Many people, myself included, are setting some sort of goals or intentions for this year. As we look at all the things we want to change in our lives, it’s easy, in the rush of enthusiasm and optimism of the New Year, to overdo our ambitions. Or to think that we should.
That word, should, is a telling one. When I set goals for myself (or help other people with theirs), I first write down everything I’d like to do differently this year. I usually put them under larger umbrella categories, like “Health” or “Creativity.” I just get it all down on the page, and don’t worry about actually doing them.
Then, I have to go through and get specific: what does achieving that goal really mean? What would I commit to, if I set that intention? Does “finish my novel” mean writing 3 pages per day? 15 minutes per day? If you’d like to try this, make the list, then go through it and identify anything vague, and make it specific. Again, you aren’t committing to anything yet. Do this for everything you listed.
Now, survey your list. As you were writing the specifics it would take to achieve a particular goal, you were probably aware of the energy around each one. Some got you excited: Yes! I can’t wait to do this!. Some, however, may have left you feeling deflated, or anxious, or numb. These are your “shoulds.” Think about these carefully: where do these come from? Are you not excited because they constantly crop up on these lists, and you’ve always failed at following through? Is there a dream you’ve had for a long time, but now no longer feel excited about? Are there things you think would please someone else, but you don’t, in your heart of hearts, want to do?
Cross them off your list. Yes, now. Be brutal if you need to – some may go down screaming. But also remind yourself: they can return. They are not banished forever. If, six months from now, you decide they are worthy of your time and energy, you can put them back on. Maybe by then some of the things you have on your current list will be ingrained habits, and no longer need a lot of time or energy to do (I kept “Meditation” on my list for over a year, marking it down as “done” every day, before I felt satisfied it was an ingrained daily habit).
Get your list down to no more than 3 or 4 things, preferably not all of equal weight. Daily Flossing can go with Finish Your Novel. But if you have Finish Your Novel, Finish your PhD dissertation, and Climb Mount Everest, you may be overreaching a bit (or not, this is your list, after all). I encourage you to think of tiny changes though, to start. If those three are your Big Goals, start small: write 15 minutes a day on your novel, 15 minutes on your dissertation, and exercise for 30 minutes. You get the idea.
The point is, you have to be excited about them, or at least really want to do them. If you’re already, on Day 1, feeling a big heavy weight dragging you down and leading you to check Facebook for the 334th time that day rather than what you said you’d do, you’re in trouble.
Also, having just a few priorities in mind means you won’t get overwhelmed. Don’t try to do everything at once. It’s a sure recipe for failure, and giving up. We only have a finite amount of time, energy, and willpower each day. Decide what you will do, and commit to that, no matter what.
There will be two posts this week, since next week is the MFA residency, and I’ll be… busy. Next time: how to set SMART goals and stay focused.