Goals for the New Year

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

New Year’s resolutions are the core of late night comedy routines – and provide the starring roles of garage sales in the spring. Gym memberships are gifts or the manifestation of impulse-purchase based delusions and fantasies of new-found discipline and a love for fitness.

Most, if not all of us, have seen a lot of years come and go. Among the many other feelings, distractions and diversions of the season lies the nearly irresistible impulse to improve ourselves or at least make the coming year better, or at minimum, different from the year just ending.

Instead of New Year’s resolutions, my wife and I, for many years now, have had New Year’s goals.

What’s the difference? One major difference is that resolutions tend to be behavioral – start doing this, stop doing that, cut this out of your diet or add that, exercise more, sit less, read more, cut back the screen time.

Those are all good – but how likely is it that you will do any of them?

Goals are the long term, larger picture.

Photo by Morf Morford

Photo by Morf Morford

With a good, solid goal, you learn, especially over time, what really matters to you. Do you really want to exercise more or lose that pesky five – or ten – or twenty pounds? Or are you just responding to guilt, pressure or shame? If you didn’t care about it enough to do something previously, why do you care now?

Some of us have life-changing epiphanies or catastrophes that force us to reconsider and become a different person – at least in that area. Many of us quit smoking or start exercising from a health scare of some kind.

There’s nothing sacred about New Year’s – taking care of your health should always be a top priority. The appeal to New Year’s resolutions is that lots of other people are doing them as well. If you can find a partner on your resolution, you are far more likely to keep it.

I prefer goals because they focus on results, not process. And as my wife and I have developed them over the years, our goals have become more broad and specific.

We have found ourselves looking at categories of goals, not just particular aspects. We have defined some categories like health, finances, travel and family events.

Some goals are perpetual, like budgeting and taking care of financial obligations, while others are rare or even one-time – like moving or getting married.

Some are routine, even daily, some are long term and life changing. Some take preparation, years of study perhaps, others, like taking a daily walk or eating better, could begin immediately.

There are a few basic principles to effective goal setting. Keep it Simple is more than a phrase – if your goal is not simple, you are not likely to achieve it.

Here’s a few goal setting principles:

1. What is YOUR reason for doing something? Anyone else’s reasons will be quickly forgotten.

2. Be SMART about your goals -

Specific.

Measurable.

Attainable.

Relevant.

Time Bound.

Your goal needs to have some definition to it. If it is too vague, you won’t remember – or even notice – that you are or are not keeping to it.

Instead of saying you want to eat better, how about adding – or subtracting – a certain thing from your diet for a set amount of time – like a day or a week?

It has to be measurable. You’ll need some kind of markers to note your progress. Progress is its own motivator. Measurable success – or even movement – can inspire you to do even more.

I worked with a teacher who specialized in language acquisition. She had a very simple principle – learn two new words a day. Anyone should be able to do this. Just as almost any of us could save a dollar, or five dollars a day.

Your goal needs to be do-able - realistic and attainable. Starry-eyed, fantastical goals are great, but like most dreams, they are quickly forgotten.

A workable goal needs a schedule, a time when you know it has – or has not – been achieved.

3. Write down your goals.

There’s nothing magical about writing down your goals, but it does force you to be concrete. My wife and I write down our goals each year. Sometimes we forget them and are amazed to see them – and many times our goals were simmering in the background, influencing our decisions even though we had forgotten that we had talked about them as goals.

4. Make an action plan. How do you move toward your goal? What is the first thing you need to do? What is the next logical step? What will keep you moving in the direction you want to go. You might not get there tomorrow, or even next month, but a year from now, you might.

As my wife and I have done our goals, we’ve noticed that some of them become larger – maybe two years or even five years – maybe even lifetime.

5. Don’t give up! It’s easy to get discouraged, but it is just as easy to remind yourself why it mattered to you in the first place (see step one).

There’s a continuing debate about whether you should go public with your goals or keep them to yourself. Some claim that others can keep you on task, while others claim that it just opens another opportunity for guilt or shaming. Here’s a short TED Talk on why you should not go public with your goals - https://www.ted.com/talks/derek_sivers_keep_your_goals_to_yourself.

Another approach is to have a series of short term goals – one for each month perhaps. Here is an entertaining exploration of having a daily goal for each month – https://www.ted.com/talks/matt_cutts_try_something_new_for_30_days. You might have temporary goals – or lifestyle changes – that you want to “try on” and may – or may not – keep.

There is no reason for goals to be permanent. Some like going vegan or keeping a daily journal may inspire – and perhaps inform your life – even if you do not stick to them on a regular basis.

Either way, every year is new, but so is each month. No matter how routine it might seem, each day stands before us to be shaped and defined – and remembered – as the unique experience that it is – never to be reclaimed or seen again.