A Goal-Setting Challenge for the New Year
Written by Sara Bliss
Resolutions. Ugh, right? Not for this lady. I’ve always been the type of person who enjoys small, attainable, personal challenges. Lent was always a favorite time of year growing up, and zero percent of that had to do with religion. I liked having an excuse to adopt (or erase) a habit; a black-and-white way to strive for personal growth. In the past I’ve temporarily given up meat, soda and complaining. I’ve done a couple rounds of Whole30. I’ve given up caffeine. I’ve given up all social media—twice.
Naturally, New Year’s resolutions were always appealing to me. Yet another reason for me to layer on another good habit (or drop one that’s not serving me). But, I struggled. I struggled with the ambiguity of what resolutions really mean, or how to figure out whether I’ve accomplished them or not. Even simple resolutions like “drink more water” proved challenging. More water than what? How much more? Every day? How do I know if I’ve done it? When is it over?
Don’t get me wrong: I think we could all stand to incorporate a little more H2O in our lives, but resolutions like this just feel like fluff. “Work out more,” “eat less sugar,” “be nicer to people” all fall into the same mushy category: resolutions just asking to be forgotten.
Several years ago, I decided to start approaching my New Year’s resolutions as a miniature bucket list: several concrete, realistic, attainable, goals I’d like to take care of in any given year. If I didn’t quite satisfy one of my line items, I’d simply transfer it to the following year’s bucket list (if I still felt its completion would benefit me). These lists have included everything from traveling certain places, to accomplishing certain things in my professional life, to trying new activities, to just upping the ante on aspects of my life I already enjoy (like setting a goal for how many books I’d like to read).
These hyper-specific resolutions are different from daily or weekly goals in a lot of ways. The annual bucket list is about want, and weekly goals are about need. I need to write a policy memo for graduate school next week, but I want to successfully graduate with my master’s degree by the end of 2018. I need to go to the grocery store every weekend, but I want to try at least five new recipes from my favorite cookbook. Think of these resolutions as bumpers at the bowling alley. They’re there to remind you what you value most, and gently push you back toward the center of what really matters as you move forward throughout the year.
It’s been about 10 years since I started this practice, and this past year Gretchen Rubin mentioned it on her podcast, “Happier.” Her version was simply called “18 for 2018”: 18 things you want to take care of in the 2018 calendar year. It was exactly what I’d already been doing, but with a set number of goals. My type-A self was all over it. I drafted my list the very next morning in my favorite notebook, and as I moved through each line, I took the time to really consider if everything was worth including. Were these resolutions truly going to make me happier, or make me a better version of myself? It was tempting to include “shoulds,” (e.g. I should finally try Barre to see what all the hype is about), but I didn’t want outside noise to influence my personal goals.
These lists really set the tone for the year by providing a framework of areas of my life that surface over and over again—the ones that really impact my confidence, mood and productivity. I get a clearer picture of what I need to dial into, ramp up or cut out completely. By now, I know reading and learning are extremely important to me, as is nourishing my body with real, whole foods. Traveling rejuvenates me, and I’m a better person when I put effort into relationships with close friends and family. These truths manifest themselves in various ways on each and every year’s list, reaffirming their place in my world.
None of these goals are crazy, nothing out of reach—yet every time I get to add a checkmark to the list, I feel energized and confident; focused and gratified. These mental health boosts positively impact my performance at the office, but it goes beyond mood. Many of my goals, while personal, have inadvertently translated into elevated work performance. One of my resolutions this year was to go a week without makeup, which was sort of scary at first, but—shocking no one—it went completely unnoticed. This was the proof I didn’t know I needed that I am valued for my work ethic and my expertise, not how sharp my eyeliner is.
Each year, these lists bring me back to the core of who I am. 2018 improved my health through a round of the Whole30, incorporating donation-based yoga classes, curating a nontoxic skincare routine and trying new things in the kitchen. 2018 made me a more well-rounded employee through learning basic Italian, completing seven graduate school classes and starting a regular meditation practice. 2018 gave me joy through the creation and publication of a family cookbook, visiting Asheville for the first time and winding down most evenings with a good book. 2018 was able to give these things to me because I sat down and gave my full self to the year before it even began.
As 2018 came to a close, I developed my “19 for 2019” list, digging into the #18for2018 hashtag on Instagram for inspiration. As you develop your own list, remember to allow yourself some flexibility if things don’t pan out the way you want them to. Just because something didn’t happen this year doesn’t mean it won’t happen at all. My “go to a theme park” goal for the year is still without a check mark, but I can always go in the future.
Perfection is not the objective; these resolutions should inspire you and guide you without driving you insane.
Sara works as a full-time admissions counselor at Flagler College in St. Augustine and runs a wellness Instagram to connect with other foodies. When she’s not in the kitchen, you can find her at the gym, reading a book, planning her next trip, or re-watching Game of Thrones episodes with her dog.