Look I am as sick of writing New Years’ Resolution posts as you are of reading them. This is the time of the year when we bloggers can’t think of anything else to write so decide to get high and mighty and tell you why you suck.
But let’s be honest, we never learn. Every year we come back to the same guilt and shame and announce to the world via Twitter that this is the year that we lose weight or take up running or whatever.
And we know those things aren’t bad. Most of us do need to exercise more. Maybe I should be writing more than I am. It’s just, it never happens. At least not consistently.
I have big plans for next year to be the year where I write the book I just didn’t have enough time to write this year, you know with all the time the old procrastinating takes up.
So in some naive attempt to delay the guilt and shame I know are hurtling towards me in a couple of weeks once the ball drops or Jools celebrates the New Year pre recorded back in November hits our screens, I decide to make some lofty plans.
But how on Earth am I capable of writing a book if I can’t write everyday?
The problem isn’t the goal per se.
The problem is the size of the goal.
It’s too big. I am probably a long way off being able to write a book simply because I am a long way off from writing everyday.
So, the way to get past this is to write everyday, right? Well, kind of. Because setting a goal of writing everyday is in itself a problem. Again, the problem is not the goal itself, it’s something in the nature of the goal. In this case, it’s too vague.
I can write everyday but does that mean a word, a sentence or even a whole giant paragraph. So to fix this, the solution is to set myself a fixed a parameter. I am going to keep with my small goals and I am going to give myself a goal of writing for 15 minutes every day.
It’s small enough to not be overwhelming and it’s concrete enough to know that I’ve actually accomplished my goal.
So there we have it. Keep it small, keep it unvague (I think created this word in order to keep the “keep it”)
Except of course, we all know that if I only write for 15 minutes a day I’ll probably be writing a pamphlet rather than my Grand Opus.
So the goal can be small and it can be concrete but it needs to grow. It can’t stay this size because ultimately nothing will change. So the goal has to evolve.
Here’s an example of how this has been working out in my own life recently So I want to be a writer but I wasn’t writing and I realized that it wasn’t simply because I had nothing to say but because the blank screen can always be a little overwhelming. (More about how to deal with that here) The more I didn’t write the more I felt bad and unmotivated and defeated.
So I decided to break it down into 15 minute goals of writing. It’s better I write for 15 minutes than for 0 minutes. So for a week I wrote for 15 minutes everyday. Then after 15 minutes I would stop. Then go to sleep or waste time on Twitter. It was perhaps, not surprisingly, easy to do. Not everything I wrote was great or even useable but I wrote for 15 minutes a day. I had achieved my goal.
So the next week I felt a little like letting my hair down, went crazy and decided to write for 30 minutes a day. Sometimes I would write for 15 in the morning and another 15 in the evening but at the end of the day I had spent a half hour writing. It felt good. I was accomplishing what I set out to do.
Sure, 30 minutes is nothing and some people can write for hours a day but I was honest with myself and knew that if I had tried anything longer I would have given up by now.
Then this past week, instead of upping my writing from 30 minutes to 45 minutes, I kept my 30 minute goal but added 15 minutes of reading as well. Now admittedly, part of this was to make me feel like I was progressing without actually having to do any more writing but if you want to be a writer it’s a good idea to spend some time reading people who are better at writing the sequences of words than you are able to do that.
It also kept the goal interesting. I wasn’t just doing more of the same, I was mixing it up. But just like anything to get better, we need to keep growing and pushing ourselves a little everyday.
So this is my aim for the foreseeable future. To keep changing and adding to my goal.
What I’ve discovered though is that most of the time the reason our goals don’t last isn’t because we’re not capable of them, it’s just that we’re not capable of them, yet!
So if you want to eat less chocolate but you can’t seem to go a day without chocolate, maybe make your goal be to just eat one bar of chocolate a day instead of two for a week or two.
If you want to start working out but the last time you did was when you were forced to run around a field in November, sometime in High School, how about going for a 5 minute walk a couple of times a week for a month.
Start there. You’re not competing against Usain Bolt, you’re comparing to yourself yesterday.
This New Year then, if you have a problem keeping your goals or New Year’s Resolutions, take your goal and lay it out. Look at it and when you think it is small enough, break it down even more. Use something to keep track of your progress. I personally love the Jerry Seinfeld idea and use Chains.
But even with small steps, the temptation to stop will still be lurking a little behind the corner, ready to pounce on that one moment of self doubt. You may even stop for a couple of days and feel like, here we go again, another uncompleted goal.
Yet, because we’ve kept our goals small, it’s easy to get back at it. This happened to me this past week when a work out I had successfully been keeping up with for 2 weeks straight, dropped off. I could feel that niggling doubt and inevitability of failure. But because it was a small and relatively easy work out for now, I was able to get back on track without feeling pressure or like it was a huge unsurmountable challenge. If I had made my goal to run a mile every day, there would be no way I would feel like that.
I had to let go of my ego and be self aware enough and know what I was capable of right now.
So don’t rush it. You don’t need to be running a marathon by January 1st. You don’t need to have written a book by February.
The key is to start small and very slowly (slower than you think) and gradually build up your goals.
Because remember, we have all year.