With the second month of the New Year nearly upon us, you’ve likely taken inventory of the past year and thought about what you want to keep, what you want to let go and what you want to make of this next decade. In other words, you are already setting small goals to a better year.
Whether you’re waking up earlier or dialing back on social media, your actions are laying the foundation for the calendar weeks ahead.
Why we resolve
January is critical to setting the wheels of success in motion, when motivations are running high and accountability is front and center. About 40 percent of Americans set resolutions around the first of the year and fewer than half will have maintained them by the six-month mark.
Could the source of our early success also be the culprit behind our later failings? And if so, what’s the alternative?
New Year’s resolutions stretch back thousands of years with the Babylonians being the first to have made them some 4,000 years ago. Fast forward to the present and we’re still making promises to become new and improved versions of ourselves on the eve of each New Year. Having stood the test of time, resolutions yield a host of benefits but are not without their share of challenges.
So, what’s the alternative? If resolutions aren’t your style or you’re looking to revitalize your existing approach, consider setting monthly or quarterly goals instead. This might be a good option if:
- You regularly find yourself giving up on your New Year’s goals by February or March.
- You’re looking to gradually implement positive changes in your life.
- You’re debating a lifestyle shift, but aren’t ready to fully commit.
- You’re more detail-oriented than big-picture-focused.
- You love New Year’s resolutions, but often set too many and find yourself overwhelmed a few weeks in.
Monthly or quarterly goals are a great way to break down your larger, long-term goals into more reasonable chunks. There are a few different ways you can go about it, but don’t be afraid to get creative and find what works for you.
Establish monthly themes
Set aside each month to focus on a specific goal. Maybe you want to meditate every day in March, give up wine in April, go for a walk around the block each day in May, and read for 30 minutes before bed each night in June. This strategy allows you to incorporate a variety of different goals over the course of the year without becoming overwhelmed. You can even build cumulatively by continuing one month’s goal into the next, but be careful not to let your increased momentum lead to burnout.
Or quarterly themes
Set aside three months at a time to focus on a specific goal. This is an ideal approach if your goals align with the seasons — think indoor, cozy, contemplative, restorative goals in the cooler months and outdoor, active, exploration in the warmer. It’s also a good way to form long-term habits by giving yourself a 90-day incubation period. Don’t forget to be flexible and make adjustments as needed. If you decide to meditate every day October through December but quickly discover that you can’t stand it, try journaling, yoga or listening to podcasts instead.
Develop four quarterly themes with three related monthly goals for each theme. For instance, you might decide on the themes of fitness, mental health, digital and family.
Within the fitness theme you might have monthly goals of training for a race, walking a certain number of steps each day and taking the stairs at work instead of the elevator. This strategy offers a nice taste of variety while emphasizing core focus areas. It’s perfect for those who have a firm sense of what they’re hoping to accomplish and are looking to take things up a notch.
As January nears its end, reflect on your progress so far. Perhaps it’s been smooth and steady or maybe you’re needing an extra dose of inspiration. Try out one of the methods above and check in with yourself in a few weeks to see how you’re doing.
I like reserving my annual resolutions for big-picture items that I know I’m ready to commit to. In this way, they feel less daunting and more like natural extensions of my current lifestyle and values. I’m looking forward to experimenting with monthly goals in the hopes of forming consistent habits and stretching beyond my comfort zone.
Whatever approach you land on, have fun! Use it as an opportunity to laugh, learn and let loose. If you notice yourself becoming too rigid, take a step back and remember what you’re hoping to gain.
After all, you have the next decade to try, fail and try again.