Goodbye, New Year's Resolutions. Hello, 2018Q1 Goals.

[Image description: a figure does \o/ arms on a hillock]

I don’t tend to keep traditional New Year’s resolutions. I make them, but I don’t keep them. I’m better at goals. What’s the difference? Here’s how I think of it:

Resolutions are broad intentions, usually focused on deep personal change. Googling the most popular New Year’s resolutions, I found things like “Lose weight,” “Enjoy life to its fullest,” and “Spend less, save more.”

Goals are specific actions that you intend to accomplish or benchmarks you intend to reach. Examples of big goals I’ve set & reached in past years include: running a 5k, writing a novel, and moving to a new city.

Resolutions, then, are just goals that are vague and difficult to measure, usually overly idealistic, and often with an uncertain roadmap. I feel like resolutions are possible to keep only if you break them down into concrete steps - in other words, goals.

Often when I set goals instead of resolutions at the New Year, it feels like a cop-out - goals are achievable, and I might get it done before the end of the new year! Wouldn’t that be cheating? A year seems like a long time, and I think that’s part of the reason we tend to set rather lofty intentions. But that’s also one of the reasons we don’t keep them. A year is too long of a time horizon to keep up consistent enthusiasm (hence why most gyms clear out by February). But the combination of biting off more than we can chew at once + throwing ourselves at it full force right at the beginning = a recipe for burn-out and giving up.

A friend of mine sets new goals each month. I think this is more workable. You can actually picture a month, and you can be more realistic about the amount you can accomplish in that time. It’s possible to maintain enthusiasm for the whole month, and if the particular goal derailed your life in some way - for example, if going to the gym every day left you with no time for your novel - then you can re-evaluate at the end of the month and set a new goal for the next month.

I guess my resolution, then, is to set achievable monthly goals this year. I will not decide them all ahead of time (I feel like it’s important to allow myself to course correct and/or follow my unpredictable whims as the year goes on). But I have picked 3 for the first 3 months.

  1. Do 3 exercise videos per week for 8 weeks (=24 times). "Exercise more" is always my New Year’s resolution and I never keep up with it for the long term. But I really want to work out regularly for the next 2 months, because I’m going in for surgery in late February and I want to be as healthy and in as good shape as I can be before that.

    It’s been really cold, so I picked video workouts which I can do indoors with equipment I already have. My general plan is to do one day of abs/core (bodyweight/no equipment), one day of arms/chest (with weights), and one day of cardio. The cardio day could be replaced by running, weather and mood permitting.

  2. Learn to play “Heartbreaker” by Pat Benatar on the bass. A bass guitar is one of those things that I’ve gotten and given away MULTIPLE times, so my spouse was understandably skeptical when I bought a new one (granted, it was sort of a Christmas gift, though in the form of gift money. The one thing my gifter specified was that I spend it on myself and NOT throw it on the pile.) I was also unsure if I’d actually play or if it would just collect dust and make me feel guilty for not playing (like last time). That remains to be seen in the long time, but so far, I love it. I really missed playing. The instrument I got was just the kind I wanted, and I love the way it sounds. I’m not very good but it’s an activity that’s absorbing and uses a totally different part of my brain than anything else I do, and I think that’s valuable. I'm also pleased that I remember so much of what I learned in the past, even though a lot of inactive time has elapsed. The general resolution version of this is “play on a regular basis,” but since I'd never be able to self-judge if I played enough, my specific goal is to learn a single song. You can only absorb so much in one session, so in order to achieve this, I'll have to play at least somewhat regularly.

  3. Read 10 books. I fall in and out of the reading habit; lately, I've been in a phone rut, just endlessly scrolling. It's not satisfying or edifying, the backlight keeps me awake, and it feels creepily addictive. Books are a better entertainment in basically every way. But according to Goodreads, where I've documented my book reading since 2014, the number of books I read each year has been steadily falling (and lots of books are low-value such as children's and especially Baby-sitters Club books). Again, the resolution version of this would be "read more," but I like measurable. The goal and pursuit of a number will cause me to do the more habit-y things I want (like reading in bed and on the subway). So: 10 books in Q1, or by March 31. Since I read more than 50 books per year (or more than 12 books per quarter) every year pre-2017, this should be do-able. Baby-sitters Club doesn't count toward my 10-book total, but other YA/pop bestseller/comic books/low-reading-level books totally do. They simply have to be books I haven't read before.

So, there’s 3 goals for 3 months, though I’m not necessarily going to do them sequentially (#1 in January and so on). Since they are quite different from each other, I think I can start them all in parallel, at least to begin with. #3 is probably the only one I’ll physically be able to do in surgery recovery mode, but I should have plenty of time to read then, so it's okay if I don't keep pace with with books in the first two months. Once I'm healed up and ready to attack the spring and summer, I’ll probably have a whole new set of priorities and preoccupations. I’ll check in again three months from now about my new goals for Quarter #2 of the year!


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