I can almost smell the enticing aroma of a new year—it smells like the first grass of spring, mixed with the crispness of a blank canvas of calendar squares.
This is the year I’m finally going to get organized, a little voice in my head whispers. Dude, we’ve been saying that for years, I say back, raising my eyebrows.
Well maybe this is the year we’ll get totally sculpted arms, then! We’ll start doing 20 push-ups a day! the voice hisses back.
I roll my eyes.
The urge to “get perfect” is strong this time of year, despite decades of tried and often failed resolutions about weight loss, organization, or creative pursuits. And many times, by the first of February, we already feel like failures.
But I learned something this past year—if we really want to make a change in our lives, it’s totally possible. After procrastinating on a writing project for 15 years, I finally wrote a first draft of the book that’s been swimming around in my head. I still have a lot of work ahead of me, but I finally proved to myself that I’m capable of creating new, positive patterns in my life.
Whether you call them resolutions, intentions, or goals, here’s what helped me achieve mine this year:
1. Focus on one or two things.
When we resolve to get in shape, organize our home, become a master yogi, meditate every day, and be a better parent/partner/child/friend, we’re setting ourselves up for failure.
While it can be intoxicating to imagine that in a year we’ll be a totally different and much better person, it’s not very realistic. In the pursuit of change, most of us do better when we focus in on one or two priorities.
2. Make your goal measurable.
When we create measurable goals, we’re much more likely to achieve them. When I decided to write my book, I designed the goal of writing 10,000 words per month. With a measurable goal in hand, I knew what I needed to do to succeed.
3. Believe in baby steps.
Ten thousand words a month may sound like a lot, but 2,500 words a week isn’t actually that much—it’s about five typed pages per week, or one for each weekday. It’s like the journey of the tortoise—when we just keep plodding away, we can do amazing things. Plus, we’re more likely to succeed when we give ourselves goals that are doable.
4. Set up accountability.
This year wasn’t the first time I tried to write a book. I’d committed to the idea at least a dozen times over the years. But this was the first time I actually did it, and there was one big difference in my approach—I used an accountability partner.
Every week, my buddy and I talked to each other, committing to our goals for the coming week. Whenever I thought about slacking off and avoiding making progress on my book, I knew I’d have to tell my friend about it. On the other hand, the idea of telling her each week that I’d met my goal pushed me to meet it. External commitments are much harder to break than an internal commitment—one I can easily talk myself out of.
5. Know you’ll have setbacks—and successes.
Life just keeps happening—the kids get sick, we get a migraine, or a snowstorm sweeps in on the day we’ve allocated to our project. Or we get in a slump with our goal, and self-doubt or boredom or self-sabotage seep in. Acknowledge that these frustrations are all a part of doing something we’ve never done before. If it was easy, and we had no setbacks, we’d probably have already mastered it.
While writing the first draft of my book, I had days when I imagined Oprah interviewing me about my book, and other days when sitting down at my laptop made me want to hurl. And those are just the extremes—I experienced plenty of variations in between those extremes. But when we commit to showing up over and over again as we pursue our goals, we start to realize these periods of elation and despair are just part of the process, and if we hang in long enough, we’ll have plenty of both. We can feel the creeping self-doubt and the roller coaster ride of the ego, and keep pushing through anyway.
Here’s to the process of pushing through the discomfort and achieving our goals. Cheers!
Author: Lynn Shattuck
Image: Elephant Journal on Instagram
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Emily Bartran