Setting & Keeping Meaningful Goals:
Did you know that most New Years Resolutions are abandoned by February?
I had a teacher in high school tell me that she never sets her new years resolutions until April because of all the negativity & lack of motivation stirring in the winter months.
Genius, right? I heard that & wondered how that had never occurred to me before. How many of us have a hard time following through on the goals we set, especially right after the new year?
Since that conversation I’ve forever changed how I set my “New Years Resolutions”.
I’m a very goal oriented person; I make to-do lists & have note cards with my aspirations & ways I can be better scribbled on them in every drawer and book I own. I set goals often and I’m always trying to be better than I was yesterday or last week, but I really sit down to set goals twice a year; once in April and once in October.
Now, you may find it coincidental that I set my goals when General Conference occurs, but I don’t. In fact, that’s exactly why I set my goals in April and October. First, because if I’ve been present for Conference like I should be, then I have all of this new revelation on where I need to go and what I need to do better, plus an added measure of motivation and reassurance from listening to messages from the Lord. Second, because April and October happen to be two of my favorite months and I find it a lot easier to be accountable for my goals if I know the results are due in six months instead of twelve.
When I sat down to crank out my goals this year after listening to General Conference, my mind kept flashing back to an experience I had at the new year and I knew I had to write about it.
So there are two things I want to share with you: How to set meaningful goals & how to keep them.
But first, here’s a little back story…
I was browsing through social media on New Years Eve and I kept reading post after post of people sharing how great their year was, how it was the best one yet, & how they couldn’t wait for 2017. It’s customary for people to become a bit sentimental and share what they’re grateful for and all the luck they’ve had in the past year, but as I was scrolling and reading all these posts I just laughed to myself. Actually, I think I laughed out loud.
Not one of these posts mentioned a hardship or a bump along the way. I’m being completely serious, not one. I rolled my eyes and just kept thinking to myself, “That’s nice, but some of us feel like death.”
I’ve got more problems than I can count, more health ailments than the doctors can fit on their note cards, & I lack even the energy some days to call for appointments or record my blood pressure in my health journal. I’ve got mascara and tear stains on my pillows, sometimes I end up asleep on the floor, and there are days where I can’t think of one productive thing I’ve done & I struggle with that.
When I was reading those posts I was confused, and then maybe a little hurt that life was working out for everyone else. Was I doing something wrong? What did I do to warrant piles of problems, nights spent sobbing in pain, and the emptiness I felt?
You see, my year wasn’t all sparkles and glitter. In fact, life hasn’t permitted me to do what I’d like to for quite some time.
But that’s not the point.
I don’t believe in having bad years. I don’t believe it because you always have days and weeks that lift you up and kiss your heart, but I also don’t have many cute things to say about most of the past 365 days that were 2016. I could say that 2016 was the hardest year of my entire life and it could be accurate (I don’t know what the rest of my life holds, but let’s hope that’s the threshold).
There were times I didn’t know if I’d survive it, or if I even wanted to. You can’t prepare yourself for the kind of personal and private devastation I felt. However, amid such an unexpected trial there came even more unanticipated growth. Sometimes I’d feel so lonely and so much pain, and other times I’d feel so much support, almost like I could get through anything.
Now, I’m not going into this year healed of all my ailments or free from all my heartache and with a sudden new life and heart full of joy… it’s quite the opposite, it would be accurate to say I have more.
I don’t want you to know how hard my life is, or for you to speculate or offer pity; but I want you to know & understand this so you can know that in spite of all the terribly hard things you may be asked to walk through, you can know where to turn, and that’s to God.
Sometimes that’s all I can say to find peace, strength, and clarity.
But I want to tell you this for one reason:
That’s the thing about the New Year, nothing really changes unless you do.
SETTING MEANINGFUL GOALS:
The dictionary definition for resolution is this:
WHY WE FAIL:
- OUR GOALS ARE TOO BROAD: For example, if you make a resolution to lose weight and leave it at that, it’s too general. Goals have to be specific and must include a well-defined plan that you can work toward and follow. So, if I want to get better grades I’ll start by writing out a study plan that includes how long I’ll study each day, at what time, and which classes. It will detail how I’ll study, the steps I’ll follow to do that. Maybe I’ll fill up my water bottle, turn off my phone, grab a healthy snack, and turn on a playlist to get ready. The point is, your goal has to be specific. Do you want a 4.0? Are you going to study though lunch? You have to know precisely how you’re going to get there or you won’t.
- OUR GOALS ARE TOO BIG: As humans we have this lovely habit of setting the bar too high. After not running for two years we suddenly want to run three marathons this summer. And planning to get in shape, run those marathons, learn to play the piano, visit your friend every week, and learn fluent Spanish is just setting yourself up for failure.
- WE SET TOO MANY: The reality is that we often set goals that are too extensive and too many goals. We try to shoot for the moon, but we also want the Sun and the stars and the planets too. All of a sudden we’re trying to do everything at once and we just don’t have the mental and physical resources to manage and accomplish our tasks.
Fortunately, there are ways we can stay on track & achieve our goals.
HOW WE CAN SUCCEED:
- Make SMART goals: This means making your goals Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, & Time-based.
You’ll want to identify very concrete and specific steps. You may have a goal to be a better person, but you have to sit down and figure out what that will look like. How are you going to get there? I’m not saying that you can’t have those sky-high goals, we all do, and we should all dream, but bring it home and make a plan. For example, if you are trying to be more positive, then set an alarm on your phone three times a day & when it goes off take a minute to take in the beauty around you, compliment someone, or think of something you’re grateful for. Or, a good example would be if you wanted to lose 5 pounds in 1 month. That’s time based, measurable, & achievable; so then you’d set up a specific work out plan for how you’re going to exercise, how often, what you’re going to eat & you’re set.
- Stick to one thing: Trying to accomplish five or ten goals at the same time is seriously difficult and almost a sure set up for failure. It will quickly get overwhelming and you may discard your goals all together. My advice is to pick one thing, really hit it hard, and then move on to the next thing. I’ve seen this so many times in my life, whether it was trying to do something for Personal Progress or me trying to develop a better quality or improve my throwing ultimate frisbee; I always accomplished more at a faster rate when I focused on just one thing.
- Be honest with yourself: We often set goals based on how we think our lives are supposed to look, when really they should come from our desires and what is most meaningful in our lives. What behaviors can you change that will get your mind and body functioning more effectively? Are you making goals that are important to you? If the motivation doesn’t come from within, but from an outside fear or guilt of needing to do more, then you probably won’t succeed and it won’t bring you much satisfaction. Make goals based on what you value and if you truly want it then you’ll see results.
- Make yourself accountable: This will be different for every person, but it’s important to make yourself accountable for your goals in order to succeed. Here’s the thing, goals require a lot of action & they are often accompanied by a lot of verbs, which also ask a lot of us. So, get up, get dressed & crush your goals. This can be tricky at first because you have to find out what works for you, but there is always something. Arrange your environment for success — put the alarm clock across the room so you’ll stop hitting the snooze button & take all of the junk food out of the pantry so you’ll stop snacking. Chart your progress if you need to. For some it really helps to visually see how strong you’ve already been, so mark on your calendar that you’ve exercised for five days in a row & you’ll be less likely to skip on the sixth day because you don’t want to break the cycle. Take steps to make yourself accountable. If you want to run a half marathon then sign up for it & pay for it in advance, find a friend to go on long runs with, or just have a running chart. This may not work for everyone, but you can make your goals public by sharing them on social media, talking about them with a friend, or simply hanging them on the wall for you to see every day, but make sure you can’t just abandon them.
Happy. Healthy. Holy.
My goals & aspirations for the next six months & why I chose words instead of things…
To be honest, when I sat down to think about my goals and resolutions they looked a lot like everyone else’s note card or decorated list does. Mine went something like this…
- Attend the Temple every week.
- Run a half marathon every month & 2 full marathons this year (stress fracture permitting).
- Go to school (campus or online) with a 4.0.
- Find a job you like.
- Monthly visits to my friends in assisted living homes.
- Finish writing & publish your book by June.
- Read the Book of Mormon every month & study the scriptures 1 hour per day.
- Go on a humanitarian trip to South America.
- Faithfully write missionaries from the ward.
- Always remember to put God first & others close behind.
Now, if you’re smarter than me or know anything about my situation then you know this was a recipe for disaster, failure, & sad feelings. Right out of the gate, I’m trying to do too many things that I just don’t have control over.
So, I sat back down to re-evaluate. I said to myself, “Self, you can’t do everything, but we can all do something. What is it you TRULY want to accomplish in the next six months?” And then it came to me…
We can choose to find joy and see the good even when things are hard. Instead of making a long to-do list for this year I’ve decided to try living by three words instead:
I want to be Happy, Healthy, & Holy.
This year for my resolution I decided that instead of making a list of all the things I want to be, or ought to be but am not, that I will do my best to live by these three words.
I want to be Happy because this past year has been so hard and happiness is something that has often been missing from my life. The things that used to bring me joy no longer do and that’s difficult, but I want to make a habit of finding the joy in every situation. I want to be happy & that starts with me.
Oh, how I’d love to be Healthy. While I may not have a clean bill of health from my doctors, I’m doing my best to follow their advice & do what I can to restore my broken body. Sick or not, there are things we can all do to be healthier & I’m doing my best to take charge of those things that are in my hands & help my body help itself.
My favorite, & the most important to me is the choice to be Holy. I miss serving as a missionary, attending mutual activities, planning firesides, & sitting in Seminary. So, I will always be grateful that the Gospel if for everyone, young & old, & that I can immerse myself in its teachings & goodness at any moment. I want to study harder, pray more sincerely, attend the Temple more often, serve those around me, & just be better as I try to love the Lord with my whole heart.
So, instead of crossing things off of a list this year, at the end of every day I ask myself, “How did I do today? Was I happy? Was I healthy? Was I holy? Did I do things to help me get there? Am I closer today than I was yesterday?”
You see, it’s not so much about the destination as it is about the journey. I’m trying to count my blessings & smile more, follow a strict sleep schedule & ice my knees when they hurt. I’ll think back on my day & make sure my actions show my desire to be happy, healthy, & holy by living that way.
Most of all I’m doing my best to live as I know I should & be accountable to myself & Heavenly Father each night as I ask myself how I did today.