You can wake up slowly, stumble around, have breakfast, take a long shower, then split the rest of your morning time between aimlessly surfing the net and getting ready for work, making it out the door just in time to avoid being late.
Or, you can get out of bed and throw on some workout clothes as you’re waking up. By the time you’re fully awake, you can be halfway done with your workout. Then you can take a teeny bit shorter shower, have breakfast, get ready for work, and make it out the door just in time to avoid being late.
I’ve done both, and I can guarantee you one thing:
If we don’t make a conscious decision to work towards our goals, they will disappear faster than the very first batch of Christmas cookies in early December.
This blog has tracked the past three years of intentional goal-setting, and I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learned from it.
The first year, I was put off by too many other people setting New Year’s Resolutions, and sounding all optimistic about the future. All the positive self-talk made me want to throw up in my mouth. I did the opposite of everyone around me—eating donuts, being a sloth, and spending all my money. But by January, I was sick of myself. I decided that I really did want to be goal-oriented.
I created a system of writing down 3 tasks per day. I would try to accomplish those three tasks that day. Some were very easy and only took 5 minutes, but I put them on my list to avoid procrastinating on them. Some were harder and took several hours, and I included them to feel a bigger sense of accomplishment when I crossed them off. In February, once I implemented this system, I became much happier, more productive, and less stressed than I had been all of January.
The second year, I really thought ahead to my future. I came up with some longer-range goals with a deadline 1.5 years after I finished Peace Corps.
My five goals were:
- Write a book about my Peace Corps experience
- Make $3,000/month in passive income
- Play every song in my Intermediate Mandolin book
- Have 250 daily visitors to my website
- Perform 100 random acts of kindness.
Then I wrote down very specific monthly goals that would lead me in the direction of accomplishing these larger goals.
I made significant progress on every goal, even though I often had to cram at the end of the month to reach my quotas. For the entire 12 months, there was not a single month where I did not reach my monthly goal for each category. I was so proud!
Last year, I totally failed. I got so overconfident about my success the previous year, that I upped my quotas, completely intimidated myself, and then got stressed out when I realized I wasn’t reaching any of them. I completely stopped trying. In fact, I literally covered up the goals on my wall with a painting so I wouldn’t have to be reminded of my failure every day.
Lesson One: Be Intentional
What I have learned from the past three years is twofold. First, I need to be intentional. If I make time for my goals instead of tinkering around with other useless projects, I will succeed. If I figure I’ll get around to bettering myself when I feel less harried or when there aren’t people around or when there’s less going on, I will never move forward in a direction I want to go.
This was especially driven home for me when I was visiting my family during the holidays. There were a few things I wanted to accomplish while I was there, but I never got them done. Learn from my oversight.
- I slept in every day because there were no pressing things to do. (Tip: Intentionally wake up a little earlier to put in 15-30 minutes towards your goal. Bonus: It’s quieter then!)
- I kept waiting for less family commotion, but it never really came. (Tip: Everyone is so busy with their own stuff going on, they don’t even notice you anyway. Hide away for 15-30 minutes to work on your goal.)
- I thought about talking through my ideas with friends or family, but they were discussing other things. (Tip: Start a new conversation. They’ll be glad for something stimulating to talk about instead of sick babies and the weather.)
Instead of feeling accomplished at anything during my Christmas vacation, I felt accomplished at nothing, which led to a mini downward spiral of not wanting to go outside or play games or bake or socialize. It wasn’t all bad—actually I had a good vacation!—but from a personal satisfaction standpoint, it could have been a lot better.
Lesson Two: Keep It Simple
Second, I learned that I need to keep it simple. It is manageable to introduce a few small new routines into your life. They should almost seem too small. Almost. They should seem very easy to accomplish but there should be a definite accomplishment. And most importantly, YOU SHOULD ACCOMPLISH THEM ON A CONSISTENT BASIS. That’s where you build momentum and start to see progress. And that brings us back to the importance of being intentional.
This year, I have chosen one broad focus, one skills focus, and one personal strengths focus. For each of these three areas, I’ve started a list of ways I can make them intentional and add them to my daily routine. Now whenever I have to make a decision, they will help guide me.
My main goal this year is to wrap up my Peace Corps Volunteer service from Armenia. I’m not in Armenia anymore, but I have a lot of personal loose ends. I have 33 folders of pictures from those 27 months, almost all of which have over 200 photos, and most of which are not edited or sorted. I have two half-started books that I want to finish, and a dozen more ideas for shorter e-books, videos, and photo books. I want to create several different products stemming from my Peace Corps service that I can sell on my website and give away to others. This will also help me in reaching 3 of the 5 goals I have listed earlier, from Year Two (which I still am working towards, just not in the same way as I was that year).
I also decided that this year I want to focus on a personal skill. After much thought, I decided I will focus on getting better at playing the mandolin. I’ve had a mandolin for about 6 years, and I don’t feel like I’ve made a ton of progress since the first few years. It’s time to change that, so I feel confident to play at an open mic one day. Also, conveniently, that ties in nicely to one of the 5 goals I have listed above.
Finally, the character trait I want to work on this year is Courage. I feel embarrassed mentioning that, so I know it’s something I need to improve. (See? Working on that one already!)
Now it’s your turn! Do you have New Year’s Goals? Are they simple? Are they intentional? Please comment below. Let me know what has or hasn’t worked for you in setting goals. Let’s conquer 2014 together!
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