I’ve never been a new year resolutions enthusiast. Chances are, you probably aren’t too. While I love the fresh energy that a new year brings, I’m not a fan of the constant reminders and pressure of “new year, new you.”
Why? Because resolutions are a waste of time.
According to this fun site, only 8% of people actually achieve what they set out to accomplish in the new year. Yay for those people but yikes for the 92% of others!
Now, I poo-poo resolutions but that doesn’t mean I’m not a goal oriented person. I am always looking to improve myself and my circumstances. The issue I have with start of the year goal setting is that everyone focuses on the same stuff every year and set themselves up for failure.
After all, as Albert Einstein said, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same results. That is what we are doing year after year. Dragging ourselves into the hamster wheel and starting out sprinting in hope that we will reach our goals and stopping shortly after because we are either burned out or we realize we’re getting nowhere.
The problem is we are goal setting the wrong way.
No, I am not proposing for you to follow the SMART goal setting formula that a lot of people swear by. I’m also not saying you need to find an accountability partner. Or set up a disincentive like donating to least favorite charity if you don’t meet your goals.
Those things are all possibly helpful but traditional goal setting misses the key component to a truly happy new year.
Now you may have found a goal setting strategy that works for you. That’s awesome! That means you can stop reading this. Who I’m talking to are those people who feel a complete resistance to creating resolutions or who have set them with good intentions and “failed.”
Alright, you’re still here! And you’re in good company because that’s me too. Before I get into the one thing that HAS worked for me, I’m going to share the key parts of my personality that make me anti-goal.
I’m not a numbers person.
Numbers on a scale or in my bank account don’t drive me to achieve a goal. And I think a lot more people are like that than not. So that means that SMART measurable goals aren’t effective and with my money blockages, may even drive me away. (My money issues are a work in progress and I’m slowly chipping away at them. Perhaps I will be able to follow SMART methods once I figure them out. This solution works for me while I do so.)
I’m not a material person.
My Christmas list this year included self development books, socks and a replacement top for my favorite Pyrex container. That means goals or rewards of a new wardrobe/car/house/etc. is not going to make me want to achieve my goals any more.
I hate being told what to do.
Goals feel really restrictive, even when I create them myself. I will rationalize and talk myself out of any goal. “Oh, I’ll go to the gym tomorrow.” or “Today’s dessert doesn’t really count.”
I’m not a surface-level person.
Resolutions are so outward facing. So many of our goals are an attempt to manipulate our external circumstances. Lose weight. Buy a new car. Eat better. Get organized. Quit smoking. Find a partner. Now, do not get me wrong – these are all amazing things to strive for, but for me, they are not deep enough. Goals tend to be really superficial and that is just not my jam.
If you’re still reading this, chances are you identify with some of what I just shared.
So what goal setting method works for a non-material, non-numbers person who wants to transform on a deeper level in the new year?
What works amazingly well for me is setting a theme for the year and using that as the foundation for everything I work on for that year. A theme is usually just a few words. It does not involve numbers or any other sort of metric.
All you have to do is fill in the blank – 2017 is the year of _____.
The word(s) you choose are the end result you are striving for. So they are a goal in a sense but not in the traditional way. And there is only ONE, not an overwhelming list of them.
If you are still stuck in the paradigm of traditional goal setting or already created your new year goals, take those goals you have and shift them to a feeling. For instance, if you are looking to lose weight, forget a specific number and figure out how you want to feel. Instead of “lose 30 pounds,” deem 2017, “the year of unlimited energy.” Or if you are really looking to find your soul mate, make 2017, “the year of love.”
If you are a self-development geek like myself, then perhaps a feeling isn’t what you want but it’s uncovering the next layer of yourself. 2015 for me was the “year of self identity,” where I sought to answer the question “Who am I?” 2016 was the “year of release” – creating and releasing what’s inside myself out to the world. That meant continuing to understand who I was in order to release myself but also to find those opportunities to do so. As for 2017, the theme I have been kicking around for the past couple of months is the theme of purpose. To follow my purposes but also to do things with purpose.
As you can see, the theme is deceivingly simple.
The beauty of this is that you could have the same word as your best friend or least favorite person and the interpretation is up to you. Your theme may have a whole paragraph supporting it or your interpretation of it may shift mid-year. That is all a-okay.
Once you figure out your word, you instill it in your mind and body. It’s a bit easier to remember one word than it is a whole list of goals with arbitrary numbers. Then you use your theme to drive what you do day-to-day throughout the weeks, months and ultimately, the entire year. “Unlimited energy” may look like something different each day in terms of food, sleep, or who you choose to interact with. And “love” – the word doesn’t just stand for finding a partner. It can mean self love or love for your friends, family, and neighbors.
What’s most important is that you are intentional towards that theme everyday.
This does not mean you have to do something everyday but when you have that intention you will see that little things you do even contribute towards the theme. Then the decisions you do make will start to build on one another.
If you have read Jeff Olson’s Slight Edge, you may have already started following a similar strategy where you take slight action in every day choices towards your goals.
Now, if your Type A, list loving self is experiencing nervous tics because this method is too open to interpretation, feel free to make a list of your goals AFTER you figure out that theme. And then revisit those goals frequently and see what can be adapted.
Goals are super rigid and as someone who lives in the grey and where circumstances change, I find this method works best for me. I have felt much more personal fulfillment in the past couple of years doing this method than I have of anything else.
How has goal setting been for you in the past? Will you be setting a theme for the next year?
I write everyday because it allows me to voice what is at the surface. Once that is out of my head, I can dig in another layer deeper. My daily writing practice has been my greatest exploration of self and humanity. Sign up here to receive these thought nuggets in your inbox on the daily.