I don’t do resolutions. I think they suck.
If resolutions work for you, that’s cool. But it is my deeply held belief that January is long and depressing enough without making yourself feel like a failure halfway through because you thought you ‘ought’ to do something about your weight/finances/fitness/work-life balance or whatever damn thing you’re feeling guilty about.
Goals are good when they’re clear, measurable and achievable. Resolutions, on the other hand, smack of wishful thinking. A resolution is a cop-out. Oh, you ‘resolve’ to do something. Not actually a decision though, is it. Resolution is a kinda-sorta-wanna word. And most people choose resolutions that are destined to fail because they are murky and unclear and the person hasn’t fully committed to them. Or doesn’t even want to do them. Resolutions are invariably ‘shoulds’ writ large.
What I do instead are commitments, goals and a Word Of The Year.
So, for example, 365 Jars is a commitment, not a resolution. There’s no resolution involved. I’ve decided that I’m doing it and I know that I will get to the end of 2011 with that art project completed unless I break a leg or something (and I have a contingency plan for that). No excuses. No giving up in February because I’m bored. I’m committed, so I will see it through. That’s how I am with art projects. Which is why I think long and hard before I start them.
If resolutions give you an icky, ‘don’t wanna’ feeling, please come and join me in the ‘no resolutions’ corner – we have whisky, cough sweets, leftover chocolates and we don’t care what anyone thinks. I’m not even doing any 2011 goals right now because a) I’m knackered from the flu and b) I already have some important goals in play.
However, if you do want to set yourself some goals, here are some helpful tips:
Shoulds are deadly
‘Shoulds’ are killer words: they will eat you alive whilst making nom-nom noises. If the word ‘should’ appears when you’re thinking about goals, you need to chase it out of your brain with much screaming and a chainsaw.
If you don’t give a shit about that last 10lbs, don’t pretend you do. You’re not fooling anyone. Wishful thinking and half-heartedness won’t get you anywhere. If you think that you ‘should’ lose that 10lbs because some magazine says you need to or because all your workmates are dieting, you’ll fail. Because you don’t care enough to do it.
There is a very simple reason that I don’t have an MA – I can’t be arsed to go and get one. Until I have a burning, overwhelming desire to go back to college, I’ll be sticking with my BA. Sure, I’d quite like to HAVE an MA but not enough to do the actual ‘getting one’ part. The moment I realised that an MA was in my ‘should’ category, I gleefully struck it off my list and felt much lighter.
For the love of all that is holy, chose something fun or find a way to make it fun. You’ll do much better. Reward yourself with stickers, find a creative way to achieve that aim or do something you love. If you hate going to the gym but love playing with kids, borrow some kids a couple of times a week (ask first!) and take them to the park for a run around. You’ll get exercise and their parents will be pathetically grateful. Or volunteer to coach football at your local school. Or lead a Brownie or Scout troupe.
Most people fail at resolutions and goals because they punish themselves with them. Why? Do you want to change a habit or do you just want to wear a hairshirt? Choose.
Be clear on your WHY
Goals that start with a ‘why’ are always stronger than wishy-washy, direction-less goals.
OK, so you want more time in the studio. Why? What does it get you? What happens if you do lose that ten pounds? How is your life better? What difference does it make?
I started 365 Jars because I wanted to take a daily walk every day during 2011. That was it. That was my ‘why’. I also wanted to get back to a daily art practice and I like doing year-long projects because they have a defined start and end. So that was two good strong ‘whys’ that I realised could be yoked together to make a fun project.
The art is a cheat code. I knew I wouldn’t walk daily if I made a resolution to do so but I sure as hell would if walking was part of an art project. So I came up with the art idea that would accommodate the walking. At this point, my wife looked at me funny and said, ‘you really will do anything if it’s for art, won’t you’. To which the answer was ‘yes, but only when I set the rules.’
Tackle one area at once
When I’ve been trying to change big things, I’ve always been more successful when I’ve stuck to one area at a time. Trying to lose weight, sort out your finances, get fit, learn French and start a daily art practice all in a single month might be doable but hitting yourself with a stick would probably be more fun. Changing habits can be hard. And if you’re trying to change habits in big, scary emotional areas like body image or finances, you can trigger all sorts of defensive mechanisms. Start small and achievable. Or trick yourself like I did with 365 Jars.
Make it measurable
‘I want to get fit’ is a completely pointless goal because you can’t measure it, so you will never achieve it. ‘I will do five minutes of stretching every morning during 2011’ is a far better goal because you’ll know exactly when you’re doing it and when you’re not.
If you do those daily stretches for 300 days out of 365, you’ve won. It’s not a zero-sum game, you haven’t ‘failed’ until you quit completely. 300 days of stretching will still make a big difference to your life. Sure, it’s a bit annoying about the other 65 days but hey, you’re still way ahead of the people who did it religiously for 2 weeks and then gave up. Shit happens: give yourself credit for the things you did, not what you didn’t. If you don’t manage to do your thing one day, pick it up the next day or the day after. If the way you’re doing it stops working, find a new way to do it. But don’t use ‘I missed a day’ as an excuse to quit.
Beware of romanticism
In my head, I can belly-dance. In my head I am also a willowy redhead who plays the harp and floats around in long wispy dresses. One day I may get round to learning belly dancing but frankly, I am shit out of luck with the willowy thing because I am small, dark and very curvy. Sure, I could grow my hair long, dye it red and lose weight but with the best will in the world, I can’t gain five inches in height unless I wear very unsuitable shoes.
And although I would like to be that pre-Raphaelite heroine, in truth, I am not that person. I look kind of drippy with long hair; I would have paint and mud on my long, billowing sleeves in five minutes and I would constantly trip over the wispy hemlines and then swear in a most unromantic fashion. Besides I have very little musical aptitude and no time or patience to learn. It is a pretty fantasy that bears no relation to who I truly am and I wouldn’t enjoy the reality. Now, if my fantasy was to be a bumbling, slightly grubby, female hobbit, I’d be totally sorted.
I once had an amusing conversation with a knitting friend where we admitted to each other that we sometimes knit things we knew wouldn’t suit our body shape just because we fell in love with the model and the way the project had been photographed. That’s romantic thinking. So is ‘I will feel happy in a bikini if I can just lose that 10lbs’.
Accept your reality.
There is nothing mystical about January
Set goals whenever it’s right to set them. I use monthly aims to keep myself on track and make sure important deadlines don’t get forgotten. If I get to March and I decide that 2011 needs its own special goals, I’ll set some then. The goal police won’t come round and arrest me because I didn’t decide on my goals on January 1st.
If you can’t commit to it fully, don’t even bother: you’re just setting yourself up to fail. Think this stuff through before you decide to do it. Be utterly clear what’s involved and why you want to do it. Make sure it’s achievable. And then decide. And then do it. Yoda was right…
Things to remember
If setting goals right now is a genuinely helpful thing for you, then do it and enjoy. I hope you make positive goals that help you grow and the tips should help you set strong, achievable ones.
But you also have my full permission to take a big deep breath, resolve not to set any resolutions or goals whatsoever, say ‘oh thank god’ and feel instantly better. Here, have a chocolate…