Have you ever made a resolution? Did you stick to it? The most popular resolutions are to exercise more, save money and eat healthier. The majority of people have the same resolutions every year and there is a good reason for that. Less than 10% of people who make resolutions actually stick to them. Anyone who regularly goes to the gym can tell you that come January 1st it becomes a crowded madhouse full of people in their brand new gym clothes, fancy water jugs and filled to the brim with intention and motivation. But a funny thing happens. By the time February rolls around the gym is a ghost town. All of those new year, new you intentions are rolled up and put away in storage along with the Christmas lights until next year rolls around. The reality is, if the resolution you made was important to you then you wouldn’t wait until an arbitrary date in the Earth’s orbit to start making changes. You would make changes now.
So what about using goals instead? Goals do have some benefits over resolutions. When making proper goals they are specific, measurable, achievable and time-bound. A resolution tends to be ambiguous such as ‘losing weight’. A goal would be “Losing 15 pounds by April 1st”. Goals are no doubt an improvement over resolutions but after a few years of setting yearly goals instead of resolutions I find that they just don’t work as well for me. First, yearly goals share a similar problem with resolutions which is that if it’s important to you then there is no reason to wait. You can make goals at any point. You can start making goals right now. The other problem with yearly goals is that shit happens. Unless you have a working crystal ball you don’t know what life is going to throw at you or will you know how your own priorities will change. While I am still a very much goal-oriented person I am done setting yearly goals. Let me tell you why.
In 2019 I was in the best shape of my life. I had just finished a great 2018 triathlon season where I had placed on the podium at every single race(except the off-road one) I participated in. One of my goals for 2019 was an ultramarathon where I had a very real chance of placing near the top. Two months before the race I was struck with a health issue that took me out of training and took me out of the race. I had other goals I was working on but 2019 was a bad year for me because I then developed a chronic pain condition that totally disrupted my life. I would only fall asleep every 3rd night because the pain was so bad and constant. That has improved quite a bit, thank goodness, but at the time I was simply trying to survive. I had to give up all of my 2019 goals because it took every ounce of my being just to make it through another day.
So then we come to 2020, a year that most of us are likely never to forget. I had a list of goals for 2020 because luckily my health issues subsided. In March, the pandemic hit and basically shut down everything. No one was holding events, the economy was in an iffy place, travel was basically impossible. This meant scratching off a number of goals. Next another major life event happened. My wife and I have been working with a real estate developer who wanted to buy our property in Florida. These talks had been going on for years. In late 2020 the real estate developer wanted to pull the trigger and pull it fast. This gave us a very short amount of time to find a new place to live and to make matters more interesting we wanted to move to the other side of the country. Trying to manage this situation on top of the pandemic meant abandoning pretty much every goal I had made for the year.
So now we are up to 2021. Again, I made goals. I’m not achieving them this year because my priorities have shifted so drastically that those goals felt like they were made by a stranger.
So let’s cut to the chase.
Next year I won’t be making any resolutions and I won’t be making any yearly goals. Instead, I propose something new. Setting a theme for the year. With a theme you are choosing a broad idea or notion to follow instead of a pass or fail condition like a goal or resolution. Your theme can and should produce goals but the benefit is your goals can be shorter in timeframe and adapt to life events.
Since losing weight, exercising and eating more healthy are the most common New Year’s Resolutions, we will use that as an example. A great theme to use instead would be “Fitness”. From there you can make some shorter term goals. Some good examples might be:
- Run at least one 5k this spring
- Lose 15lbs by the end of April
- Stay below my calorie goal for the month January.
Once you complete those goals you can just make a new one. So maybe after your 5k you plan on running a 10k in July or you want to lose 10 more pounds by the end of August. Let’s say you suffer a knee injury training for the 5k. No problem, you switch to cycling or swimming and make new goals based on that.
A theme doesn’t just produce goals either. You can use it to change your mindset completely. Have you ever thought to yourself that you will never run a marathon or that you just aren’t the type of person that runs a marathon? Well, this year you are. Do you not want to work out in public because you might feel embarrassed about being sweaty and ‘gross’? Well now you don’t care about that because people who are into fitness get sweaty and gross. It’s just a normal, everyday thing and you wear that sweat with pride.
A theme can work for finances as well. You can produce a goal from the finance theme to save a certain dollar amount. You can become the type of person that reviews their bank statements to see where they can tighten things up. You can become the type of person that learns how to invest in the stock market. If you pick a nice, broad theme you can have endless goals and mindset changes that are resistant to external obstacles.
The theme I am going with this year is Adventure. I picked this theme because I’ve always loved experiencing new things, including the hardships. Put me on a long, grueling hiking trail and I love it. I read any book on exploration that I can find. It made sense to adapt that into my life in a broader sense. Some of my plans this year are that I want to spend at least one weekend a month away from the house. We recently moved to a new area and we have a ton of things to explore. I plan on doing a lot more backpacking trips with many of them likely being solo which will be new and exciting(as well as scary). I also want to spend a month in the highlands of Guatemala. I would love to do even more international travel but it is all dependent on the pandemic but that’s not a problem because if I can’t travel internationally there are infinite other ways to have an adventure. I have signed up for my first ultramarathon since my health issues. I could try picking up a completely new sport or consider trying bike touring.
All of those obviously scream adventure and will be key to me having a great year but I think the most important part of this theme is that I will treat EVERYTHING as an adventure. I have a lot of new things going on in my life in 2022. There are going to be a whole lot of obstacles and failures I will have to deal with but if I allow my theme to influence my mindset that will all just be part of the adventure. Instead of being worried about what’s going to happen next year I am excited to see what happens, good or bad.
So what about you? If you had to choose a theme for next year what would it be?