By Lindsey Rogers, LCPC
Happy New Year! Its 2019 and ‘tis the season for goal setting and change! Perhaps you didn’t make a list of New Year’s resolutions. Resolutions have become passé in some ways due to their traditionally low rate of follow-through. Resolutions are often “I will get healthy” or some other vague idea. A better idea is explicit goal setting. Goals should be simple, specific, and achievable. We are all about change and forward motion but if we are going to do our best to truly work toward our goals, we must try on the idea of looking at the past, present, and future. Yes, it is a new year so the focus is on what’s next, but perhaps looking at yourself with a real 360 degree view can be helpful.
Oftentimes we stress the importance of letting go, leaving things in the past and moving forward. That is all well and good. But our past experiences influence us. And if we can have acceptance and even appreciation for our past, that will influence our future in a positive way. So to accomplish your goal setting, a good first step is to make a list of your accomplishments. Acknowledge what have you done this past year. What do you feel proud of? It is easy to focus on the to-dos, the goals that have not been achieved—I still need to lose those 10 pounds, I still haven’t figured out my budget, I’m still fighting with my partner, etc. But what has changed? Maybe even slightly? Being mindful of your growth and change is a huge motivator. If you have evidence of how you have moved up that mountain, then it doesn’t seem like such an overwhelming climb. So make a list of your prideful moments. Look at various aspects of your life—personal and professional—just as you would if you were looking forward. Be intentional about giving yourself credit for things you have done in the last year. Maybe it has been maintenance, such as “I am glad I kept this up” as opposed to making a major change. If you get stuck, ask people around you. They may have a more realistic view of how you have been doing.
Mindfulness and being present are all the rage these days. But this is more than just a passing fad. This is an important life skill that has been effective from the days of Buddha. Meditation and breathing can help center you, as can noticing your body. This is one of my goals. Balancing work and family, I find myself constantly multitasking. Why sit and watch television when I can send emails, fold laundry, and sort of watch television all at the same time? Yes, life is busy and stressful and it is great to be able to multitask. But lost in the shuffle is basic awareness, being in the moment rather than just being “productive.” Start with the basics: your senses. Can you focus on what your soft blanket feels like? Can you notice how the shower feels when it first hits your face in the morning? Can you smell that crisp winter air as you wait for your train? The more you are cognizant of these individual moments, the more joy you will experience. It is great to be productive and we can’t always take the time to stop and smell the roses. But instead of what’s next, make sure you are taking time to acknowledge what is right now. This is a need in all aspects of your life. If you are more present in your relationships, imagine how intimacy and real connection and communication could increase. If you are focused at work and engaged in a mindful way, think of how much more your work could fulfill you. As well as being present, being positive each day is a great practice. How often do we get hung up on the failures of the day versus the triumphs? Be present and give yourself credit for those good moments.
Alright, now we get to the good stuff: New year, new you! In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come is the super-scary apparition shrouded in darkness—there is always fear of the future. But change can be good! And there is nothing like the newness of the dawning year to increase the hopefulness in the air. So be gone with the vague resolutions and instead set some specific goals. Get started by focusing on some big items and then pare your goals down. When it comes to goal setting, it is easy to get caught up in the “shoulds.” But goals only work if you are really expressing what is truly important and relevant to you. Take some time to write down both long-term or lifetime goals and then short-term goals that could be achieved this week or month. Remember, goals can be professional, personal, financial, social, educational, or spiritual. Every aspect of your life can have room for improvement. After writing down the goals as now-ish and then later-ish, set some real completion dates. There is nothing like accountability to help with goal achievement so be specific about when you are going to meet your goals. Then break those goals into steps. What do you need to do first to move toward that goal? Think about how willing and how able you are to work toward your goals. How ready and motivated are you? All of this goal setting is work and takes time and thought. Very different than the “I’m totally going to be more healthy this year!” resolution announced over “Auld Lang Syne” as you clink champagne flutes, right?! Take that mindfulness practice from the present into the future as you think about what sensory experience could help you to achieve your goals. For instance, what smell would put you in the mindset to get that closet cleaned out. Does that sound strange? Think about how fast-paced music increases motivation when you are exercising. So instead of just throwing it out there, think and plan in a thorough way to work toward your goals. What can you incorporate to change your behavior rather than just expecting change to happen because it is another new year? Or what thoughts would motivate you, such as positive affirmation? Answer these questions and write it all down. Put these goals somewhere important and visible and come back to them. Keep yourself accountable. With this much planning, you are tackling thoughts, feelings and behaviors that will certainly put that new, improved 2019 version of you into practice. Cheers to you and this Happy New Year!