As 2013 draws to a close, we’d normally task you with the goal of setting your goals for 2014. However, we’re going to go off the deep end and challenge you with this instead: don’t have any goals for next year.
Don’t get us wrong. We’re not saying don’t do anything next year except binge-watch Breaking Bad. We’re saying don’t set goals in the traditional way. Try something different. Here are four tips to get your started.
Focus on one priority
Stephanie Zamora at The Huffington Post makes this excellent point:
If you’re trying to lose 15 pounds, meet the love of your life, get out of debt, make awesome new friends, travel more, be closer to your family and volunteer at the local homeless shelter… you’re going to lose your mind.
Decide what you want to focus on the most right now, whether it’s your blog, health, career, family, education, etc. and focus on that one area.
But! That focus isn’t written in stone. More on that later.
If you’re currently blogging once a week, blogging five or more times is a lot to ask of yourself. You’re only setting yourself up for failure, or at least feeling like one. Better to start small and to increase, if you want, when that gets easy.
I used to be in the habit of working out five times a week. Over the years and with changing priorities, I fell out of that habit, and in the last year have tried to get back into it.
Of course going from exercising only one or two times a week back up to five was extremely difficult, and I often disappointed myself. Finally, I let myself off the hook and reduced my goal to three times a week. After several months that became a habit and I increased it to four, which after some time become a habit as well. Now my I’m back up to four or five times a week.
And yes “when that gets easy” is a vague deadline, as it should be. While some argue that habits can be formed in three weeks, everyone and every habit is different.
Think of it this way: your new goal, no matter how small, is still probably more than what you were doing before.
A couple of years ago, I spent several months planning a novel I wanted to write. This was helpful in some ways — the process helped me figure out my characters’ motives — but harmful in others.
When the path of the novel didn’t feel right and I wasn’t sure what else to do, I relied too much on my plan. Sometimes I force-fit the novel to my outline, or if I changed the novel, spent a lot of time rewriting the plan rather than working on the novel itself.
Leo Babauta at Zen Habits advises letting go of plans all together. Plans imply that “your path is chosen, so you don’t have room to explore new territory,” and with a plan, you may feel inclined to follow it, “even when you’re passionate about something else.”
This year, as I’ve written before, I started a new novel. I knew what I should have been doing instead: revising my previous novel. But the thought of that filled me with dread while thinking about the new novel got me excited.
With this new book, I did little planning. I jotted down a lot of ideas, but I didn’t follow them to a T. In fact, I haven’t really looked at my list of ideas again. I keep them mind as a general idea of how I want the story to go, but veer off or change them if another idea presents itself.
This is a long way of saying be flexible and as Jeffrey Sprull advises at Money Spruce, “let go of what you’re not passionate about.” In other words, don’t be afraid to quit. You might find as the months pass that other interests arise, or that you’ll stumble upon something that inspires you. Be flexible and allow yourself to change your goals and focus as you see fit.
Don’t track your progress
As I struggled with both my earlier novel and exercising more, I thought tracking my progress would surely be encouraging. In a spreadsheet I meticulously tracked how many words I wrote a day, how many times I exercised a week, and how much I exercised each time.
However, I soon found myself focusing entirely on the numbers rather than on the quality and experience of my efforts, to the point that a short walk counted as a full workout and I began to count words that weren’t part of the novel.
This year with my new novel and exercise routine, I haven’t tracked my progress at all. I have only a loose goal for each — 200 words a day for the novel (more on the weekends), and at least four strenuous workouts a week — and now instead of focusing on numbers, I focus on the experience.
Tracking my progress made it more about the ends rather than the means. My activities still have ends but they’re not numbers. When I go to my exercise classes now, my goal isn’t filling a box but having fun and enjoying that post-workout euphoria. With my novel, it’s about the excitement of telling the story, living with these characters, and exploring their world.
Has goal setting ever been a hindrance to you? What mistakes have you made and how did you address them?
[Photo: CC BY 2.0 by Justin Henry]