A New Year, a New Excuse Not To

I love beginnings. I’m kinda Rain Man with the numbers. My favorite trick is to randomly repeat back friends’ social security numbers hours or days after hearing them share this information over the phone or face-to-face with some company’s representative. Especially newer friends. I’m symbolism-driven, symmetry obsessed. Small things, like raspberries, almonds, and M&Ms: I have to eat two at a time — one on each side of my mouth. Or when February begins on a Sunday outside of a leap year, I love the perfect block shape it makes on a calendar.

The year looks like this to me: A counterclockwise-moving Atari Centipede:

MAY  APR  MAR

JUN            FEB

JUL             JAN

AUG            DEC

SEP  OCT  NOV

These things may not all seem related, but they are. Put the 1st of a month on a Monday and I feel ready for anything. It shifts my approach to the entire month. The previous month ends with the weekend, and this one starts completely fresh. I long for it.

So, although the lovely January 1 begins on a Wednesday, you can imagine what a 1/1 does for the psyche of someone like me. I know I’m not alone here.

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We all need some kind of metaphor to begin to live the lives we mean to live.

We think we’ll be ready for it then. We expect that on [the day we plan to start], we will become different people, that we will suddenly love our most-hated exercise and get through it easily, naturally stop reacting to our family’s bad behavior, and magically feel motivated to be creating in some form every single day. Only, we won’t.

Monday or the 1st or whenever your start day is comes and it’s hard to get out of bed and hard to get off the couch and hard to not spend 30 minutes Facebook-stalking your ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend or your new boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend.

It’s a work in progress, which can make the start date a disappointing one because you’re not going to get it then. Eventually you just might, but you’re not going to get it all on that day.

And nobody really wants to do the work, we just want the work’s rewards.

I’ve had this feeling so many times: I set a goal, hit the goal, celebrate the goal. And then, when the met goal is no longer ahead of me but just a regular part of my life, I become almost deflated. Or I at least slide back to the baseline and need something to look forward to again. Something to salivate over — what I may never have but desperately want: a new goal, a new driver.

But what are we trying to achieve, really? The perfect physique? Published book? I say not really. Again, these are just temporary rewards. What we’re really trying to achieve are better habits: regular exercise, regular writing. We’re trying to achieve identity: I am someone who exercises regularly, I am a writer. We’re trying to achieve experience: I am becoming stronger / better at this move or that, I am coming up with great ideas / becoming sharper.

I know most of you, like me, look at the approaching year as an opportunity, a chance to really do something, to really be someone, and this is nothing short of commendable.

But what if we restructure things a bit to make our goals actually achievable and to make the processes through which we meet them feel like the real rewards? What if we put emphasis on habits, identity, experience versus the desired outcome?

What if we don’t set ourselves up for failure but instead make our aspirations fail-proof?

What if we build flexibility into our routines?

As an example, one of my best friends plans to run five miles per week as opposed to a set distance per day. She likes to stay in good shape, but rather than working on a weight or inches goal, she works on keeping up her running, knowing it makes her feel great and fit. If she gets to Friday night and still hasn’t made it out the door that week, trust me: She’s running a few miles both Saturday and Sunday. Or if she’s traveling for work one week and can’t seem to get much of her run in, she pushes those five miles or their remaining portion into the next week. Things all even out eventually. And it’s not like these deviations happen the most often, but by giving herself the flexibility, she can never fail. Five miles per week equals about 22 miles per month and she’s likely to hit that milestone over and over by having a backup plan and a backup plan for her backup plan.

Dare to be nonlinear. Dare to deviate.

What if we start small and build slowly?

Back to the running: How does one mile per week sound? How about one mile per week walking or running or a combination? It’s almost laughable. But, it’s such an effective trick to feel that sense of achievement and its ease will likely propel you to do more than you’d planned. And then you can take on another half-mile or mile or miles.

What if we designate someone as our accountability partner?

There are so many ways to do this, and it can be very engaging. Sure, journaling can be a useful exercise, but most of us were born into a culture and even into families and then processed through an education system that sets us up to be obedient employees. So, self-discipline can be challenging. Our self-worth often doesn’t motivate us as much as anticipating “getting into trouble” by a boss or some other authority figure. So, OK, then let’s play into that.

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Find a close friend who also has goals to achieve. Write out a plan and check in with each other at set times to make sure the other is meeting his / her milestones along the way. Some other good tricks for accountability: If you’re the only one working toward a goal, write a contract detailing all you plan to accomplish and how, sign it, and give it to someone you trust to hold you to it. Set up some kind of reward for achieving it (in addition to the reward of the goal itself) and some sort of punishment for not. Don’t let designated contract holder let you bat your eyelashes and giggle your way out of such punishment when time is up. Or, even worse, go to http://www.stikK.com.

What if we started planning our goals from the perspective of already having achieved them?

The most common approach to reaching a goal is to set one, often with a specific date or timeframe in mind, and then begin working toward it. In other words, we put the goal on the top of a three-month mountain, and then start climbing. Exhausting. Let’s try something else: Start from the end point.

So what if you were able to start at the top of the mountain and, with a rope, slowly lower yourself down, stuffing some kind of peg into the mountain side every so often to aid you on your way back up. You’ve mapped it out and you know in order to get to the 10th and last step, you have to get to the ninth, which requires getting to the eighth, and so on and so forth — do you see where I’m going with this?

If you can sit and think about where you need to be by the time you reach the top, you can start setting microgoals or milestones.

A very elementary example: You want to save $500 for a long weekend trip in three months. Which means each month you have to put money away. March 31 is the date and you don’t have a ton of disposable income, but could manage to save up to $200 per month with effort. which means by month 2, because you could never save more than $200 in a month, you need to make sure you are no more than $200 short of your goal. In other words, by February 28, you need to have at least $300 saved. However, we want to build in some cushion (flexibility), so let’s make that $350. That’s our first milestone from the end point.

In order to save $350 by then, since you could never save more than $200 per month, you will have to have saved at least $150 by the previous month end, January 31. For some cushion on both sides, we can make that $175. Second milestone from the end.

Now, how does one go about saving $175 in one month? if you can only save $50 per week (x 4 = $200), then by week 3, you’ll need to have saved at least $125, by week 2 $75, and by week 1 $25.

Then we get down into the details. What we have to sacrifice, what effort we have to put in and at what rate. We write this into the plan.

With an accountability partner, there’s someone to check up on us to make sure we’re putting away a little bit of money at a time.  

By starting small, we only have to save $50 per week, and that seems much more feasible than $500 total.

With flexibility, we’re allowed to occasionally save less than $50 since our maximum potential for three months is $600 and we only need $500.

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Changing the ways in which we look at and approach our goals can mean the difference between repeating old habits again and really living what we once only dreamed.

Happy Happy New Year!

What have been some of your snags when not meeting goals you’ve set? Can you pinpoint exactly where you’ve gotten hung up in the past? What are some of the tricks you personally use or have seen others use to achieve goals with success? What could you do differently this year?

If something here sparked something in you, please like or share this post. Or, better yet, indulge me with your own thoughts in the comments section below.


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