Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year, New Beginnings

I've never set New Year's resolutions before. I've never made a point to set long-term goals and start the clock on New Year's Day. Reasons include the widespread, self-defeating mindset that people can't keep their resolutions longer than a month, not really having any goals to set at the time, and not having the time or resources to focus on anything other than finishing school and not getting fired from my part-time job.

I'd like to give this formal goal-setting a solid try now that I have the job security and free time to focus on other things, but the perpetuated outlook on resolutions has instilled in me a fear of giving up prematurely.

A recent post by a Facebook friend of mine inspired me to think about how we set goals and ways to increase the chances of accomplishing them.

While not official in any way or exhaustive, here is a list of things I think should be considered when setting goals:

-Beware hard deadlines.
The nice thing about New Year's resolutions is that there is a built-in start time. Having a solid time to start working on goals is much more motivating than "sometime next week" or "I'll get around to it".

However, keep in mind that setting a solid end can do more harm than good. Deadlines are infamous for squandering artist creativity. Committing to do something by a specific time can facilitate structure and order, but the increase in pressure can also be demotivating. Eventually, not doing anything at all is much more appealing, and people either quit, rush to get a project done resulting in inferior work, or procrastinate.

-Goals are rarely "accomplished"...and that's okay!
The problem here is that most equate not accomplishing goals with failure.

Let's say you set a goal to find your lost car key. Found it? Great, mission accomplished. Failed to find it? Mission not accomplished. pretty simple.

However, most goals aren't that black and white. Resolving to lose 30 pounds in a year is a concrete goal, but even if you only lost 25, you still accomplished something! Even a single pound is an important step in the right direction.

-Certain goals are a life-time commitment

Skills and healthy lifestyles need to be maintained.

Weight loss. Drug cessation. These are among the top-tier most daunting goals because they imply major lifestyle habit changes that need to continue for the rest of a person's life. Most people go into things like weight loss thinking about the short-term goal of losing the weight and don't think about how to maintain the new weight in their daily lives.

There are also certain skills that have no end-point. Language learning is one of these. I will continue learning Japanese (and whatever other languages I decide to learn) for the rest of my life. Hell, I'll be learning English the rest of my life too. Languages are organic and change over time which means I need to strive to keep up. There's always more to learn.

-Setting goals is a skill in itself.
Skills need to be developed and goal-setting is no different. As you experience progress and failure, you'll learn how to adjust your habits and schedule according to how you operate best.

-Goals need to change over time
This is why having an end time set in stone is generally a bad idea.

You are setting goals to develop yourself in some way which means you need to expect and accept change in a variety of areas including the goals themselves.

Expand your time-frame. Set smaller, more attainable goals. Or throw out the rule-book entirely and start over.

-There is no right answer
Italian electronic, disco musician and producer Giorgio Moroder has a documentary song in Daft Punk's most excellent album, "Random Access Memories" called "Giorgio by Moroder". At one point, he states, "Once you free your mind about the concept of harmony and of music being 'correct', you can do whatever you want.".

It's your life and your rules (or lack thereof). The only right answer is the answer that's right for you.

-And finally, patience

My last item on this list is probably the most important. People are human and humans have limitations. Don't treat those limitations as barriers, but rather as starting points. As you learn and grow, you'll begin to expand on those limitations.

Objects at rest want to stay at rest and objects in motion want to stay in motion. This law permeates all aspects of life. The hardest part will always be that first trip to the gym, or putting that first pencil to paper, or typing that first word. Know that once you begin to build momentum, it'll get easier and easier to keep going.

Learn to celebrate yourself and the small accomplishments. Reward yourself. Allow yourself some wiggle room and know that failure is normal and healthy. Allow yourself to quit if you need to.

The past year has been unforgettable and amazing and I can't wait to see what 2015 brings.

Happy New Year!

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