12 things I learned from #12monthsofgoals

january

Last year, rather than setting any new year’s resolutions, I set my sights a bit smaller – January resolutions. And then at the end of the month, having knocked almost all of those goals over, I started again. Setting new goals every month was really valuable for me, and this is what I learnt:

1) Concrete goals, flexible path

For me, goals worked best when I was working to something definite, but the way to get there wasn’t set in stone. One of my first goals was to complete one of those ‘couch to 5k’ programs, which meant I had to do 12 runs of increasing difficulty over the course of the month. If I slacked off one week (and I did), that meant I had more to do the next week. If instead I had been aiming to run three times every week, slacking off one week would have meant that I’d missed my chance to meet the goal at all, and made it easy to justify giving up.

2) Focus on forming habits

I think a month is a good period of time for setting goals, because it’s not long enough to really be intimidating, but it is long enough to form a habit. Once you’ve been doing something for a month, you’ll likely to keep going. For instance, I didn’t commit to making my bed every day for ever and ever, I just committed to doing it for a month. And since then, I may not do it every day, but I definitely do it most days, and I’m happier because of it. (Seriously, when I get into a freshly made bed at night, it’s basically a gift from past Tess.)

3) Find the projects that will make life better

Forming habits is good, but sorting out things that were bugging you once and for all is even better. One month I resolved that I would finally sort out the living room. We’d more or less put the furniture down wherever it would go when we first moved in, and had been putting off sorting it out again ever since. Once I made the living room one of my goals we actually did it, and now it is a much cosier, more attractive space.

4) Some things aren’t right for me

There have been a few times when I’ve set goals, tried them, and then given up mid-month because they weren’t making me happier, or helping me achieve anything I wanted. One of the big ones was writing daily ‘gratitude’ posts on Facebook, which I tried more than once last year. And in the end, it just didn’t work for me. I always felt as though I was bragging, or would find that the things I was most grateful for on any given day felt too private to put on Facebook. Or I felt the need to come up with new, interesting things every day, rather than the most honest thing. Eventually, I started writing down things I was grateful for in a little notebook that no one else would see, and that was a much better fit for me.

5) I don’t always know what I want

I’m glad I didn’t set resolutions for the whole year, because over the year, I found three big new things to get excited about and give my energy to. I started this blog, I got involved in the local CF charity, and I booked a 6-week trip to Europe. If I’d set annual resolutions, I would have had to set the resolutions aside to pursue new things, or I wouldn’t have done the new things. As it was, I was able to come up with goals each month that reflected my new priorities.

6) Sometimes it just isn’t your month (but 30 days isn’t long enough to slip too far)

I had one month where a few bad things happened to me, and I came unstuck to some extent. I don’t think I achieved any of my goals that month. Setting monthly goals meant that when the end of the month came around, I could simply re-set, figure out where I had slipped the most, and focus my energies there. And in the scheme of things, not exercising enough/eating badly/just about anything else for one month won’t really have any lasting detrimental effects.

7) Partial success is still success (aka, you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take)

One of the biggest themes throughout the year was trying to exercise more (from a baseline of approximately zero). In different months, I had different targets, like completing a running program, exercising a certain number of times per week, doing specific classes at the gym, and so on. The truth is, I almost never met my monthly exercise-related goals. On the other hand, I substantially increased the amount of exercise I do, and that is entirely because I was setting myself specific goals in this area.

8) Priorities will (and should) change throughout the year

Making goals monthly means I was able to change my goals to fit with  the ebbs and flows of my life. At a time when I knew I was going to be busy at work, my goals were mostly focused on self-care. In the lead up to Christmas, one of my big projects was making Christmas cards for everyone. As the weather gets warmer, I’d make goals that were focused on actually enjoying the summer.

9) Buy nothing new for a month

No, seriously, try it, it’s easier than you think.  And it makes you think more about what you actually need.

10) Accountability helps

I used to post my goals on Facebook every month, and include a bit on how I’d gone the previous month.  That accountability really made me focus on my goals, and being able to say that I’d had a ‘good’ month always made me feel fantastic.

11) Don’t forget about the fun

I know what makes me happy. The problem is, they sort of get lost between the things I have to do, and the easy distractions. I try to make some of these things actual monthly goals as well, so that I actually do them. Sometimes its little things, like going to the beach more, sometimes it’s bigger things, like throwing a party, or attempting some kind of cooking challenge. But for me, monthly goals are about what will make me happy, not just self-improvement for its own sake, and the fun goals are part of that.

12) Direction matters

I liked the monthly goals, but I had something of a scattergun approach in setting them, and I didn’t always think about why I was doing them.  This year I’m taking a hybrid approach – I started thinking about the big picture in terms of what I want from the year, and then tried to come up with monthly goals that will move me in that direction. So, here’s hoping that works out for me.

What were your new years resolutions? Are you still going with them? Why not try monthly goals? What is one thing you could do in February to move you closer to your  big-picture goals?

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