With one year drawn to a close and the potential of the next just beginning, January is the perfect time to set goals and make resolutions for your new year. The never-ending struggle, of course, is maintaining those lofty goals and aspirations past February.
I have a little secret to share with you that will help: successful resolutions require maintenance. Unless you take time to sharpen and clarify your focus throughout the year, your motivation runs out. It is just plain difficult to set a goal at the very start of the year and still be following through with the same degree of commitment by the end of July. Life gets in the way.
Returning to your goals periodically as life goes on and circumstances change can make all the difference. This maintenance can mean as little as 15 minutes of evaluating yourself every few months, or as much as setting weekly small goals to reach your larger one by the time 2018 rolls around. The constraints are up to you.
Personally, I like to make new resolutions and evaluate the old ones three times per year. My starting point is January. The atmosphere of goals and promises in this time of year encourages everyone to dream about what they want the future to look like. Use the collective excitement and optimism to your advantage! Work with that feeling and use it to motivate you to commit your own goals to paper.
In the month of May I return to the lists I made at the new year. I find it so much less daunting to think of an achievement or practice as something I keep up for four months. Knowing I can't slack off for a whole year is too much pressure! Three chunks of four months at a time is technically still a full year, but it sneakily tricks me out of being intimidated by a lengthy timeframe.
I like to use May for goal-setting because it is nearing the end of the school year and beginning to feel summery. Graduations, vacations, and new job opportunities come around this time of year. Also, May is my birthday month. Marking your own years can be an important evaluation tool as well. How was 19 different than 20? What do I want for 21? Before my birthday I always find myself comparing one year against another to measure how I am doing.
After this point, I can usually keep up my momentum throughout the summer, but inevitably start to slide as the days get colder and life gets busier. October is the start of holiday season. Whether your definition of the “spirit of the season” is a religious belief or a time of more gratitude, it is great to channel that into your achievements and your outlook. In a time of year where we make the extra effort to be near loved ones and be grateful for what we have, why not take a few minutes to think about how you can keep that feeling going after the holidays are over?
Breaking up my goals and resolutions into smaller pieces within a whole year has made all the difference for me. It makes change feel less daunting and big projects more manageable. If you are guilty (like me) of getting overexcited and setting completely unrealistic goals for yourself, this checkpoint system helps put those moments of ill-fated mega-optimism into perspective later. You may be hard-working and ambitious, but you aren't superwoman.
When you have decided on your own “goal checkpoints” for the year, the final thing to keep in mind is that they can evolve. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you stop pursuing a goal or activity because you honestly don’t want to do it anymore. Sometimes I look back at a goal months later and realize it does not line up with what I want now. If you have a similar realization, it is okay to let some things go.
Resolutions should be steps toward better things, not a nagging list of things you aren't really committed to and will ultimately stress you out. Achievements often boil down to year-round hard work and focus. New years resolutions are a great opportunity, but they are only the first step.
Best wishes for 2017 and all it has in store for us!