Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Revisiting Those New Year's Resolutions

So, how are you doing on all those new year's resolutions you made a couple of months ago? Here it is nearly the end of February and, if you're like me, it feels like the year is slipping away in a torrent of distracting and chaotic events, most of which are taking place outside my own personal life. How do we cope with this?

The thing that has helped me resist the tide of sludge that threatens, daily, to sweep away any sense of control I have is my goals chart. I don't make new year's "resolutions" in the traditional sense. These vague statements of resolve to do better in various categories of health, relationships, etc, are not particularly helpful when I ask myself, later in the year, if I'm doing what I said I wanted to do with my life. What is helpful, though, are numerical goals -- and charts that show progress toward these targets.

I have goals in areas I feel I have control over. It is important that any goal-setting I do be focused on things that I, as an individual, can accomplish. I might have a desire for world peace or a better direction for our country, but I need to find things that I, as an individual, can actually do. My own approach has been to stay focused on what I was already doing with my life and to try to help others do the same--hence, a goal to write at least 2-3 blog posts every month to share what I've learned about coping or even thriving in life.

Some of my goals are daily ones (meditate a minimum of ten minutes every day, write three pages of free-writing every morning, etc), some are weekly and some are monthly. Most of my goals are writing goals, since this is what I do, and they are always quantitative. For example, I have a goal to submit my completed short stories 100 times this year, which means I need to send out two stories per week to stay on track. If the weekend is approaching and I still haven't submitted anything for the week, this is a powerful incentive to get my act in gear and send something out. I've already noted those goal numbers on my calendar so I know, at a glance, if I am doing what I told myself I wanted to do this year.

The physical act of writing down my progress each week is extremely satisfying. In the past I've even used things like gold star stickers on my calendar to motivate me to do what I told myself I wanted to do. Try it! It may seem silly, but it actually works quite well.

This technique is ideal for writers since so much of what we do can be quantified: word counts, pages, items finished, even lists of places to submit our items to. The more numbers I have the better able I am to see if I'm doing what I want with my life.

I use this method in areas of my life beyond writing. One goal I've had for the last few years is quite simple: have lunch or coffee with at least one friend each week. This sort of thing is especially important for people, like me, who work at home alone. It's too easy to get isolated and find all my social interactions on Facebook or Twitter--I need to force myself to get out of the house, even when the weather isn't great, and do something that might seem frivolous, but is far from that.

Goals do, of course, have to be adjusted at times. I've recently had to do this with my running goals when I found out the hip pain I was experiencing was due to a tear in a ligament, and treatment is going to require decreasing my mileage for awhile. This is not the first time I've ever had to adjust my running goals, though--in fact, this is something smart runners do all the time. I'm not saying I'm always smart about it, but I have learned to absorb the disappointment when I've found out I don't always have control over things I think I do. Aging and health in general are always a good laboratories for learning this particular lesson about life. My approach? Adjust my goals. Because of this injury, my running goal is now to get better and run again without pain. That may have to be adjusted, too, of course, but it's one day at a time with something like this.

So, I encourage you to take a look at those new year's resolutions you made last month, especially if you're not feeling too good about them. If you haven't been able to do what you said you wanted to this year, consider whether your "resolution" is stated in a way that's too vague. Can you make it more quantitative, put numbers to it in some way? A time frame is critical as well--what can you do this month to reach your goals? How about this week? Today? This thought process can be very empowering, so I encourage you to try it! Oh - and it's a good idea to check in every once in awhile as well, as I'm doing today. Assessing our progress toward goals is another key aspect of regaining control over our lives. And in these chaotic times, it's especially important.

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