In years past, I’ve started off the new year by listing some goals for the coming year. Last year, I set a weight loss goal (which went really well for most of the year until medication issues completely knocked me for a loop) and a writing goal (I have a novel in the editing process right now) and a community service goal (I actually exceeded my target for community service in 2012).
One of my big plans for 2012, though, was to really study how and why some goals click with me and others do not.
For example, why was I able to succeed so well with my personal finance goals and blogging goals in the past, but struggle so much with my health-related goals? Could I extend what worked so well with some goals into other areas of my life that I wanted to improve, such as building stronger relationships?
As I watched what goals worked in 2012 and what things didn’t work, I learned a few things.
Large-scale goals were doomed from the start
Almost every time, I would succeed if I focused on something attainable within the next few days. If my primary goal was on an annual scale, I failed miserably.
Let’s look at that as a specific example. Often, I’d think of my health goals in an annual context. My goal would be to lose X pounds this year. As a goal, that would completely fail.
Thanks to John Brennan for the wonderful image
Small-scale goals worked much better
My success throughout most of 2012 for health-related goals was to focus entirely on weekly goals. Rather than trying to lose X pounds in a year, my focus was on losing one pound in a week. That simply meant running a net deficit of between 3,500 and 4,000 calories during a week.
My steps to achieving that goal were straightforward. I’d simply look at increased activity or good dietary choices as chipping away at that 4,000 number. All I would care about is reaching that 4,000 calorie deficit for the week, and I understood the little steps that would directly take me there. My “long loop” while jogging would burn 800 calories. I’d burn about 2,800 calories during a normal day with no exercise. My favorite kind of breakfast burrito cost me about 425 calories or so.
Tying everything to that weekly 4,000 number made the mountain much smaller to climb.
The same phenomenon was actually true of my finances. As I looked back at all of the things I did to dig out of my financial hole, the real successes were almost all short-term goals like this. I’d successfully execute a “money-free weekend” and the result of that was money saved. I’d budget myself a maximum of $20 for lunches for a given week. I’d give myself a monthly allowance for my hobbies, but then I’d mentally break that down even more into almost week-sized chunks.
Small-scale goals fit really well with big goals, but it required planning
I began to realize, as the year went on, how vital a weekly review of my goals was becoming.
I started to heavily borrow from David Allen’s idea of looking at my life from different scales. There were tasks to be done quickly, projects to be completed over several months, areas of focus that guided my life over a couple of years, visions that guided my life over five to ten years, and life goals that covered the span of my entire life.
Whenever I spent time thinking about one level, I would always find that it greatly impacted the level under that. Whenever I thought about what I wanted people to say about me at my funeral, I would see how it would directly link to things I wanted to achieve over the next several years. When I thought about those big achievements, they would also break down into smaller steps.
This trickled all the way down to things that would cover about six months to a year – in other words, things that perfectly matched the year-long period of a New Year’s resolution.
Even those annual or semi-annual projects would continue to break down and eventually end up becoming pieces on my to-do list for a given week – the short-term goals that I found worked really well for my personal success.
So, each week, I’ve started spending an hour or two thinking about things in this way. I’ll evaluate all of these levels in my life and see if anything needs adjusting, but the end goal is to generate a to-do list of things to do during the week. By simply completing that to-do list, I’m moving forward on all of the stuff I’ve decided to be genuinely important in my life.
With this kind of routine and this kind of connection between my ordinary to-do list and all of the different broad areas of my life, the idea of a New Year’s resolution seems unnecessary. I like to think of it as turning every weekend into a New Year’s celebration, where I can look back on the successes of the past week and look ahead to the next week, making sure these things are in line with what I want from my life in a broader sense.
It’s hard to see what the long-term effect of this is going to be because so many of the steps are just early steps on very long roads in my life. I don’t know where it all leads.
What I do know is that this change has launched me on several new journeys in my life, both connected to and separated from my writing and other online content production. I feel like my life, in many different areas, is moving along more smoothly and with more purpose than it ever has.
Rather than a New Year’s resolution, I prefer to think of my path for 2013 and beyond as a new week’s revolution.