I love this time of year, I really do. A new year feels like a fresh start. It's re-energizing and exciting, and goal setting just falls naturally into this time of reflection and renewed motivation.
I love making lists and setting goals for myself, and like others the world over at this time of year, I have a list of things I want to achieve this year.
I planned to write this post about New Year's resolutions and share my own with you here. But after discovering some new resources on TextFugu I've done a complete turnaround and opted to keep them to myself.
The reason goes against all conventional wisdom I have heard on the subject to date: i.e. that sharing our goals with others holds us more accountable. But hang with me for a second because the flip side makes total sense to me too. It turns out that many new (and old) studies have shown that telling someone your personal goals makes you less likely to achieve them.
Why is that?
Because our mind is a tricky so and so sometimes and makes us feel good for announcing our great intentions to others.
And why is that a problem?
Because then those good vibes trick us into thinking we are actually closer to achieving our goal simply by setting it, when in reality we haven't done any of the hard work yet.
Don't get me wrong here, this doesn't mean not setting goals in the first place. Goal setting is such an important step for our personal growth. And isn't it motivating to write down all those exciting plans we have for a kick-ass coming year? I love that and ain't gonna give it up. The danger comes in allowing those feelings to cloud our better judgement, that a goal is nothing without action. All the “That's so great!” and “Awesome” comments we get from friends when we tell them of this goal can only go so far, well actually it goes no where. All it's good for is a short-lived moment of instant gratification and we want this to be for the long-haul, right?
So if we should keep our mouths shut, where does that leave us then?
I think we can all agree that motivating ourselves can be a real mother
sometimes a lot of the time. Hands up who's told themselves they were going to start doing something, only to either never start it or go out with all guns blazing and then stop a short time later?
For the record, I have both hands up.
For me, exercise has to be one of my biggest continual goal setting failures. I don't know how many times one of my New Year's resolutions or mid-year goals has been to improve my fitness. Who's with me on this one? I start it (usually after delaying it for a while with something like, “I'll start next week once I get back into the swing of things after the holidays”), do it for a while, and then the moment I get sick or something else interrupts my schedule, I allow myself a few days off. These few days often extend into weeks or longer and then boom it's no longer part of my routine and goes into the ‘I'll get to it later' pile, better known as the ‘It's never going to happen' basket.
So if it's so hard to self-motivate, why in the hell would I consider not telling people who can kick my butt when I don't make progress towards my goal?
Well this idea isn't about not telling anyone EVER. Or not mentioning it at all to say your life-long partner. In fact, if you're going to start going “out” every Thursday night when in actual fact you've just joined a book club, I'd go with the full disclosure option. Seriously, I don't want to be responsible for your break-up. And I really don't think there is anything wrong with telling a couple of trusted people around you about what you're doing, the kind who aren't going to just congratulate you and make you feel good for “having plans”, but are close enough to you to really care about whether you achieve this goal or not. That is, the people who will kick your butt on those days when motivation is lacking. We all need that sometimes.
What this idea does promote is not shouting it from the rooftops or telling all our friends and colleagues until this goal becomes part of our identity. When we do something repeatedly for long enough, it becomes part of what we do, which is a much tougher cycle to break than something that we are still introducing to our lifestyle. It's about delaying the gratification of the achievement we have made/are making until actual progress has been made. In many ways, surprising people with a new skill that we can already demonstrate sounds fundamentally more satisfying to me.
So that it is why I'm keeping my goals to myself this year. If you usually share your New Year's resolutions with friends or post them on Facebook and that works for you, I'd say by all means go for it. If that is part of your process and keeps you accountable, do what it takes to keep yourself on track. I'm not judging or saying what each individual should and shouldn't do as a rule of law. All I know is that announcing my goals to others in the past hasn't always helped me in achieving my goals, it has sometimes even hindered them when doing so has placed negative or unnecessary pressure on myself. At the end of the day, any of my goals fall back to me anyway. I am the one who can and ultimately has to achieve them…for myself. So keeping quiet for a bit while I get them together doesn't seem like a wildly crazy concept. The psychology behind this different way of thinking makes sense to me and I for one am willing to give it a shot.
So what is my strategy?
Actually I am a pretty good self-motivator in general, but benefit from having a regular routine, especially if it's a task I don't particularly like or doesn't come naturally to me. Before I went to Indonesia to work in 2011, going to exercise classes at our local gym here in Japan had become a regular thing for me. I know, I know. It's sounds like “That one time I exercised..” But I have a point that's better than my ability to stick to an exercise regimen, I promise.
I was taking two studio lessons 3-4 times a week and I had begun enjoying it to the point that I was actually really sad to be giving up this regular schedule for that trip. I was getting quite fit, I felt better about my physique and I had made friends in the class, all of which made walking to the gym in the colder months with my change of clothes and towel easier. It was on its way to becoming part of my identity, but it hadn't quite gotten there yet before I up and left for a job in Indonesia. For the record, I did try looking up local gym facilities in Bali to continue my routine, but with a new job to get my head around, finding a place to live and trying to adjust to my life there, it was something I threw to the side while I worked out the other stuff.
I know this is just an excuse. But what I am trying to say through all of this is that exercising obviously hadn't (and hasn't) become part of who I am to the point that it is something that I “just do”, which I think is key to keeping up with something for the long term. You think of it as something you do rather than something you will do (when you have the time etc.). It's an important psychological distinction I think.
I travel a lot. All the things that aren't conducive to developing patterns like irregular schedules, changing time zones and foreign environments are all part of my lifestyle. Although often difficult, I can't allow these things to bring my routines to a halt simply because they has been disrupted. I have to adapt to those things just as I do with different cultures, languages and ways of life. I still have to work with them, otherwise things simply wouldn't get done.
My travel lifestyle doesn't make some things easy, but I can no longer allow it to be an excuse not to achieve some of my goals that favor routine. I have to make it part of what I do wherever I am. It's just like I don't get why some people say they can't afford to travel when all I'm doing is imagining how many years I could live in South-East Asia based on the contents of one of their rooms alone. The difference is I have made travel a priority in my life. I'll do anything to travel and I'll sacrifice things that are less of a priority to me in order to achieve that. Therefore, I'm always making progress on my travel goals. I've long known that things like not exercising regularly on the road are really just excuses. But I see it very clearly now. All I have to do is prioritize those things. And if I don't, then I clearly don't want it badly enough.
My strategy for this year is to work towards my goals in bite-size pieces. When I'm stationary (i.e. in one place with some routine), I can more easily just throw myself into something. I can work on it day and night if I want to and it feels like I'm really making headway. Of course I am in many respects, but what that doesn't help with is the moment something changes (like when I'm traveling) and I don't have all that time anymore to spend on that task. Then I'm more likely to simply say that it takes too much of my time (which I don't have right now) and stop completely during the duration of the trip. Then by the time I get back to base, I've broken the routine and the momentum is gone. So what I'm doing is giving myself small things to do repeatedly as a matter of routine everyday. It doesn't matter what my schedule is or how tired I am, I'm going to do something towards those goals each day, even if it's only 5 minutes. I think everyone can find 5 minutes a day to invest in their goals, even on the road. The key thing is not breaking the routine. Since New Year's Day I have been working on my goals every evening before bed. Some days I have spent 10 minutes, others an hour or so when I'm not so tired and am feeling particularly inspired.
To keep me on track, I've started a log book, where I jot down what I achieved each day, no matter how small. I write down a few words about what I learned and things I found difficult or frustrating so that I can identify hurdles and get over them. It's a small but powerful thing and it is already helping me move forward. It's still early days yet, but I'm feeling good about my strategy and my goals for the year ahead.