At the end of a year, I like to look back on the year that’s gone by, both in terms of my achievements and failures. What good things have I done? What things have I left undone? How can I make the coming year better than the previous one?
Often, these end up taking the form of “resolutions” for the coming year. I like to think of “resolutions” as simply personal goals for the next six to twelve months. They establish the things I’d like to improve and change in my own life. This is actually something I do normally every three or so months, so I’ll usually sit down and look at my resolutions in March or April to see how they’re going and then refresh them. In fact, my own resolutions for the coming year are just evolutions of the projects and goals I set for myself back in September.
My focus for resolutions in 2015 is on daily actions. Rather than worrying about big end results, I’m more interested in doing things that alter my daily routine and that alteration leads me to the lifestyle change I desire.
The problem with setting a big goal for the year – like losing 50 pounds or saving $5,000 for retirement – is that it puts a timeframe on something that’s incredibly hard to estimate up front. You can’t know in advance how difficult it is going to be for you to lose a significant amount of weight or to save an amount of money.
What you do know is if you commit to certain positive daily lifestyle changes, the lifestyle goal you want will happen eventually. If you want that change to come faster, you can make stronger daily lifestyle changes, but it’s generally better to focus on sustainable changes. You’re far better off making a little change that will stick than a big change that you’ll burn out eventually.
I described this habit-altering idea in depth in my recent article on making daily practices work for you. In effect, my 2015 resolutions are an effort to build the best possible “daily practice” that I can. Here are the nine things I’m committing to, almost all of which are devoted to a better “daily practice.”
I’m going to walk an average of 15,000 steps per day.
In 2014, I walked an average of 11,000 steps per day (on the days that I measured). I’m concerned mostly about the average, as I want to make walking a greater part of my life.
My solution for this is to use a single page of graph paper to track this. I have a block of 1,100 squares measured off – a 22 x 50 square block of squares. I use a pedometer to track my steps and each time I take 5,000 steps in a day, I black out a single square. So, on a day where I walk my desired average, I’ll black out three squares. On above average days, I might black out four or five squares – on a lazier day, maybe only one or two.
The purpose of this goal is mostly to encourage me to walk around more. As a writer and a researcher, I spend too much of my day in a sedentary position and it doesn’t help that some of my hobbies encourage that as well.
How does this help my finances? For one, it will reduce long term health care costs. A healthier and less-sedentary body will do wonders for reducing the expenses related to the potential of many debilitating diseases. For another, it will boost my energy levels, making me more productive in other areas of my life, and I can use the walking time to learn things via audio format (something I do anyway).
I’m going to do at least one French lesson in Duolingo per day.
The purpose here is to gradually increase my ability to speak French over time. Duolingo separates language learning into a bunch of discrete bite-sized lessons that are perfect for a five or ten minute break. Since I can do these on my cell phone, it’s pretty convenient, too.
The nice thing about “little bursts” like these is that it enables me to go further if I want to on a given day while providing a low maintenance baseline. I can choose to do two or three or more little lessons in a day.
Rather than using a wall chart, I’m just going to use Duolingo’s internal “streak” mechanism to keep my chain of days going. Ideally, I’d like to get a chain of 365 days going, but I know that’s probably unrealistic. I just want to make my streak(s) as long as possible.
This is a substitute for my previous nebulous goal of “learning to speak French” that I attempted last year. While I certainly made some progress toward that goal, I realized that the goal was a poor one as it didn’t really establish what I needed to do to succeed. I wish to learn the language because all of my children have expressed interest in traveling to France in the future.
How does this help my finances? Being able to speak a second language conversationally helps my career opportunities, it helps with cognitive factors as well, helping you think better.
I’m going to spend at least one minute practicing with my guitar each day.
I’ve had a very nice guitar for a while now, but I rarely get it out and actually work on learning to play it. It’s a shame because every time I get it out I find myself really enjoying the practice. But then I stick it back in my closet and when it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind.
Recently, I started sitting my guitar in a little spot right next to my desk and I’ve found myself grabbing it a lot and just strumming it and fooling around with it in an unstructured way. I want to change that and actually learn how to play it. I have a big collection of “learn how to play guitar” videos on my computer that I intend to work through as I gradually learn a few songs.
Now, why only one minute? The idea is that with a one minute goal, I will pull out my guitar to do that single minute of practice under the idea that it will only take a minute, but once it’s on my lap, I’ll be personally motivated to practice for longer because it’s actually fun to play it once it’s out and on my lap.
Basically, this is just a call to pull out that guitar and dig into a video lesson once per day. I intend to track this with a small wall calendar, crossing off each day that I practice and eventually building “chains” of consecutive days of practice.
How does this help my finances? It really doesn’t, but it is a free hobby (or very close to it) since I already own the guitar.
I’m going to reduce my prepackaged food and restaurant food consumption to one meal per week.
I really don’t eat out that often, but I want to reduce it even further for a bunch of reasons.
For starters, most food served at most restaurants isn’t really very healthy. While it’s fine occasionally, it’s not good for you if you eat it all the time.
Another reason is the cost. There are very, very few situations where restaurant food isn’t drastically more expensive than making the same meal for yourself at home.
A third reason is that, in the end, it doesn’t really save much time, at least for us. We don’t have food delivery in our area, which means we have to go somewhere in order to enjoy restaurant food. When you add up all the factors, eating at a restaurant doesn’t usually save us a ton of time.
I intend to save my restaurant meals for times when I eat with my family or, on rare occasion, when I go somewhere really nice with family.
I am making two exception to this rule. First, I will break the rule and not count meals that I eat out with out-of-town friends. Sometimes, I’ll have an old friend that I haven’t seen in a long time ask me to eat lunch with him or her and I’m not going to count that social obligation here. I view that as an expense to get to spend time with an old friend. Second, I will break the rule on family vacations, though I will try to find non-restaurant solutions to eating.
How does this help my finances? My food cost goes down. My calorie intake also goes down, as does my intake of things like extra sodium and trans fats and MSG, which will help my long-term health.
I’m going to do at least one minute’s worth of dynamic resistance yoga each day.
About a year ago, I received a copy of DDP Yoga, which is a “guy”-themed exercise DVD set that focuses on using dynamic resistance. In other words, as you move, you move as though the air is full of sand and is resisting your every movement, so you “push” as hard as you can.
I started getting interested in yoga because of ongoing back problems. Several people recommended that I try it because it helped them drastically reduce their back pain and it really does work provided I keep up with it consistently.
That’s the real problem – consistency. Much like my guitar playing, it was easy to put it aside when my back was feeling good.
The “one minute” idea from my guitar lessons extends here as well. Once I’m already doing some positions, it’s pretty easy to just continue and go through a routine. The “one minute” motivation is there to convince me to actually get started because even if I decide I’m not in the mood today, it only takes a minute to keep the chain going.
As with the guitar lessons, I’m keeping a small wall calendar upon which I’ll mark the days where I achieve this goal. The goal, also as before, is to build “chains” of days where I succeed.
How does this help my finances? As with the other health-oriented goals on this list, the big value that they provide is that they reduce long-term health care costs. In this case, it will also reduce costs in the short term by keeping back pain at bay. There are also some energy benefits to doing this type of exercise.
I’m going to eat a “vegan before six” diet on weekdays.
This is an idea recommended by Mark Bittman in his book VB6. It’s pretty simple – just avoid meat and animal products in what you eat for breakfast and lunch. Doing so drastically reduces your calorie intake for the day (as well as reducing the intake of many other things often included in meat and animal products) and you can also eat pretty much whatever you like for dinner.
I considered including weekends in this challenge, but decided to exclude them because of the difficulties it may impose on other members of my family who aren’t eating restrictive diets.
I chose to do this because of the compelling case made by VB6 and other similar books. A number of studies conclude that making fruits and vegetables the core of your diet – the vast majority of what you eat – has innumerable health benefits.
How does this help with my finances? It’s all about the health, as described multiple times earlier in this article.
I’m going to complete a session of an online class each day.
Between the mountains of online classes that major universities are putting out there through things like OpenCourseWare and Open Yale and Coursera (just to name a few of the multitude of outlets), there are almost infinite opportunities to delve deeply into learning about specific subjects of interest to you.
Lifetime learning has always been a part of my life, but I’ve mostly just jumped from topic to topic, bearing down on one topic for an hour or two and then jumping to the next thing. Online courses – most of which are completely free – allow me to bear down on a specific topic and dig deep into the material.
Most of the time, this will take the form of listening to the lecture of a class in podcast form while I take a walk and then writing down my reflections on the lecture after the walk. There are many, many classes out there that offer the lectures in audio form.
From what I can estimate, each class should take me about a month (or so) to work through, with some being a bit shorter. My focus is on making sure I do a session a day (on average), but I hope to work through fifteen different classes in 2015, some of them leading to more difficult courses on the same topic. Some of the areas I want to focus on include biochemistry, programming language theory, philosophy, and graphic design.
How does this help with my finances? The whole point of this exercise is to maintain my ability to learn while also picking up new ideas and skills. I find that learning about different topics stretches my mind in different ways and sometimes makes it easier to connect ideas in unexpected ways. Plus, listening to the lectures of online classes is something I can do while walking or while driving somewhere, so it doesn’t really take up much extra time (time is money, after all!).
I’m going to write fifty words of a novel each day.
Over the last, say, decade or so, I’ve been tossing around several ideas for novels. One is a story of sibling jealousy in a near-future background. Another is an urban fantasy with a brother-sister protagonist combination that could potentially be a series. Yet another is a high fantasy novel focused an older assassin and a young woman at odds with one another.
I have lots of character biographies, some chapter-by-chapter sketches, and some rough drafts of chapters floating around, but I’ve never willed myself to actually complete the writing.
That changes this year. I’m committing to a very simple goal of actually writing fifty words in one of these novels each day.
Again, the threshold is low so that I might convince myself in the moment to write even more than that. I figure that fifty words is enough to often get me in the flow of writing.
How does this help with my finances? Writing something like a novel is an investment of time into something that will eventually become a passive stream of income once published. While there’s no guarantee that anything I write this year will become published, it will certainly lead to better novels in the future that have a much better chance of becoming published.
I’m going to brush my teeth twice daily and floss once daily.
Some of you will go, “Wow, that’s excessive.” Others of you will go, “Wow, that’s … normal.”
The truth is that I typically brush my teeth once a day, yet that did not prevent me from getting a few dental problems in the last few years. I don’t eat a very sugary diet, either.
During my last visit, I talked to my dentist about what I could do about it. He suggested I use a mild toothpaste, not use too much, brush once or twice a day, and floss once a day.
Since then, I’ve been trying to stick to that, but it’s been something I’ve had difficulty adding to my routine. I usually brush in the morning, so remembering it in the evening (along with flossing in the evening) has been the real trick.
Rather than keeping track of my success here, I’ve just added an alert to my phone that goes off at eight each evening admonishing me to go brush and floss my teeth.
More than any other thing here, this is the one I want to become so routine that I never even think about it. Sometime in the hour or so before bed, I want brushing and flossing to be completely normal.
How does this help with my finances? Fewer dental bills, less time spent going to the dentist, and less time spent dealing with annoying minor dental issues is a big win all around.
So, what can you take from this?
First, focus on micro-goals that you can pull off each day. Don’t sweat the giant mountain. Instead, focus on what you can do today that will take you a step closer to that mountain peak that you want to reach.
Second, make them sustainable. If you commit yourself to too much stuff, you’ll never be able to make it work. Most of the items I’ve listed above just take a few minutes per day and some of them directly overlap, making them much easier to achieve. Many of them are just refinements of things I’m already doing. Look for goals that are just a small step beyond what you’re already doing and then build up from there if you feel it necessary.
Third, make them fun. Some of the goals I’ve listed here are things that I view as fun (such as playing the guitar). It just means I’m shifting around leisure priorities. Other goals are just reinforcements of things I enjoy that I already do normally (like going on walks). A goal does not mean subjecting yourself to misery. It might just mean redirecting your leisure time a little or adding a little bit more effort to things you already do and enjoy.
Finally, everyone has different goals. My goals are not your goals and your goals aren’t mine. The value in looking at other people’s goals – and the reason I enjoy reading the resolutions and goals of others – is that it can give you ideas on how to achieve your own goals, similar or not.
What do you want out of your life? What little thing can you do today to move in that direction? Can you do it tomorrow and the day after? If you can answer those questions, you’re defining a good goal for yourself.