Now that it’s mid-January I can’t help but notice that the gym is noticeably quieter than it was a week ago. The first two weeks of the year I was in there at 5:30am and had to wait a few minutes for the squat rack, and the treadmills were almost all full (note – I don’t use the treadmill, I think I’d rather face off against a hungry lioness than toil away for 40 minutes on one of those torture machines). While I don’t have any proof of this, I’m guessing that resolutions that were made on January 1st have already hit roadblocks, or maybe even come to a grinding halt.
For years I made resolutions in lots of different categories, but the main ones were for my “health” (ie. my weight) and my finances. Every start of the new year I’d feel that hope that I bet we’ve all experienced, that a new start can mean a new me. I’d write down admirable goals and vow that by this time the following year I will have reached them. As a surprise to no one, I never reached those goals. Sometimes they were far too ambitious/stupid (lose 50 pounds by summer – that would have put me in the dangerously skinny category anyway), and other times they were way too vague (save more).
As I look down from my pedestal at the wise old age of 31, I can now see why I never achieved what I hoped to. It’s easy to make a list of final endpoints. In fact, it’s downright seductive. If I write it down, I’ve already taken action towards it – I already feel accomplished! But really, I’ve accomplished nothing except setting impossible tasks for myself, ones that make me feel rotten or silly or worthless when they’ve not come to fruition.
These past few months, however, a turning point has been made. Lots of it has had to do with reading books on habits and change, as well as blogs that are in line with my way of thinking (Nerd Fitness is my current favourite). Instead of focusing on the end goal, which can be very vague and seem very difficult to get to, I instead focus on steps. Little, itty bitty steps, ones that can be accomplished every single day. That original goal could still be there, but there are actions that I can do every day that will actually put me on the path to success.
I’ve also reassessed what I believe a good end goal is, if there is even such a thing. Too often we get stuck in the mindset that once we reach a goal, that’s it. We’ll stay there forever and be satisfied without ever sliding back into old habits. WRONG! Nowadays I focus on performance-based fitness goals (am I stronger than last week?) rather than weight-based ones, and automatic savings goals (did I deposit my RRSP and TFSA contributions this paycheque?) rather than grand ideas like being FIRE by 45. Both weight loss and FIRE could very well happen and meet the goals I have set out every year for the past decade, but they will be through small steps that I make and readjust as I carry on through the years.
This mindset has truly helped me more than any other strategy so far. Because I can see straight away if I am making progress or not I can sense the momentum even if it’s only a tiny bit. I don’t need to ever feel bad about myself because I didn’t meet a huge goal in a very unrealistic timeframe. If I do put a timeframe on it (which I rarely do now) I make sure that it is one that I can reasonably meet. For example, I want to be able to save $10,000 this year – by breaking down the math into weekly steps it is absolutely possible for me to save this amount, and probably more. It’s ambitious but realistic, and I feel all the better for it.
Goals should be changing regularly to meet your needs at that point in time. By focusing on the baby steps required I know I can meet my goal. It will take time, perseverance, and effort. There will be days I don’t want to, months where I feel like no progress is being made. But being able to look back at where I started to where I am now gives me more clarity on how much I’ve accomplished, and how much better off I am. I might not have an endpoint anymore, but that means I never have to stop working towards being better. Looking at it that has made it a lot more fun to me – and that should really be the point of life, eh?