I’m always torn at this time of year as I see the multiple postings around the web about goals and how to set resolutions for the New Year. I’m torn because I’ve written a book about finding out what you really want, so I feel I ought to say something but on the other hand what I want to tell you about goals runs counter to most other advice. So here I am, posting something.
Want to know what to do with the ‘New Year’ and your resolutions? In a word, don’t bother (OK, two words).
The driven and motivated are yelling about the goals they have set themselves, some bravely listing all the things they want to achieve. Frankly, some of this is intimidating, particularly if your track record lies in setting a big goal every January and then quietly forgetting it a couple of weeks later. You could be forgiven for thinking there is something wrong with you or you don’t have the ‘goal-setting’ gene that all these others seem to have.
You’d be wrong though. What’s striking about New Year’s resolutions is not how many other people are doing it but how few are doing it. For most the year will tick over as it has done for, well, years. Very few of those who bravely list their goals now will follow through and achieve something different to last year.
So having been cynical about goal setting efforts what’s my big suggestion? If you really must, and you want your resolutions to work, here are a few thoughts:
Goals don’t make you happy
Any goal, thought or intention which begins “I’ll be happier when I’m (slimmer/fitter/richer/nicer/got an iPhone)” is doomed. Happiness is not a result of what you have and do, it’s a result of how you are. If your goals are about being happier then short-circuit all that work and be happy now. It’s not connected to your results.
That’s not to say there aren’t things that you’d like to change. Of course there are. It’s just that you’ll find it easier to create new things if you start from being happy rather than doing them to ‘get’ happiness.
Instead of “I’ll be happy when I’m…” think about “I’d really like to make or create…”
Set about making or creating something for the heck of it, for the sheer joy of doing it. Make a list if you must.
Results come from new habits, not new goals
A goal like “I want to be 20lbs lighter by my birthday” is mostly useless as you might have found last year. Why? Because results like health and fitness don’t come from setting these kind of goals, they come from new habits. A better goal would be “I aim to take a 20 min walk most days and a longer walk at the weekend” or “I’m going to drink a glass of water before every meal”.
Make habit goals rather than target goals because what gets you the result is new behaviour not wishing at a target. What could you do if you started getting up 30 mins earlier?
New habits need to be positive and about adding something rather than giving up something.
It’s the wrong time of year
It’s Winter. You should be in bed under a duvet somewhere, hopefully with someone warm. Goals are for Spring when new things start, there is more light and it is warmer. Align your goals to the seasons; new things in Spring, growth in Summer, reap in Autumn, consolidate and clean up in Winter.
It makes more sense to follow the natural rhythms rather than try to summon energy in the dark and cold. It’s the rhythm of people who work with the land – plant, grow, reap, lie fallow. I also think a goal set for any longer than three months is mostly a fantasy. 90 days is a good period to start and finish something.
Use this Winter time to think, ponder and plough deep. Save your energy for Spring.
If you must do something for New Year then you’ll need three pages and something to make a mark with.
1. Make a bug list
First, look around. Within six feet is something that you have left undone or needs clearing up or moving. Something that is not in its final home. Make a list of all these little undone jobs that are bugging you.
Then find the easiest one and do it. When you do, you’ll notice a tiny release of energy.
Each one of these unresolved or unfinished items represents a broken promise and a distraction. By clearing them up you achieve two things:
- you release the energy and attention this item was holding
- you bring movement into your life – stuck things start moving and movement will bring change
Make sure you fully resolve one of these a week. That’s 52 items in your life fully resolved, moved and finished in 2012.
2. What do I want?
Start writing. What do I want in 2012? World peace? My kids to tidy their bedrooms? A new job? Start writing and keep going until you run out of ideas. Then pick the smallest one and find one simple step that would move it nearer. Then go and do it. Keep finding small steps that are ridiculously easy to do and then do them.
3. What don’t I want?
Start writing. What don’t I want in 2012? No more commuting? Car to breakdown? Britain to leave the Euro? Start writing and keep going until you run out of ideas. Then pick one and ask yourself “What do I want instead?” Add it to list 2 and so on.
You’ll notice that some of these are outside of your control (or so you think). You can cross those off for now if you like.
Starting the year
So where are we? You’ve got three rough lists to work with:
- What do I want to make or create just for the joy of it?
- A list of unresolved things to tackle – one a week (or more, it’s OK to over achieve)
- A page full of things you want with some ridiculously simple steps to move them closer.
Or you could shelve the whole lot and come back to this in March when the daffodils tell you it’s time to set some goals.
PS – Winter is a great time to do the exercises in the book so you are ready for Spring.