by Rob Sprong, co-founder of JSRM Creative Designs
Each year in December, as we approach the holiday season and the beginning of the new calendar year, we often times will begin to reflect on the year and our experiences, trials, and accomplishments from the past year. With the calendar resetting, it is the perfect time to look at the previous year and think about what went well, what didn’t, and how we want the next year to be different. We’ve all had those years where we began the year with the best intentions- “I’m going to get fit,” “I’m going to save money,” “I’m going to reconnect with old friends and family,” yet all of us can think of different examples in our lives where we’ve fallen short of our resolutions. Why?
A common goal-setting exercise is to think about the different aspects of our lives and work on creating goals related to them.
Money- I want to end the year saving 15% of my income.
Fitness- I want to lose 10 pounds, I want to return to 10% body fat, I want to eat better, etc.
Relationships- I want to make sure that each month, I’m reconnecting with an old friend.
Work- THIS is the year I get that promotion, quit my job, etc.
Travel- I want to make sure to take 4 personal vacations this year to new places.
The problem with setting goals this way, however, is that when one sets goals category by category, a lot of times reaching all of these concurrently is just not realistic. In fact, setting these goals in such a manner is almost like picking things at random by category, hoping for the ideal but not stopping to consider the practicality of achieving these goals side by side. As an economist, I’ve always been concerned with tradeoffs and the concept of an opportunity cost, and at times we fail to consider the practicality of life.
Take three goals for example:
TRAVEL: I want to take 4 vacations to new places
WORK: I want to quit my job and finally “upgrade”
MONEY: I want to save 15% of my income.
Although each of these goals are great individual goals, they become impractical when one wants to accomplish them all in the same year. Like it or not, we’re going to spend about half of our waking hours in our lives working (at least most of us, anyways). So, our leisure time is a precious limited resource that we must decide how we want to spend. Also, although quitting ones job and pursuing a more challenging or fulfilling career is a great endeavor in and of itself, at times it may be mutually exclusive with having the expendable income to travel or save 15% of one’s income. Accomplishing two of these things in one year may be do-able, but all three is almost impossible when one considers the financial lack of certainty that goes along with swapping out ones job.
Another challenge of having multiple resolutions is navigating the lack of focus that comes into play when considering multiple, competing goals. The reason I describe them as competing is that some of the goals or resolutions you set for yourself may actually detract from another goal happening. For example, a goal around saving $10,000 of ones income in a year DETRACTS from someone wanting to quit their job and pursue a more meaningful, challenging, or rewarding career. One of these two things is unlikely to happen if you seek one or the other.
The frustration is that many times, a lack of being able to achieve individual goals or resolutions can at times leave us frustrated and make us not want to pursue the majority of our goals or resolutions. The disconnect from not achieving one or more of your goals leaves you frustrated and pessimistic about achieving the rest of them.
Now, imagine if you created goals or resolutions, but instead began with the end in mind. Instead of thinking first of the many resolutions in each area of your life you’d hope to achieve, think first about a general theme for the upcoming year. For example, if in 2014 my goal was to pursue a theme of control, or discipline, my goals in the same category may look different.
Money: I want to have a strict policy of saving 15% of my monthly income, no matter what.
Fitness: I want to exercise the discipline to track my diet and eating habits each month, as well as work out an average of 2.5 times per week.
Career: Excel at my current job but dedicate 10 hours per month at least to my side projects.
Relationships: Make a habit out of reconnecting with old friends and colleagues at least once per quarter.
Personal: Limit “night’s out partying” to two nights per week, except when on vacation.
When considering a general theme instead of throwing out resolutions willy nilly, what you cut to the core of is the key part of yourself that you seek to work on throughout a calendar year. When picking and sticking to a key character trait, theme, or habit of yours that you dedicate yourself to achieving each year, you can actually accomplish the efficiency of focus that goes along with zeroing in on a single concept or target and working on it. Also, you will find, that thinking about your goals thematically helps define a clear set of values for approaching the year that will reach into other areas of your life without even setting clear or explicit goals in those areas.
As an exercise, think of one or two describing words for this past year. What was this year about for you? Was it about getting ahead in your career? Was it about developing within yourself a specific character trait? Was it about achieving the proper work/life/health balance? Think a second or two on how you would sum up this past year. Are you happy with what you achieved in this theme?
Now, think about what you’re setting out to do this next year. What is the over-arching theme that you wish to develop in yourself? Why? Another route to the same answer- think of the top 3 things you’d like to achieve this next year. What do they all have in common? What will it take to achieve them? Once you have the theme, then set your goals by category, but take comfort in knowing that it isn’t about achieving 10 different things this year. It is about working on a core theme, developing that, and letting that impact all areas of your life and bring you happiness.