As the last few hours of 2022 tick by, many, most, maybe even all of us are thinking about what we want 2023 to look like. The idea of setting goals or resolutions may seem exhausting given the past two years of uncertainty. Thoughts like — “Is it even worth setting a resolution when I may not have as much control over life as I think I do?” or “I never keep my resolutions, anyways. What’s the point?” — may have floated through your mind.
Maybe we are just doing resolutions wrong, though. Setting big, lofty goals at the stroke a midnight without granting ourselves the time or consideration of how we are going to get there. The how always seems to be a January problem which never quite gets solved in the hectic return to work or school that follows the new year.
For myself, in hindsight, I’ve been thinking about my resolutions since September. The start of a school year — even though I’m not in school anymore — always feels like a natural stopping point to take stock of the year and re-calibrate to ensure goals and tasks get finished before the year is out. But it’s also at time to start evaluating what we want next.
This year’s September re-calibration, where I realized a lot of my 2022 goals were going to be unfinished, taught me some important lessons which will influence how I set my 2023 New Years Resolutions…
Small Steps Lead to Big Goals
When I realized I wasn’t going to meet all my 2022 goals, I took a look at why. I realized that I was harbouring this looming feeling of overwhelm — that living my daily life left little to no time or energy for me to spend on my larger goals. So I re-focused on the small stuff and making the daily stuff that seemed to be getting in the way more efficient. I re-set my daily routine, time blocked my calendar, took stock of my diet, developed a skincare routine, etc.
Why? Because the small stuff, our habits or “systems”, are foundation for the big stuff. As James Clear puts it in Atomic Habits:
“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”
For instance, to reach a big goal like “Run a Marathon” you need to complete a lot of other smaller steps first on a consistent basis; you'll also have to make room in your current routine. You need to create a training plan, you need to figure out how to fit extra training into your daily schedule, you might have to adjust your diet, then you actually have to do all those things day-in-and-day-out.
Essentially, all goals are mini marathons. Reaching a big goal will require smaller, less glamorous or exciting steps to be completed first. And it will require those smaller steps to be done consistently and faithfully, which will require time and energy. If we only have so much time and energy per day, something else is going to have to give or become more efficient.
When we set goals or resolutions at the beginning of each year, many of us fail to take the time to sit down and figure out all the small steps required to reach that goal and what things in our current life are going to have to give way to the activities required to achieve the new goals. Without a roadmap, we fail.
You Need a Clear “Why”
Another, perhaps surprising, outcome of my September re-calibration was that I decided to let go of some goals. Some I pushed into a longer-term plan because they weren’t actually feasible for this year (if I’d mapped out all the small steps in January I might have realized this earlier); but others I let go of because they weren’t actually what I wanted anymore and I felt like they lacked a true “why?”. And that’s okay!
Sometimes, I think, we set resolutions and goals that we think we should have, rather than ones we want to have. This sets us up for failure. If you can’t attach a purpose, a clear “why?”, to a goal, you aren’t going to be very motivated to achieve it.
Other times, I think our failure to define and externalize a clear “why?” for ourselves, makes it hard to stick to goals when the going gets tough.
If your resolution is “I want to lose 10 pounds” you need to have a clear answer to the question, “why?”. When things get tough or you become demotivated, the answer to “why?” is what will keep you going:
I want to lose 10 pounds because…
I want to be healthier for my kids and family
I want to run a marathon next year
I want to fit into my favourite dress again
Reminding yourself of why YOU are pursing a goal will help you stay on track. If you find yourself in a situation where the answer to “why” isn’t motivating or no longer relevant, it may be time to re-adjust.
You Need Balance
While I was editing down my goals in September I also decided to re-organize my goals into categories. I thought about areas of my life that I wanted to change (e.g. Health, Finances, Career, etc.) and made sure I had goals in each category to help be achieve a balanced evolution.
I think it’s important, when setting goals, to make sure you are spending your energy in the right places.
Maybe you are fairly happy with your health and just want to maintain or make small adjustments — you’ll have 1 goal in this category perhaps. Perhaps your financial health really bothers you, and it’s something you want to change in a big way — you’ll want to have more goals in this category to help you achieve those changes.
You Need to Know Your Barriers
With the benefit on hindsight in September, I knew exactly what challenges or barriers had gotten in my way on the goals I wasn’t achieving. But, they were all pretty foreseeable and also fixable.
For instance, I hadn’t gotten to the gym as much as I wanted to or as consistently as I wanted to. And that was because I’d planned all my gym time for after work hours — many days I came home too tired to go to the gym.The solution to that barrier was to put my gym time into my calendar for the morning before work.
Thinking of solutions to barriers you might face before they arise is incredibly helpful when planning your roadmap. But being aware of barriers and taking stock of progress throughout the year also gives you a chance to adjust and deal with unforeseen barriers when they arise.
How I’m Setting Goals for 2023
All of this considered, here’s how I’m setting resolutions and goals for 2023:
Pick the categories I want to change
Set goals in those categories — goals are things to have achieved by December 31, 2023.
What barriers might arise and what are the solutions?
Figure out the small steps I need to achieve those goals and set a rough timeline to keep me on track
Check in on my goals at the end of each quarter — readjust as necessary.
Health - this year I want to get physically stronger and healthier. I felt my strongest and healthiest in 2016 when I was working out 5-6 times a week and had a balanced fitness routine that included cardio, pilates, and lifting.
My big goal will be to get back up to working out 5-6 times a week like I was in 2016. I’d like to be able to do 100 push ups as well.
Energy levels will be an issue after work so I will endeavour to go to the gym in the mornings before work.
Smaller steps will help me ramp up — developing an escalating training plan which will get me to the gym an increasing number of times per week quarter to quarter, block gym time into my calendar to make it a non-negotiable, got to bed earlier and get up earlier and go in the morning before work.
You may find this template helpful as you try to map your goals and resolutions this year.
I hope you found this helpful and inspiring for the year ahead! Wishing you and your family the brightest, healthiest, and happiest New Year ahead.