My least favorite time of the year is a little over two months away. No, I’m not talking about Christmas – I’m no Scrooge – but rather the holiday that comes just one week later. New Year’s Day seems like a perfectly innocent time for celebration. We get a day off work and school, ring in the start of a fresh calendar year and try to get our friends and family to devour the rest of our Christmas leftovers.
However, with New Year’s Day comes the all-powerful New Year’s resolutions. A resolution is defined by Lexicon as “A firm decision to do or not to do something.” Our society seems to believe these decisions that we set on Jan. 1 have some sort of sacred majesty and become set in stone, as if a calendar reset automatically resets our personalities.
The truth is that the calendar year is an arbitrary concept created by man, not some powerful resolution-former. Every second we start a new year. If we could simply say “I am going to eat healthy” and then magically never again eat a cookie on the first day of the year, it would work any day of the year.
However, life isn’t like that. We can’t just say we’ll never again do something or act in a certain way and expect it to come into fruition. We need to know how we will make change happen instead of just saying that it will happen.
Even if resolute willpower was possible, it wouldn’t allow for the fluidity of our lives. Sometimes we change our minds about what we want and that’s okay. Resolutions leave no room for us to stray – whether by mistake or intentionally. They attempt to lock us into a life change, which causes us to give up the minute we deviate.
Instead, I say we make well-planned goals and bucket lists. Every moment is the start of a new year, which means any moment is the perfect time to make a change – and make it stick.
The first step is to choose your goals. Compile a list of things that need to change or that you’ve always wanted to change. Maybe your grades have been a little rough or your room is always a mess. Do you want to improve your mental health? Start attending church? Maybe there’s something you’ve always wanted to try, like a cooking class or hosting a podcast.
Write down absolutely everything you can think of – travel destinations, dreams and aspirations. Take a week to compile this list, that way you can come back and add more things.
Once you’ve made your list, choose a time frame. Are you looking for goals to complete in the next six months, five years or a decade? Once you’ve decided on a timeline, eliminate any goals that seem improbable to complete by that deadline or that you don’t have a very strong desire to complete – but be sure to stretch yourself.
Now that you’ve selected your goals, here are some tips to make them happen.
Pick a format that works for you
There are several ways to format your goals depending on their time frame and the level of ambition required.
If you have three to five goals that are focused on achievement, health or personal growth, my favorite method is the poster method.
Write each goal down on a sheet of paper – after all, you are 42 percent more likely to achieve goals that you write down. Be as specific as possible. Beneath each goal, write the steps you plan to take to make this happen and dates for when you will take these steps.
For example, if your goal is to eat healthy, write beneath the goal three steps that you plan to take to do this. Maybe you will only eat added sugar on weekends, or you will have a serving of fruit at each meal. Be sure to include exceptions. If there’s cake at a wedding, will you eat it? Don’t frame these exceptions as cheat days – you aren’t cheating on anything if you already decided that this leniency would help you reach your end goal.
Tape your goal poster above your bed, on your door or on the bathroom mirror. Make sure it is some place that guarantees you will see it everyday.
If you have more than five goals and some of them are less growth-focused and more experienced-based, consider creating a bucket list.
My sister-in-law recently turned 30 and finished her 30 things before 30 bucket list. She included items that were easy to check off, such as attending a yoga class and going to a movie alone, as well as more challenging dreams, like going to Santorini, Greece.
She typed her 30 before 30 into a spreadsheet ordered by how much effort the item would require. She finished her 30 before 30 by writing a letter to herself to open on her 40th birthday. This is a fun format for long-term items that you’ve always had a desire to complete.
Check up on your progress frequently
Whatever format you choose for recording your goals, make sure you also have a format for checking on your progress.
I like to look at my list of goals each night and reflect on if I have made any progress toward my goals that day. If it’s a daily goal, such as keeping your room clean, record whether or not you cleaned each night before bed. This way, you can notice your progress and remind yourself to do better the next day.
If your goal is more long-term, such as going on a roadtrip with friends, create checkpoints and mark them in your calendar. By what date will you have confirmed which friends can come? What date do travel arrangements need to be made? Setting alerts on your phone can keep you on track.
Control what you can control
In the words of my high school tennis coach, “control what you can control.” Don’t stress about the rest. Sometimes you aren’t going to achieve a goal due to circumstances that are out of your control.
All you can do is your best. Be specific, make your checkpoints and work hard – but don’t be hard on yourself. We can’t control every aspect of our lives, but we can control our attitudes about the roadblocks. Make sure your attitude focuses on the things you’ve done well and the things you can do better tomorrow, not the things you did poorly today.
Be nice to yourself when you don’t reach a goal. The process of working toward a goal is still beneficial, even if you don’t succeed in the way you had planned.
Not everything goes according to plan, which is why those firm resolutions I discussed are impractical. Sometimes you realize that a goal you had set doesn’t interest you anymore.
Maybe you had always dreamed of going to New York City, but now it doesn’t sound very appealing. Don’t keep a New York City trip on the bucket list. There’s a big difference between never doing something you want to do and deciding that you no longer want to do something.
Our interests change, as do our dreams. Write your bucket list in pencil, not Sharpie.
Never imagine your goals as painful homework assignments. They should be things you look forward to – even if you have to stretch a little.
If your goal is to eat healthy, think about how excited you are to eat food that makes you feel good. If you want to do better in school, remind yourself of that awesome feeling of accomplishment that comes after an hour of studying. Yes, it’s difficult, but it also improves your life in a way that makes any discomfort worthwhile. If working toward your goal doesn’t make you feel good, it’s the wrong goal.
Having experiences that you’ve always wanted to have should be exciting. Our ability to grow and turn our lives into something better should cause us joy. There’s no reason why this joy should be reserved for New Year’s Day – afterall, a new year begins every second.