Did you know that there are approximately 40 calendars that exist in the world and 11 that are widely used today?!? I didn’t, until I just googled it. I did know, however, that our Gregorian new year is not the one and only new year celebrated around the world. Regardless of how arbitrary January 1 is, it is a great trigger for setting aside time to contemplate what to let go of and what to cultivate in the tiny segments of time that lie behind and ahead of us. It is a time to set goals, but do not confuse goals with the standard new year’s resolutions. Those tend
to be amorphous declarations intended to overhaul some area of one’s life, driven by an arbitrary change on the calendar. They set people up for failure and it is a cliche for a reason. Setting goals from my perspective is about continuous improvement and the path toward personal evolution.
Let’s look at the typical resolution to “eat better”. It is not a reasonable or achievable goal, if for the sole reason that it is completely undefined and means different things to different people. If a goal is a destination where you’ve never been, it is ridiculous to think that you’ll get there without a map. I like to use SMART goals. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound. For example, rather than “eat better”, some goals I’ve set that have been successful long-term include:
- eating dark leafy greens every day
- no longer ingesting anything with artificial sweeteners, ever (it’s been over 5 years)
- eliminating all animal products from my diet every day for a month (I was already cooking vegan the majority of the time and so this was relevant and attainable)
They may not be big and shiny, or impressive goals, but the habits form and the benefits accumulate, contributing to my immediate and long-term health, and that is meaningful to me.
The Chinese have a tradition of literally cleaning house in the few days before the new year to clean out the old and welcome the new. I like this symbolic gesture of setting the stage to make your goals happen. One’s physical space often determines one’s mental space, and vice versa. When I’m having difficulty thinking clearly, it helps to remove the physical chaos and let the qi flow. It is then that I can more easily know what I need to say no to, prioritize the “yes” items based on what I truly want and need, and remind myself that it’s okay to be “selfish”. I am the only one living my life, after all. It is critical for me to be unabashedly honest with myself. That sounds easy, but sometimes it’s hard to find the truth within through all the noise. I know that if I find silence, I will find the goals that will guide me toward a more purposeful and fulfilling life.
Setting big goals and stretch goals is important. This year, two of my big race goals are to run Dirty 30 and Mount Hood – both 50K trail races. Given how far I’ve come in the year since my knee injury, I feel like the 50K distance is not that stretchy of a goal. Granted, the Dirty 30 is a very difficult race, so I feel like it’s a big goal, but I also feel like a 50 mile distance would be a real stretch for me and hold the possibility of failure, which I am loath to risk. While writing this, I just realized that I play it safe in this arena too! If I’m being honest with myself, I think I set “big goals” where chances of failure seem slim. I’m going to need to re-evaluate.
Moving on… as corny as it sounds, vision boards are a great tool for realizing larger goals. Big goals require a consistent effort, commitment and hard work. One cannot procrastinate and then cram all that effort into a short period just before the attempt and expect to get the satisfaction of accomplishing a big goal. Maybe you’ll still reach the finish line, but the satisfaction lies not just in the moment of achievement, but in realizing and acknowledging all the hard work, commitment and sustained effort it took to get there. This is where vision boards come in. It’s not merely a version of scrap-booking, it’s a way to keep your goals top of mind while preserving the mental energy to take action. It’s so easy for the daily grind to disguise your far-off goal like a pile of dirty laundry over the book you’ve been meaning to read. (Why do you even keep a book you want to read in the laundry basket anyway?) Just seeing that daily reminder sets the stage for daily action. I think it’s also important to mention that your goals need to be meaningful and authentic to you and not guided by ego or external validation, or the achievement just won’t be as satisfying as you know it can be.
Finally, for those days where you just can’t… save space for humor to fill the gap until you can. For those days when you just don’t have the drive, or you need to sacrifice one high priority item for another, don’t berate yourself; acknowledge and accept your down day(s) or your other needs. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Winter motivation is difficult for me. Today I want to clean and I want to run, but it’s already noon and I’m still in bed with no pants on (see the image of failure below), drinking cold coffee and writing this. It’s okay. I know I will run, if not today, then tomorrow. I know that rest is necessary, I know that sacrifice is necessary, and I know I will be restored.
For those really tough times when it’s not about sacrificing one priority for another, but feels like you’re just plodding along with no fire in your belly, going through the motions – remember that the only choice is to keep moving forward. Left, right, repeat until it comes back, and it will come back. Rely on that muscle memory in your mind and think of the words of Samuel Beckett.
You must go on.
I can’t go on.
I’ll go on.