On the first of January, I set myself a whole bunch of goals to achieve, as I have done many Januaries that have passed. Usually, by February, life settles back to how it has always been, and I settle back into who I have always been. I then live my life in a state of transit, waiting for the next chance to begin again.
It is the 6th month of 2020, and somehow, I am still on track. This is newfound territory for me.
This year, I did things a little different.
At the start of every month, I set myself goals that I want to achieve by the end of it. At the end of every month, I look back, reflect and tally up how I’ve done. I’ve done this consistently for 5 months now. I stuck with it, and that is no small thing, not for me. I’ve notoriously been an “all or nothing” kind of person.
I have not achieved every goal I set out to do. Let’s say I set myself 100 small goals between January to now. I have probably achieved about 70 of them. But…that’s still 70 steps in the right direction. That is momentum. That is a huge success!
Retrospectively, if I had not set myself these targets, and was just left to my own devices, I would have probably achieved around 15-20 of them haphazardly. The difference is monumental.
Today, I’m looking at what worked. What I did differently that made me DO differently this time around? Here’s what is working for me:
Setting goals on a MONTHLY basis
I noticed that I tend to achieve the goals that are important to me and that fit into my life.
I stopped setting any kind of goals for the entire year. I have no idea what will be important to me at the end of the year. I have no idea what will make sense and fit into my life at the end of the year. I barely even know what will make sense in a month (read: hello global pandemic 2020) I only know what is important and what makes sense for my life right now.
So I work in months.
The set up
Disclaimer: I’m a multipassionate person with MANY things I want to try. It’s a gift and a curse. My husband calls me a (excuse the language) “hobbywhore” haha. My husband is so streamlined and concise. He has one job. One hobby. One passion. One friend (LOL just kidding). Listen – I just can’t help myself, I enjoy and want to try a lot of things, let me live.
So, at the start of the month I commit to a series of daily rituals/habits, that will bring to me my goal. Examples: meditation, exercising, 10 minute declutter, eat meals without distraction etc
I also create a list of things I’d like to do and try this month. I dip into this list every week and pick 2-3 to get done that week. Examples: Film and edit my birthday video, bake a key lime pie, take photographs for my blog.
I spend some time in meditation and pick on a focus and intention for the month – usually some kind of spiritual concept or practice I want to experience more deeply. Last month I focused on leaving things a little more beautiful than when I found them.
Track your progress in a way that empowers you
My first task was to find a way to track my progress so that I had a very real way of evaluating how things went at the end of the month.
If I did well on something, for example, if my goal was to work out 12 times this month and I ended up working out 16 times – it was a clear win and I felt great.
If I didn’t meet my target, like if my goal was to work out 12 times, and I worked out 6 times, it gave me a chance to ask myself if I wanted to recommit to this next month, and if I did, I would know exactly what I needed to do better on and how I could do it. Ultimately, tracking it inspired me to do better.
I then had to find a way to track my goals that felt exciting and empowering, and not like a chore.
Spoiler: When you’re on a winning streak – it feels empowering. When you’re on a losing streak – it feels like a chore.
I used Notion to track my goals. Checklists worked for some goals. For others, just tallying up numbers, or giving it a rating worked too. For my more spiritual/conceptual goals/focuses, I had to look at each one and find a good way to track if I engaged with it that day or not.
I take a look at the targets I was unable to meet and I troubleshoot why it happened. It’s important to note that I try not to do this in a critical way, but rather out of curiosity.
In my experiment with being ambitious, I noticed that it is easy to become hypercritical, and it’s not a pleasant state to be in.
So, I curiously ask myself – what happened?
Is it a scheduling issue?
Did I not have time? Why?
Did I not make time? Why?
Was there other things that were more important to do?
Is this something I need to do now or can I do it another time when it fits better into my life?
Is it that the desire is not really there?
Why is this on my to do list?
Do I really even want to do this?
Do I need to do this?
Is it fear?
How can I make this easier on me?
Can I make this into a smaller step?
What are the beliefs I have about myself and my life that are holding me back?
What scares me about this?
Am I tracking this in the best way?
What is the most motivating and satisfying way of tracking this goal?
Checking boxes works for a lot of things but not everything. Some of my goals are inner focuses, and it’s worthwhile to spend some time thinking of the best way to track it.
Once I know why something didn’t work – I can decide whether it is worth recommitting to or not. If it is, then I make the necessary changes to set myself up for success.
I don’t drag around what doesn’t work. I re-evaluate my situation every week.
If I realize that I actually don’t want to do something – I let it go.
If I realize I don’t need to do something – it’s gone.
If I realize it can be done at another time where it would make more sense – I take it off my monthly goals.
If I discover that there is a better way to do things, I’m not afraid of changing things for the upcoming week.
Contain failures to the smallest space they can take
So you didn’t meet all your daily or weekly goals. That’s ok and to be expected.
Don’t let that failure take over the day, the week or the month.
You failed at that attempt. At that try. That’s all.
Move on! Pick up where you left off. Do NOT, I repeat, DO NOT wait any amount of time (not till tomorrow, not till the next monday or the next month) for a fresh start. Start fresh right now. It might feel a little funky at first, but I promise you, your little wins will collect and you’ll be glad you didn’t wait to start, and wait to accomplish something. In fact, I’m constantly trying to dismantle my “all or nothing” thinking. Every time I find myself trying to pick between the two, I force myself to pick a middle option. It doesn’t feel as satisfying in that moment, but looking back, I never regret the small step I took that day.
I look at my monthly/weekly/daily spread every day
I start with my monthly goals and whittle down to the daily to-do list. That’s how I can see why these small tasks are important and how they fit into the big picture. It reminds me of my why.
Have an end of month Review & celebration ritual
It’s important to take time at the end of the month and let everything sink in – the wins and the lessons. A couple of months I decided to omit this step. I figured my daily trackers was enough, and I didn’t do a holistic review of the month gone by. I noticed a difference in how I felt going into the next month. Not as empowered. Not as confident. Because I didn’t take the time to acknowledge my successes, no matter how small. And because I didn’t take the time to acknowledge and resolve to implement the lessons I learned.
My ritual is this: I look over and reflect on all the highlights and lowlights of the month. I make a list. It’s nice to document what happened in the month. I then list out all my goals for the various categories I have (Soul, Passion projects, body, work, other) and I write out how I did on them (For example: Daily kriya: 25/31 days). I make a win list of all the things I did do, and did achieve.
This is when I feel good about myself! I made a promise to myself. I showed up for it. I did the work. It wasn’t perfect. But I did it. More often than not, I did it! That’s GREAT enough.
But what about Burn out?
Despite being “busier” and life feeling “fuller” than it ever has before, I have only felt burnt out with this new way of being twice. Twice in 5 months is not too bad!
In fact, I am happier now than before, and I think I am actually more protected from burn out than before. Why? Because I’m busy doing the things that really fill my cup.
My last burn-out episode was mostly down to the fact that I needed a break. Because my husband and I do our work in shifts while WFH during the pandemic, he works for the first half of the day while I take care of Reya. I’m supposed to start my work shift at 12:00pm but it rarely happens, and I often don’t get to start work till 2:30 and only get a few hours in before I we have to do the evening routine. Because of my significantly reduced workable hours, I have to work on weekends too. After a couple of months, I just needed a full day off.
So no, I don’t feel burnt out. I do feel tired at the end of the day, but it’s a good, full-filled tired. The only area I am struggling with is, not burn-out, but rather, handling the emotional impact of NOT meeting every single one of my goals.
The Pros and Cons of this level of ambition
For the sake of transparency, I will share the pros and cons of being this goal-oriented/ambitious this year in my experience:
🌸 I have more confidence in myself. I know if I put my mind to it, I can do it.
🌸 I’m generally HAPPIER (albeit, with a background hum of unease) because I get to do things that are important to me.
🌸 I have a systematic way to make sure I make time for all the things that are important to me and make me happy.
🌸 I have achieved/done more than I ever thought I could.
🌸 I’m organized and everything that needs to get done gets done.
🌸 I’m super conscious about how I spend my time.
🌸Knowing that I tried as hard as I can, and made the most of the opportunities I have right now – feels deeply gratifying.
🌸 I feel on top of things.
🌸 My life feels like it’s gaining momentum and moving forward.
🌸 I’ve learned a lot about myself, my motivations, my natural tendencies, and the work of my life.
🌸 I see real changes in my life, and in myself.
🖤 I constantly oscillate between feeling accomplished to feeling like a failure. There is no middle ground (not without me really really trying to find it)
🖤 There’s always a background hum of “yeah but you didn’t do XYZ” (ultimately, I have to physically remind myself that my win list is much larger than my fail list and then I feel ok for a little while lol)
🖤 Failing once affects your mental state. A couple of failures in a row rapidly infiltrates how you feel about yourself and your identity. Not fun. Interestingly, it takes a much larger string of successes for it to affect how you feel about yourself.
Example: 3 failures in a row = “I am a failure.”
3 successes in a row = “I guess I was lucky.”
70 successes in a row =”I suppose I did a good job!”
🖤 Some things are scheduled that doesn’t feel right to be scheduled (but if I didn’t schedule them in, I would not do it consistently – ex playing the piano)
🖤 Sometimes I can feel like I am failing at things that you cannot fail at.
I’m not suggesting this is the right way to do things. It’s just been an experiment of self, and I wanted to share the results so far. It’s been really rewarding and valuable for me to try out a “new way of being” and take what works and leave what doesn’t work.
The full moon is this Friday, so I will have a new blog post for you in just a few days 🙂 I’m going to answer a few of the questions I received in this post. If you haven’t had a chance to submit a question, feel free to do so. I’ll leave an anonymous question submission box below – and I will answer your question either in the next blog post or next month!
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Talk to you then,