– Antoine de Saint Exuperys
You may scoff at the idea of making New Year’s resolutions, but every year I look forward to making my New Year’s goals. My Dad tought me to do this as a young girl and it has become habit-forming. I don’t exactly make them by New Year’s Day, but I do make them eventually – thus the less than timely nature of this post. After the excitement of the holidays I often take the month of January to relax, reflect and plan for the year. It takes me a few weeks to really consider what I want from my life and how I am going to get there. It isn’t something I just jump into haphazardly and say things like, “I will lose weight by the summer,” or “be a better person.” While these may be great resolutions they aren’t measurable goals. Therefore, they are not realistic to attain nor do they empower a sense of accomplishment as I work towards the goals.
This year I can resolve to be a better person. That sounds great but what does that mean? As opposed to a resolution, my goal will be different such as,”do a random act of kindness once a week,” or “volunteer 5 hours a month.” Each individual will have a different perspective on what “be a better person” looks like. Take the most common goal, loosing weight. For me my goal might be “exercise 4 times a week for 1 hour,” or “have only two sweets per week.” To someone else that might mean, “cut out meat to only one day per week, “or take my dog for a walk everyday.” The resolutions are the grand ideas but the goals are what will get you there. If one week I don’t do a random act of kindness or I eat seven sweet treats, I don’t have to stop my goals all together and give up because I am so far behind; no I just keep on track for that day, month, week or year. The great thing is too, if you write these down then come, say May, when you run across your well thought out goals you can pick up right where you left off. You can start volunteering again, or say save that $20 a month for that trip you wanted to take; even if you hadn’t made a single step towards that resolution since January.
As a therapist and social worker I always encourage patients to set goals. Together we need to see where they are going and in what way I can help them get there. In the hospital setting, the very first day I meet a patient I ask “what do you hope to get out of being here?” This way I can focus my work on help them attaining their short-term goals in a crisis situation. In long-term therapy I encourage the patient to set realistic, attainable, and measurable goals for each area of their life so again I can have an idea of where the therapy should focus. This is often, in no particular order: career/education, spiritual, health, relationship, and fun. These can be goals that take more than one calendar year to complete (get out of debt) or short-term goals that might be finished by next week (finally return that overdue library book). I usually put a few goals for each area of life and write them down so we can come back to the goals and see the progress, alter the goals, or get back on the track we started at any point.
Resolutions and goals become more real when you share them with someone. If you share with a friend, family member, partner or therapist you are no longer the only one accountable and aware of these goals. For example, you want to save $20 a week to go towards a trip to Mexico. Tell your friends, they will encourage more outings that are free or won’t pressure you to buy that expensive pair of shoes. Maybe they will even help you get there – setting you up with a great airfare deal they find online or say sending you a coupon for the dry cleaners you use every week. Some can be personal and you may not want to share, say, start flossing every day, but, a partner could sure help keep you accountable to that goal!
What are your goals for today? This month? The next 5 years? Goals can be set by anyone for anything and the great thing is they can’t be broken! You are always working towards your goals and there is no reason to give up!