For those of you who cringe at the thought of setting goals for the New Year: I can totally relate.
A few years ago, I had given up on setting goals at New Year’s altogether. I had become jaded over the years and simply didn’t see the point. Year after year, I’d set well-intentioned goals and start out strong in striving after such…only to see them eventually flop. Like…really flop.
It seemed by setting goals, I was merely setting myself up for failure. In fact, shame often caused me to feel as though my unrealized goals meant I was a failure: something was wrong with me and I didn’t measure up. So I questioned:
“If setting goals typically ended up in failure and ultimately make me feel bad, why do it?”
Well, to be completely honest, I still find myself rolling my eyes at some of the “New Year’s resolutions” that are adopted by our culture today. For example, the exponential increase in weight loss tactics and the incredible up-tick in gym memberships come January is a bit comical. We all laugh about it, we all know it’s true. And yet, many of us still find ourselves biting the bait and signing that annual contract for a new gym membership, swearing this time will be different from years past.
Perhaps you’re in the minority and dieting or exercising isn’t one of your resolutions this year. Perhaps you find yourself with one or several of the following common resolutions for 2019: 1) diet or eat healthier, 2) exercise more, 3) lose weight, 4) save more and spend less, 5) learn a new skill or hobby, 6) quit smoking, 7) read more, 8) find another job, 9) drink less alcohol, 10) spend more time with family and friends.
Whatever the goal may be, it seems there is a common mindset that is interwoven throughout many New Year resolutions:
“Maybe this year things will be different, maybe this year, I’ll succeed at this goal and it will help me achieve the happiness I’ve always wanted, the fulfillment and success I am continually chasing. Maybe this is the year.”
We all feel it – that desire to “be better.”
It’s really no wonder: after all, each day we are bombarded by messages that tell us we aren’t enough and we need “XYZ” to be happier. I disagree with the importance of many of the “resolutions” I hear such as those I’ve listed above that are currently buzzing around social media and various avenues of life. I also believe chasing down resolutions that are geared toward temporal things that don’t last will never bring true fulfillment or happiness. Only when one seeks God for the source of one’s happiness and identity will one be truly happy.
Nonetheless, I see the importance of being mindful and strategic about my days as I embrace the new year ahead.
And so, despite my jaded past, I no longer entirely “write-off” the idea of setting intentions each year. My past “New Year” goal setting failures have taught me some helpful lessons that have helped transform the practice into something that is helpful, life-giving, and surrounded by self-compassion.
I have realized in years past, it wasn’t the act of setting goals that was the problem: the issue was in the essence of the goals I had established and the desired outcomes of such. There were definitely some fatal flaws that lead me down a path to unrealized and unfulfilled goals.
Flaws in my Previous Goal-Setting Practice
Issue #1: I previously set my goals from a scarcity and “fix it” mindset.
I previously set goals striving to achieve or obtain things I didn’t have and wanted in my life versus being grateful for what I DID have. Also, the goals I had historically set often involved weeding out ingrained behaviors or habits I no longer wanted in my life instead of welcoming in new positive, life-giving behaviors and mindsets I wanted to welcome into my life.
I can see in years past, many of my goals involved “fixing” or “improving upon” external circumstances in an attempt to achieve more happiness and satisfaction with life. A well-intentioned attempt to bring good changes into my life, mind you; however, ultimately, my focus was on changing things around me, rather than turning inward to repair the internal emotional damage and past hurts that caused me to seek comfort externally or change the circumstances surrounding me in an effort to gain happiness and a better life.
Issue #2: I set goals based on a whole lot of “should’s.”
I should be more successful in my career, I should start having a family, I should “clean up” my eating, I should exercise more, I should be thin, I should volunteer more, I should give more to charity…ooooh the never-ending list of “should’s”!
I’m not saying all of these “should’s” are inherently wrong. Yes, I argue some of those listed above are in fact toxic (such as striving after an “ideal” body praised by society or believing diet culture’s toxic claim that thinner is better/healthier). However, some of the things I mentioned could actually be positive goals – such as giving more to charity or volunteering more of your time.
My point is that the driving reason for your setting goals is important and deserves some thought. Doing something because you feel like it’s expected of you or because it is a mandate imposed upon you by others is not a great reason to set a goal.
I encourage you to think about the driving reason(s) behind your goals. Are they something you truly want to accomplish and are in line with your core values? Great! If not? Consider scratching those “should” suckers off your list.
Issue #3: I had unrealistic expectations of what the successful achievement of my goals would gain me in return.
For example, before I embarked upon my eating disorder recovery journey and sought freedom from dieting and body liberation, many of my Januarys entailed trying to “get it together” and “clean up” my eating and exercise habits (I’m not going to elaborate on why I believe dieting is a sham and doesn’t work for purposes of this post; however, if you’re interested in hearing more about this “non-dieting” perspective, I’d recommend checking out some of the “Food Psych” podcasts by Christy Harrison https://christyharrison.com/foodpsych/).
In hindsight, I can see that at the root of my get “healthy” goals was the need to feel worthy, accepted, loved, and enough (side note: I put healthy in quotes because depriving oneself of proper nutrition in order to try to manage one’s body size is the opposite of healthy. I had merely bought into diet culture and at the time I thought I was doing something positive by restricting my food intake in the pursuit of health, but I know better now).
No amount of “clean eating,” weight lost, or muscles gained would help me achieve the needs and desires my soul craved. So while I was well-intentioned in previously setting a goal to get “healthy” (which ironically, would not, and could not, be achieved by my dieting or losing weight)…the actions taken to help me achieve that weight-loss goal actually ended up merely distracting me from understanding the root cause of why I felt like I wasn’t worthy, accepted, loved, or enough.
So I ended up spinning my wheels (literally and figuratively). No matter how close I came to measuring up to society’s “ideal body,” it got me no closer to feeling any more worthy. In fact, I even argue it did the opposite and also caused me to drift further from God and self-acceptance.
Issue #4: I did not seek advice and direction from God and other mentors.
I set goals based on what I thought was best for me and that which would be most beneficial for my future happiness. A key ingredient to successful goal-setting: admitting I can’t do it alone and need some guidance and assistance.
Issue #5: I set goals based on a desire to control and dictate my future and seek comfort.
I love predictability and a well-planned out life agenda: there is a desire within me that craves comfort and a smooth-sailing life. Discomfort? Strife? Hardship? I used to avoid them at all costs. I grasped desperately for some sort of control or insight on what’s up ahead.
But through my own life experience, I can see how no matter how well I plan, I do not have control over future outcomes. I can also see how the hardships and valleys of life have actually been the areas wherein I have grown and learned the most. They are the times and events I would have not planned: yet my life and character would in fact be lacking had I not gone through them.
And so, I find it incredibly important to trust God for my future and allow for uncertainty. I can be a wise participant in my life, planning and being strategic with the pieces of the puzzle that is my life. However, when a piece is not fitting into that desired hole I want to fill: turning to God with open hands, receiving the parts He deems best for me. He is the Puzzle Master and He sees the finished product. I can trust Him to masterfully craft my life story, and I can stop forcing my own agenda.
Issue #6: I was rigid and had “black-and-white” thinking toward established goals.
I refused to let go of or walk away from goals that were no longer working, all because I didn’t want to “fail” or admit defeat. It’s as if once they were set, they were set in stone: I HAD to achieve them…otherwise, I believed it was a failure on my part.
I previously was not great at (and sometimes still struggle with) allowing flexibility to adjust goals as priorities changed, life events caused unforeseen hiccups, and unexpected trials required additional resources I had not planned for. Flexibility and reevaluating goals is necessary: life is fluid and unexpected changes happen. It’s best not to fight change; but rather, work with it.
So many cracks in the foundation of my previous goal-setting endeavors.
The above list are only some of the fatal flaws that caused my goals to flop. It was no wonder my goal-setting ultimately lead me down a path of failure, grief, and disappointment.
I was so sick of failing to accomplish my resolutions year after year, so for a time I had given up on setting New Year resolutions altogether. It discouraged me – and quite frankly, it annoyed me. However, in more recent years, I’ve decided to welcome the practice back in…well, in part. In a way that works best for me.
So what, then, does my New Year Intention setting practice look like? Why, I’m so happy you asked. 🙂 I will be sharing some insights into this practice in my next post in the coming days. Here’s a sneak peak into what that process entails:
- reflection (gaining insight from the past and understanding your current passions/desires)
- understanding core values and establishing a “what matters most” list
- selecting a “word” that embodies what’s desired for 2019
- listing out “themes” in line with core values that help guide me/you through the next year
- a visualization of my/your “Liberated Self” – the person I/you want to be in 2019
I’ll be posting more details about the steps I’ve listed above in my coming post(s). In the meanwhile, I encourage you to begin doing some of your own reflection, so you can learn from your past and also gain a better understanding around what you desire for 2019 and the years to come.
Here are some questions to get you started:
- What are some goals you’ve set in the past, only to have them fizzle out part-way through?
- What caused you to stop pursuing those goals?
- Do you see a recurring theme in the goals you set year after year?
- What are some of the “cracks” you see in the foundation of your goals?
- Do any of the “issues” I listed above resonate with you?
- If you set goals this year, are your goals coming from a place of “should’s”? Or are they goals that line up with your core values and you would legitimately like to see realized?
- Are your goals reasonable? Do they involve huge life-altering changes that would be hard to stay committed to or take longer than a year to accomplish?
- Are your goals in line with your passions and values?
- Do your goals excite you? Or are you resenting them and/or stressing yourself out over them?
- If you achieve your goals, will they help you accomplish the desired need you are looking to fulfill or solve the problem you intending to fix? Or are you expecting too much out of what this goal will accomplish for you in your life?
The above are just a few ideas to get the juices flowing. I encourage you to take a look at your own goals and let them marinate a bit. If you haven’t already set intentions for the new year, consider whether you may want to do so.
Remember: life is a journey. You can start goals any time you want – no matter what day on the calendar it is. Just because you haven’t started first thing on January 1st doesn’t mean you need to wait until next year (hello, black and white thinking!). Also, remember that there is no harm in reevaluating goals and changing them along the way. Or even giving up on goals entirely if they are no longer working for you. Nothing is set in stone. Progress, peeps: not perfection!
All right, Loves, that’s it for me today. Stay tuned for my next post (coming soon), which will explain my own New Year’s intention setting practice this year. I hope my next post offers you some helpful tips to help inform your own goals/intentions for the New Year and set you up for some good ‘ole personal growth.