Monday, December 21, 2009

New Year's Resolutions vs. Goals

I made variations of the same three New Year’s Resolutions for years and years. They were:

1) To Lose Weight
To Write a Novel
To Be More Social

I shared this with a friend once when we were talking about what our New Year’s Resolutions were going to be. Her immediate response was: how is that working for you? I wanted to take her head off, and I’m sure my verbal answer was pretty defensive. At times, I had made some progress on any one of these resolutions, especially number 3, but I never accomplished anything sustained for numbers 1 or 2.

Fast forward to the end of 2007. In some ways, that year was tough, and I felt like my life was in a rut. I read online – probably on – an article about losing weight that really was about setting good goals for the New Year, and it had two important parts. It said that you had to look at your life in its entirety - and not just one part. You shouldn’t think that achieving one goal, such as losing those 50 pounds, is going to make your life perfect or make you happy. You had to look at all the parts of your life – do a 360 to use a buzz phrase. The other big point was you had to evaluate the past year first. See what went well, what did not and figure out where you had to build from and where you had to change.

I love setting goals, but I was not as keen about evaluating the past. What did I have to lose though? I decided I’d give it a try and started the process sitting at the gate in Bradley International Airport waiting for my flight back to DC. I came up with six areas to evaluate and set goals for 2008: professional, writing, personal/social, financial, health/fitness, and spiritual.

The evaluation of 2007 was painful at times, but it was the most revealing part of the exercise. I celebrated the accomplishments. I tried to write a triumphant narrative as opposed to a victim narrative, but I also tried to be 100% honest. For example, I was achieving my financial goals, but it wasn’t making me as happy as I thought it would. I was more social than I had been for several years in DC, but I could do more. Opportunity was knocking in the writing world, but I was doing my absolute best to ignore it and not be ready. The other areas all needed work. After the evaluation, I started to set goals. I could feel myself already cheering up and feeling more optimistic.

I periodically reread my goals during the year to check in with where I was. One thing I really liked about goals vs. resolutions is that resolutions felt like all or nothing propositions while there's much more flexibility with goals. For example, I resolve to do X and not do Y. If I do Y, I've already failed. It's kind of like when I vow to give up candy for lent and mindlessly eat a piece of chocolate after lunch on Ash Wednesday. It's all over. I need to come up with something else quick to give up for Lent or just give up. If I set a goal to do X and not Y, there is more give and take. I can ignore one goal for months at a time, remind myself of it again, and come back at it with renewed determination. I can also work at another goal a little bit every so often and then reach a point when I shock myself with what I've managed to accomplish in the past 6 months.

At the end of 2008, I once again evaluated my past year and set goals for the upcoming year. I had not achieved my biggest goal for 2008, but I was still a fan of what a combination of evaluation and goal setting could accomplish. I am starting this same exercise for 2009/2010. One thing that has really surprised me is that the whole process builds on itself. Success in one area can help in another AND each year is a bit better/more successful than the year before.

Writing my evaluation of 2009 will be fun! Some of the goals I’ve accomplished in 2009 that seemed impossible for years include:

-Lost 30+ pounds (I did not set a specific pound goal for the year but I did promise myself I'd work on it all year - really give it my all)
-Went to Weight Watchers 50 times (original goal was to go 45-50 times)
-Worked out more than 100 times (and consequently am stronger and in much better shape)
-Really got a handle on my emotional eating issues and developed coping strategies
-Finished a first draft of a novel – oh happy day!
-Entered the GH for the first time
-Prepared for and took the CAE (certified association executive) exam to increase my employability
-Joined Eharmony (actually done on 12/22/08) and kept up with it at times
-Was social at least 4 times a month (often much more than that, but I have to remind myself to do this.)
-Considered refinancing my condo
-Increased my emergency savings fund
-Increased my retirement savings

And, in case you are wondering, 2009 was not a perfect, stress-free year. The economy has sent shock waves through the industries I work in, and job insecurity is a reality. Several people I love had cancer scares. My car died. I could so easily have gained 30 pounds this year instead of lost them. Through it all, I tried to foster positivity, gratitude and compassion. I stayed focused on what I wanted to accomplish. I did not beat myself up the times I slipped. I kept moving forward.

I have a lot of success to build on in 2010 especially in the writing and health and fitness categories. I also have areas where I need to do more. I can’t say I’ve had many spiritual successes in the past two years. There are so many ways I can cheat in the social arena, and I want to address that. I need to come up with some good professional goals and figure out an appropriate financial plan for the upcoming year, but I know I can do it. I’ll share some of my biggest goals for 2010 in the coming weeks, and I’d love to hear what some of yours are. This can really work!


Tawny on December 21, 2009 at 12:01 PM said...

Michelle, I love and totally agree with your take on goals vs resolutions. In fact I'm teaching an online workshop on this subject in January *g*

My 2010 goals are fluid at the moment. A week ago they'd have been really clear for me, since I usually set goals at the beginning of the year then each month break them into monthly chunks, then weekly to-do lists (yeah, its a little obsessive). But sometimes life throws an unexpected loop in there and we have to reevaluate. I still have the same goals, but now I have to work in a few changes and realistic time-frames.

My biggest is to develop a solid, steady and consistent eating and exercise program!!

Michelle Butler on December 21, 2009 at 2:26 PM said...

Thanks, Tawny.

I probably spend 3-4 weeks evaluating my past year and setting goals for the next year. It's a process done in bits and pieces. I also reevaluate periodically during the year. I'm just amazed by how much I'm able to accomplish by doing this. A friend of mine calls it practicing mindfulness. Whatever it is, it's improved my life.

Balancing realistic time-frames and goals with making sure you are still pushing yourself/not selling yourself short is an art form all by itself.

Best wishes for the eating and exercise program! And, best wishes for the latest loop.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) on December 23, 2009 at 3:25 PM said...

This is a wonderful post, Michelle. I break my goals into areas too -- writing, health, home improvement, bucket list, etc. I need to do my lists in the next few days.

Michelle Butler on December 23, 2009 at 3:32 PM said...

Thanks, Trish!

So, you have a bucket list. I've never done that in any official way, but I have joked about my top 100 life goals and crossing some of them off.

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