.

Reflection and Intention:

I really recommend a monthly reflection of your goals or budget or whatever you’re working on.

Writing about what happened each month was very valuable to me. Reflecting back on the month helped me to celebrate my accomplishments (no matter how big or small) and be intentional about what I wanted to work on going forward.

Tell People About Your Goals:

For many years, I would not talk about projects until I was 100% certain they would come to fruition. This was a misguided because I missed the opportunity to publicize events/projects ahead of time and I wasn’t sharing the process. Some projects I worked on this year didn’t happen. That’s ok. It was still valuable to share those successes and failures.

Studies show that you are more likely to accomplish your goal if you have an accountability measure — whether that’s a check-in with a friend or a blog post that you write once a month.

More Fun with Friends:

Make part of your plan to work on goals with someone else. One of my favourite goals this year was to learn how to bake bread. My friend, Lauren reached out to me to say that her mom was willing to give us a lesson in bread baking. We had a great day and was able to learn a lot together.

If your goal is to learn a certain skill or sport, look through your contacts to see who might be a good bridge. Think about what kind of expertise is already around you. Having a buddy along for the ride helps with accountability and makes it more fun.

Any Day Can Be New Year’s Eve:

Without sounding too Instagram inspo, change can happen at any point in the calendar. Find the reason, motivation, game plan, and accountability to continue. Remember that small, sustainable steps matter more in the long run for changing habits.

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Rose Gold City

Rose Gold City

Thoughts and tips from a border city life