|Stars I'm steering by in 2012. Call 'em goals if you need to.|
Man, I chafe at goal-setting. I can barely even type those words without twitching. And eye rolling.
I think goals are magnificent tools for organizations, where it makes life easier to have clear objectives spelled out for clarity and focus. But on a personal level, I can't help but feel layers of yuck when I look at the new year and hear all sorts of jazzed-up experts implying that your happiness entirely depends on a program and some achievement on a list of shoulds.
Consider this research from The Way We're Working Isn't Working by Tony Schwartz, Jean Gomes and Catherine McCarthy.
- Twenty-five percent of people abandon their New Year's resolutions after one week. Sixty percent do so within six months.
- The average person makes the same New Year's resolution 10 separate times without success.
- Ninety-five percent of those who lose weight on a diet regain it, and a significant percentage gain more back than the originally lost.
- The authors conclude, "Will and discipline are wildly overrated."
Why Resolutions Suck
I have two main problems with personal goals in the form of resolutions.
- There's this creepy, underlying premise that you and your life aren't good enough as is. You're somehow falling short, missing the mark, and everything would be so much better if you just swapped out something you are (or aren't) for something bigger, brighter and shinier.
- The reason you haven't made this obvious improvement before is that you lack some essential quality in your character, like discipline or willpower.
Yep. I said it. We have this uncanny ability to use our hopes for a better life as a weapon and see ourselves as the enemy. And I won't be party to that destructive game anymore. I refuse to look at myself as a success or a failure based on how I lived up to a list.
War No More
I refuse because I've been there before. In 2009, I took a look at my tired, flabby self and decided that I wanted a strong, powerful body that had plenty of energy. At first, everything was going well. I was focused on workouts rather than a number on the scale, and I was proud of my faster 10k times and the definition in my quads. I was thrilled to see how much I craved exercise instead of licorice. Or naps.
As the months wore on and the pounds did start falling off, I was seduced by success. I thought that if I'd made it this far, I could at least try to peel off enough to get within five pounds of my college weight. I worked harder, ate less, and checked my progress every single day, waiting for that moment when the scale registered the magic number.
Then one day, after weeks of being two pounds away from my goal, I stepped on the scale and saw that in spite of all my efforts, I was still two pounds away from my goal. I felt weak and tired and dizzy.
So I quit. I was not willing to continue depriving and pushing myself for a number.
Today, I've gained back 75% of the 20 pounds I lost, but I'm not sorry. My body is stronger and more trim than it was back in 2009. I have come through one of the most stressful years of my life without gaining an extra ten pounds. It's all good.
Ohhh, but I still feel that pull this time of year to make one of those gotta-be-better New Year's lists. There is always that yearning to make life more about doing deeply gratifying things than being on autopilot or straining to get ahead.
Luckily, I stumbled upon a goal-getting technique (free!) from Martha Beck, a hilarious and insightful life coach, who understands that listing these desires isn't about achieving external rewards for good behavior. It's about bringing you home to yourself.
Here's my overview of the method. Please see the article above for full, juicy details.
- Make a traditional list of goals or resolutions.
- Get to the heart of the matter by pinpointing what you are hoping to bring into your life through this goal. For example, many of us are drawn like moth to flame to the goal "lose weight." But how exactly do you think you'll be happier if you lose weight? What appeals to you about seeing a smaller number when you step on the scale? I chose this very goal for 2012 and found that I really wanted my body to be lean, powerful and full of energy. It wasn't about a number at all.
- Look for places where you're already getting those feelings and follow them. It's so easy to fall into thinking that says we need something outside ourselves to save us, when our heart's desire is staring us in the face. My instant ticket to feelings of power and energy are as close as my garage, home to my purple bikes and bliss.
These qualities are not goals or resolutions, mind you. They are reminders. Stars that I will use to navigate my year and bring me home to myself.
May you have a nurturing and expansive new year!
If you need a more left-brained but flexible way to make New Year's goals, try this time management technique from Fast Company.
In case you're nosy, here are the rest of the details on my Stars chart. Since I'm now the kind of girl who not only likes to color outside the lines but also draw my own damn picture, I chucked the idea of a traditional list and made a simple visual. It makes me feel better when I gaze at it.
Sovereignty (my key guiding principle)
- Tending (As in, caring for and having a tendency. I'm still unpacking this word that popped up during the exercise.)
- Transcendence (Getting outside and above an issue.)
- Integration (Seeing a challenge as a teacher and bringing it into myself rather than resisting it.)
- Full of energy