Like many people, I often view a new year—and even more so a new decade—as an opportunity to reset and establish new resolutions and goals. And it can indeed be a good time to reflect on the past year and consider changes to make in the new one.
As a year starts to wind down I begin reflecting on the previous year, and start reflecting on the hopes and dreams for the new year. I think about all the ways I want to grow, the new experiences I want to have, and the goals that I want to reach to make it a successful year.
I launch into the new year with great excitement and passion. I write down my new goals (some would call them resolutions) to keep track of all my small victories as I work toward the big goal that represents the big victory.
Unfortunately, as the days turn into weeks turn into months, I find my passion and excitement beginning to wane. I start missing a day here, and missing a day there. And pretty soon my list of ten goals get whittled down to 8 goals as I give up on a couple, usually with the rationalization that my priorities have shifted. Then my list gets further whittled down to 5 goals, and then down to 2, and pretty soon I’ve thrown in the towel on all the goals. And it’s not even February yet.
I scold myself for being too undisciplined, too weak, too unfocused to even be able to stick to my goals for a month. I’m disappointed in myself. I feel like a failure. I’m embarrassed, and let the fanfare of the goals that I so proudly shared with people fade into obscurity, hoping no one will remember that I set goals in the first place.
In previous years my goals would often take forms like the following:
- Wake up at 6am every day
- Read 50 pages a day
- Exercise every Monday through Friday for at least 30 minutes
- Write for at least 15 minutes a day
- Create one photo a day
- Have a date night with my wife once a week
Those goals weren’t bad per se, and they were indicative of deeper values such as physical wellbeing, ongoing learning, relationships, and creative output. But, over time I found them to be too specific and viewed through a lens of success or failure. I was either successful in waking up every day at 6am or I failed. I was either successful in reading 50 pages per day or I failed. And over the course of 365 days there was inevitably a day (or many) that I didn’t do a specific goal. This usually led to abandonment of the goal.
Specific, measurable goals are valuable and have their place, but they need to be created on a foundation of mission, vision, and values that guide the overarching rhythms of my life. It is my mission and values that lead to sustainable rhythms, and sustainable rhythms that provide the context for helpful goals. I don’t want my goals to be driven primarily by the calendar though. There are other factors that need to be weighed when establishing goals.
So, last year I shifted my approach. Rather than setting goals, I focused on implementing rhythms into my life; rhythms that would have the flexibility to wax and wane, yet represented a bigger picture view of my life and the deeper values I sought to live out on a daily basis. I chose to focus on the following rhythms:
- Read — that could be a book, newspaper, article, magazine, blog post, etc. It could be nonfiction, fiction, or even children’s books. By the very act of reading I would learn and grow
- Pursue physical wellbeing — Whether I went for a long row on my ergometer, went for a run with my dog, or went for a walk with my family, I was getting up and active, and that contributed to my wellbeing on a daily basis
- Schedule quality time with my wife — My wife and I don’t get out on dates as much as we’d like. That’s often the reality with three kids, one of whom is now almost two years old. The logistics and costs of getting out on dates can be hard to overcome. But that didn’t mean we couldn’t spend quality time together. Even if it was a few minutes in the evening of intentional conversation, hearing about each other’s days, listening to what was going on in each other’s hearts…that’s beautiful quality time that helped us grow a stronger marriage.
- Schedule quality time with my kids — It isn’t possible to do everything I’d like to with my kids. But bringing my creative first fruits to my relationship with each child, even if only for a few minutes a day, helped build a stronger relationship with each child.
- Unplug – Spend less time in front of screens, especially in the mornings and evenings
- Rise early – Start my days off with some of the above rhythms (and watch the sunrise while enjoying a cup of coffee)
- Think – Create space to think, reflect, meditate, pray
- Create – Create rather than consume
- Serve – Seek ways to be a blessing to the people and communities around me
I had times when my rhythms were stronger and times when they were weaker. But that was part of the point. I didn’t view them as success or failure, but rather as important parts of my life that could ebb and flow as needed depending on what was going on in my life at a particular time.
As I move into 2020, my vision for the coming year is to continue strengthening these rhythms to help me live more intentionally and meaningfully as an individual, with my family, and in my community.
Happy New Year, and may this coming year for you be filled with many blessings, personal flourishing, and new adventures!