By Coach Saara
I’d planned to write a little blog for y’all about setting annual goals before the first of the year, but then I got omicron for Christmas, and then there was a lot of sleeping and coughing and complaining and not a single syllable of writing. Hell, I didn’t even manage to finish writing up my own annual goals, much less writing about the process of making and meeting them.
I felt kinda bad about it for a few days. But then you know what I realized? Some of y’all might also be a little behind on your 2022 goals. Or you might have set some goals but now you’re not sure how to keep the momentum. Or you might just want to set your goals whenever, calendar be damned. If you fall into one of those categories, you are my people. This blog’s for you.
Historically, I haven’t been a resolutions person, or a yearly round-up person, or an annual letter person. New Year’s traditions seem like the Super Bowl to me—a weird, arbitrarily timed ritual that I find completely uninteresting except for the snacks. Why resolve to change on a particular date at a particular time? Just figure out what you want or need and do it up—at least, that’s what I used to think.
Speaking of what I want/need, as a woman with ADHD with two-to-five paid jobs going at any given time, I’ve always struggled with long-term goals—hitting them, choosing them, conceiving of them. Short-term deadlines? I’m your girl. Tell me I have to move my business to a new location in two days or ask me to put a whole magazine together by midnight? Me + coffee = DONE.
But make consistent, gradual progress on a big, slow, long-term goal? Forget it. It took me five years to apply to grad school, not because I was just lying around--I just kept getting distracted by projects. And then other projects. And more projects. And also the naps I needed because I had so many projects.
Plus, you know what doesn’t feel great? Having a goal and investing in it and trying your best over months or years and then not fucking accomplishing it. Long-term goals (LTGs) can feel scary and self-doubtish. But at some point I realized that *not* having LTGs was often scarier and self-doubtier.
I set my first set of official annual goals in 2020—but then suddenly it was 2020, and we were trapped in an unprecedented global pandemic/collective trauma, and everything shut down, and we couldn’t hang out with people except on Zoom, and by the time some things opened up again, nothing looked or felt the same. Everything fell apart and only sort of got put back together. You were there; you remember.
But you know what didn’t fall apart? MY ANNUAL GOALS, BITCHES!
I accomplished every goal I set for 2020—and all but one in 2021. My goals ranged from writing a book’s worth of short stories to becoming a certified personal trainer to making a real, repeatable habit of daily relaxation. I’m a little behind on my 2022 goal-setting process, but I’m super excited about them (Hello, new daily writing habits and kinda scary personal finance goals!).
My 2020 LTGs were by no means my first set of LTGs, but they were my most successful because I avoided several of the mistakes I’d made with previous LTGs. Here are those mistakes—in internet-friendly list format—along with some suggestions for skipping them.
MISTAKE 1) NOT ACTUALLY WANTING THE GOAL
I can’t tell you how many times I tried something—stop eating “bad” foods, “lose” “weight”, work less, whatever—only to give up after a week or two or three or twelve. Whenever I grabbed a bag of Cheetos or decided to read instead of write or picked up my laptop at 10pm, I knew it wasn’t aligned with my goals, I’d think something like, it’s not that important to me.
And it was true. I’ve never in my life *wanted* to eat healthy—but I have wanted to feel better in and about my body.
I’ve never *wanted* to “lose” “weight”—but I have felt bad about the size and/or shape of my body because of images and expectations from TV or other people or whatever. I have wanted to fit better in my clothes and, again, to feel good in my own skin.
I’ve never actually wanted to work less (I have the coolest jobs)—but I have wanted to feel more connected to myself; my husband, friends, and family; feel less anxious; have more fun.
SOLUTION 1) REFRAME THE GOAL
What all of those example goals had in common was that they were focused on less-desirable habits or traits—in other words, they were keeping me stuck in the past. They sounded SO AWFUL AND BORING.
You know what sounds way more awesome? Eat one new body-nourishing food per week. Do a body positive (or, better, body neutral) exercise class every week. Spend one full evening of uninterrupted time with my family every week.
Not only do those goals sound way more fun—they’re focused on what I actually *want*. As a bonus, they’re also way more specific—and more specific = more likely to get done.
Mistake 2) NOT BREAKING THINGS INTO SMALL STEPS
One of my goals last year was to become a Certified Personal Trainer with NASM. I had no experience with exercise science, and it had literally been fifteen years since I took a test. There was a lot to do, and I, like a lot of people with ADHD and probably some who don’t, suffer from time-blindness: I struggle to know how long a task is going to take, how much time has passed, and how to envision a far-off future. This means that with multi-step, long-range projects like taking a year to prep for a big test can be really hard for me to conceive of, much less make consistent progress on.
Solution 2) BREAK IT DOWN
I made a list of all the stuff I’d need to do throughout the year (the test was in November) and then placed those steps at manageable points throughout the year. For example, I said I’d study my textbook for at least a half-hour every morning, take practice quizzes in an app at least once a week. This way I wasn’t focused on a test months and months and months in the future—I was focused on accomplishing a very manageable weekly goal.
Bonus tip: Speaking of manageability, don’t overburden yourself with too many goals that you can’t possibly accomplish in a year. That’s just a recipe for feeling exhausted and shitty about yourself. Three to five yearly goals is about right for most people; those three-to-five should feel like a reach—even a bit scary—but they should also be possible without blowing up your life.
Mistake 3) TAKING THE WRONG AMOUNT OF STOCK
So, with any project, it’s a good idea to track and evaluate progress and then change things up if necessary, right? At least that’s what I’ve learned the hard way. I can tell you that not paying any attention to how things are going until the deadline is looming guarantees you’re going to spend your last days or weeks working your ass off for a shitty result at best. For a one-year project, I learned that checking in halfway through isn’t quite enough—by six months in, I’ve burned a lot of time, and if some element of my project—or me—isn’t working, I don’t have much time to correct course. Checking in monthly, though, is too much: I’m spending as much time evaluating as I am working.
Solution 3) QUARTERLY PLANNING
It turns out the social media algorithms are good for something: At some point in the sea of planners and self-help gimmicks that ran across my feeds, someone advertised a quarterly planner—which tricked me into researching quarterly planning, which inspired me to try quarterly planning during the second quarter of 2020—right when I was starting to wonder if my new yearly goals thing was destined for more failure. It turns out for me, quarterly planning (that I bolster with a weekly “big three” tasks) is the magic formula. For you—or for particular goals—that might not be the case. I say try a few different things, but make sure they involve regular, unbiased evaluation of:
· what you’ve accomplished so far and where you’re falling behind
· which strategies/behaviors have been working well + which ones haven’t
· what you need to do differently to make the right amount of progress
· what you need to keep doing the same because it’s going awesome
Mistake 4) FORGETTING THAT I’M A BADASS
Okay, yes, I’m a firm believer in the power of practical pessimism, avoiding disappointment by expecting disappointment, etc. BUT: studies and anecdotes and billions of dollars-worth of inspirational movies have proven that we’re more likely to accomplish things if we picture it, believe in it, own our own capabilities and badassery.
Solution 4) CELEBRATE WHAT A BADASS I AM
As we’ve established above, I’m not naturally disposed to sparkles and party-hat-guy emojis—I’m about results, right? But it turns out I’m way more likely to get results—and feel good getting there—if I celebrate. Focusing on my accomplishments reminds me what I’m capable of, and planning rewards for myself gives me motivation when my gumption gets low.
For example, if I stick to all my weekly habits and/or mini-goals, I get those crunchy sour squiggle candies. If I hit all my quarterlies, maybe I get to go on a hiking weekend or spend a day binge-watching Riverdale. But more importantly, no matter what I’m doing, I’m focusing on the momentum I’ve created, which helps me keep rolling.
(yes, I do actually love Riverdale)
How to long-game accomplishments is a super personal process, so of course, make this shit your own. But do try it—we all deserve to be the people we’ve always wanted to be, doing the shit we’ve always wanted to do.