As I write this, it’s early February and I have just begun work on one of my new year’s resolutions: drink 80 ounces of water each day. I have had one successful day, and I’m tracking my progress in an app designed to support the pursuit of one’s goals. Currently, I’m feeling somewhat waterlogged and will probably need to interrupt my writing in a few minutes to go use the bathroom.
That is possibly the most boring paragraph I have ever written.
People love to hate new year’s resolutions. “Nobody ever sticks to them.” “Gyms are full in January but empty in February.” “New year’s resolutions are unrealistic.” Personally, I have mixed feelings about new year’s resolutions. I dig the “resolutions” part — I find goal-setting to be an invigorating and inspiring process. But the January 1 part feels like a rush — I need more time to wrap up all the Christmas goodness before I can sit down soberly and consider what I have done. (What have I done?!?)
The “resolutions,” though — I love that. I find myself frequently looking for opportunities for a reset in my life, certainly more than once every year. I know how changeable I am, how prone to distraction, and how vulnerable to temptation. But at the same time, I have high ideals, deeply ingrained expectations for myself, and a wild belief that God has put me on this earth to do important work.
For that reason, I need help remembering — remembering who I am, to what I am called, how to keep my body healthy. I must build in ways to stop and look at what I am doing in order to develop habits to support the life I wish to lead. In this way, my incredibly dull goal “to drink more water” can nourish the seed of my deeper desire, which is to care for my body well so that I can use my health and longevity for the good of God’s kingdom.
But I’m just a human, and I have proven to myself that I constantly forget my deepest wishes in favor of coffee, cookies, and mild dehydration headaches. And so it is that I find myself declaring goals about water consumption.
Brené Brown, in her recent book Dare to Lead, describes this process succinctly:
Living into our values means that we do more than profess our values, we practice them. We walk our talk — we are clear about what we believe and hold important, and we take care that our intentions, words, thoughts, and behaviors align with those beliefs.
What I’m learning, slowly but surely, is that the process of growth is a constant cycle of reflection, resolution, and action.
If you, like me, are a human in need of help remembering the things you most deeply desire, I have good news for you! God is gracious. He gives us multiple beginnings every year, and we can always find a fresh opportunity for a restart. Here are a few ideas to consider along the way:
January 1 is just the beginning.
For the past few years, I’ve been taking the month of January as a time of reflection before establishing goals on February 1. I usually read through my journal from the past year, consider what I’d like to change, and delay the declaration of my resolutions for a little while.
Watch for the change of seasons.
This year, I’m inspired to try a quarterly time frame (as Emily Freeman does) that fosters a seasonal rhythm of reflection and goal-setting. I intent to experiment with this in 2019, which means that I can even grant myself another month for the creation of goals (although I’ve created a list of mini-goals for February just to get myself started — see below).
Don’t rush the reflection process.
I’ll be honest — part of my slow start this year is that I know I need a little extra time to process all that happened in 2018. Last year wasn’t easy for me personally, and I can tell that I need that extra time by the tightness and the grief that wells up whenever I head back to review my journal and remember the quietly painful events of the year. Even though I know it all turned out okay, the grief over the dark moments of life needs some TLC and space to air out. Slow and steady wins the race on this one.
A note on reflection: You might not be a compulsive journaler like me, but you can still engage in reflection through a variety of methods. Grab and notepad and spend some time looking through your social media feeds, glancing over your bank account, scanning your bookshelves, and perusing your calendar (Tim Ferriss has an interesting method). Pay attention to your body while you look. What memories bring joy? What memories inspire tightness or anxiety? What would you like to change in this next year or season?
Attend to your inspiration.
Cultivate the practice of noticing what piques your interest. What articles are you drawn to? What books? Did you hear an inspiring story on the radio that you found yourself thinking about the next day? What problems do you continually seek to solve in your life?
Here’s another example from the files of Ann Boyd: In December 2018, we published an interview with Anne Zaki here at The Well. Since I am the managing editor, I have the joyful duty of reading through every one of our articles before publication, and I always find them to be encouraging and inspiring. But there was one part of Anne Zaki’s interview that lodged itself in my mind: her practice of listening to the Bible as an audiobook. Since I’m a podcast fiend and frequent audiobook reader, I wondered if this might be a good way to get more Scripture into my life. I found a daily Bible audiobook (easy to access through Scribd — have you tried it?) and I’m currently about two months in and experiencing Scripture in a way I never have before.
Try to “ooch” your goals before committing to them.
In the Heath brothers’ excellent book Decisive, they describe “ooching” as a helpful stage in coming to a decision — their word that means “engaging in a trial period.” During this time of exploring potential goals, I’m not inactive. I experiment with a few ideas and try out new tools to help me. This year, I’ve needed a few weeks to recommit myself to healthier patterns of eating, to test out a few apps that may help me to grow in the discipline of centering prayer and meditation, and to dream about what it will take to get a writing habit solidly re-established. Even my audiobook Bible reading practice was an ooch — I started it on December 29 (which helped to diffuse the “new year’s resolution” vibe that can feel like a lot of pressure) and just took it a week at a time. Eight weeks later, I have a pretty solid habit of listening to the Bible every day as I wash the breakfast dishes.
Consider some strategies for habit formation.
I love absorbing new ideas from books, articles, and podcasts on productivity and personal goals. Since this kind of thing does not come naturally to me, I really appreciate thoughts from researchers and fellow travelers to help inspire my action steps. There are lots of resources I could recommend, but let me highlight my favorite: Gretchen Rubin’s excellent book Better Than Before. In this book, she offers 21 strategies for habit formation — not suggesting particular habits themselves, but revealing the fruits of her research on the practices that work best for a variety of people. (And if you’re a podcast-listener, check out her podcast “Happier.”) Other authors you might appreciate include Laura Vanderkam, Charles Duhigg, and Chip and Dan Heath — and that’s just getting started.
As in all things, I believe strongly that you should not force yourself into a discipline of goal-setting if it doesn’t appeal to you. But if the idea of engaging in reflection and setting goals feels interesting, give it a try. God is consistent, but we are not — and I, for one, know that I can use all the help I can get to live right with him.
Ann’s mini-goals for February
- Drink 80 ounces of water daily.
- Schedule four “power hours” to deal with the enormous boxes of miscellaneous papers that were stored away in a panic before Christmas.
- Try using a meditation app daily for one week.
- Continue listening to my daily audio Bible at least 6 days/week.
Ten goals to consider for March-May
(I’ll probably pick 3-5 of these and make them more specific.)
- Developing a regular writing habit.
- Mastering the art of baking cookies while not eating so much cookie dough in the process that I feel sick at the end.
- Incorporating some weight training into my exercise.
- Begin a “return to running” program with a resource recommended by my physical therapist (after recovering from a hip injury).
- Create some new habits in our family house cleaning/maintenance routines.
- Aim for eight hours of sleep each night.
- Begin a regular meditation practice.
- Read Anna Karenina.
- Wear red lipstick at least once a week.
- Plan for date nights with my husband at least twice each month.