It’s that time of year when we roll out the resolutions. A list of ways to improve ourselves - to turn over a new leaf as we start another lap of the sun. It’s something that I’ve done for most of my life; sometimes formally with a pen and paper, sometimes out loud and sometimes just in my head, marking a list of reminders of what I should be doing throughout my year. My own resolutions have always taken the same format and many carry over year-to-year. Some have been successful in guiding me through the months and establishing new habits, most have been forgotten or ignored by the end of January.
Historically, my resolutions would generally take this form:
- Get fitter/exercise more
- Drink less
- Read more
- Get more sleep
- Spend more time on music
And whilst some of those are entirely valid resolutions, they lack something important. As they are, they don’t really mean much, they can be interpreted strictly or loosely, and they don’t really get to the core of why setting resolutions in the first place.
‘I resolve to get fitter this year’ is a wishy-washy phrase. What is fitter? How fit am I now? How fit do I want to be? Why? How will I know when I’ve achieved this? What happens if I do achieve this?
Goals Not Resolutions
I know I should be working more on my physical health, but having a resolution like this in place isn’t going to take a pound off me on the scales. My brain doesn’t work like that. You might operate differently but I need to see something happen and at least have a story to tell afterwards. I need to be working towards something specific, something achievable and something enjoyable. If getting fitter, drinking less, reading more or getting more sleep is what I need to do to get there, well that’s a bonus, but for me the goal is the thing. Those other things are just part of the journey.
So for the last few years I haven’t made resolutions. I haven’t told myself to ‘do this less’ or ‘do more of that’. I’ve set myself goals and milestones and even stretch-goals for the occasions where I might overachieve.
In business, in product design and development, I’m frequently reminded to ‘start with the why’. I could easily convert those woolly resolutions I listed above into ‘goals’, but would that really improve my ability or desire to meet them?
- Run 3 times a week
- Drink less than 10 units per week
- Read a book a month
- Sleep 8hrs per night
- Play guitar for 45 minutes every day
Achievable, tick-off-able goals. Sleep 8 hours every night for 365 days? Check. But why did I do that? What has it changed in my life? Why did I write it down in the first place. What happens for the rest of the year if I succeed or fail?
When I look at me achievements from this year will they be things like ‘I ran three times a week for a year’? Or maybe ‘I read a book a month for a year but missed a couple of months in the middle because I was really busy with work’?
Do I want to read twelve books this year or do I want to become an expert in something? Do I want to play guitar for 45 minutes a day or do I want to be able to play a song I love, or write a song, or perform live, or record an album, or be on Top of the Pops (probably not realistic)?
For me (and again, you might work differently), running three times a week is work. It’s the effort that I’m only going to actually put in if I know I’ll have something to show for it. It’s the journey towards being fit enough to run a 10K.
Note: I’m not planning on running a 10K.
Goals Are Destinations
The goal is the destination. Along the way there are wins and losses, trials and obstacles. You might not even get there, but you’ll at least know that you haven’t.
Goals should be achievable. If they’re not achievable within the year, I need to scale them down or break them up into smaller goals. Milestones on the journey. If I reach one milestone, I can always continue to the next.
A destination is somewhere you’re headed. It’s somewhere you have a desire to be. Arrival is something you will strive to achieve. There’s no point in setting off on a journey if you don’t know what direction you’re at least pointing.
Choose Your Own Adventure
For me, it’s got to be something I want. Something I want to achieve. Something I want to have done. For reference, my goals for the last year were all music related:
- Record music
- Stretch goal: Release music
- Perform at my favourite local music venue
- Play a support slot for a well known act
I achieved all those things, squeaking in that stretch goal in December when I released The Things I Think. I performed a support slot at the supercool FortyFive Vinyl Cafe in York back in Spring. In the Summer I supported Mark Morriss from The Bluetones (a band I’ve followed and loved since the 1990s) and then Dan Webster Band at The Crescent, York’s biggest non-theatre music venue.
Every goal was achievable but if I didn’t put in the work through the year I could have easily missed out on any of them. If I didn’t put the effort in to hone my craft, write the songs, show up to other people’s gigs and get my name out there to promoters, other musicians and the media. The journey was not easy, but knowing that I was working towards something made it worthwhile and fun. If I’d have made wooly resolutions, I might have still achieved some of those things, or I might have eased off after a month or so of playing pop covers to disinterested drunks in an out-of-town pub.
What happens next
I’m not going to write my goals for 2023 here, at least not until the year is through. Nobody needs that kind of pressure. But they could be a continuation of last year’s goals, they could be an advancement of those goals (the next step up), or they could be something completely different. And when I’ve selected a destination, the journey I take will be so much sweeter.