Harnessing the Power of Beginnings for Effective Goal Setting
Every year, it seems as if December 31st comes far more quickly than expected. And every year, I use that day as an opportunity to come to a stop and reflect upon my life. What have I accomplished? What have I learned? Are my actions, thoughts, and beliefs carrying me forward in a way that feels honest and good to my soul at this point in time?
Welcome, my friends. The last day of 2021; a year that saw many tired faces, new ways of coping, unfathomable sickness, community, TikTok dances, sadness, burnout, political insanity, justice, injustice, and as always, continued confusion. I think we are all missing that sense of normalcy, and as a part of that, as we head into 2022, many of us will be talking about, setting, and writing down our New Year’s Resolutions.
On New Year’s and the Power of Beginnings
I love setting New Year’s Resolutions. I love having that figurative checkpoint in place. I love how the world comes together to celebrate the end of one chapter, and the start of another, all together with different traditions and celebrations. I love how we reminisce and spread our love and gratitude to each other, and then the very next day - at midnight, sing a song about friendship and head off into a new year with a clean slate. Beginnings are, at their core, about limitless potential for growth, healing, and experiencing all we can in life.
Sometimes these resolutions are all in good fun, but other times they are real, honest, and serious. There comes a time for most people when the deep inner truths about habits and changeable circumstances that hold us back can no longer stay buried. We grow tired of living in our own shadow, and we want to change. We could always start on the first Monday of November. Or after dinner next Sunday. Or in the middle of the most recent ABC Harry Potter marathon. But we don’t. It doesn’t feel right. We need something; a little extra push that feels like it needs to come from somewhere outside ourselves. If we get that push, it’s like a sign we’re headed in the right direction.
Most people at some point in their life have heard the phrase “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” This is one of those phrases that seems to hold the truth of lifetimes in its letters. Everything we have ever done and ever will do has to start somewhere. This somewhere, this first step, is also, as yet another saying goes, half the journey. The decision, the resolve, and the sheer power that it takes to go from the theoretical of making a change to putting it into action is sometimes harder than the action itself. When we harness the power of a new beginning in the natural cycles of our world, miraculous things can happen. It’s as if we are in the boxing ring and the universe is our coach, handing us our mouth guard and giving us the pep talk of the century. “We’re already here,” it says. “You might as well finish what you’ve started.”
On Making Goals Effectively
So you’ve got an idea of what you want to accomplish this year. Now what? What is going to make this idea different from others? Or perhaps this is an old favorite - something that you’ve wanted and tried before, but it has never really stuck. How is this time going to be different from the others? I invite you to delve into exactly how you are setting your goals, and where you might be experiencing pitfalls that stop you in your tracks until this time next year.
First of all, there are different kinds of goals: the type that are flexible, malleable, and vague, and the type that are specific and based around measurements and time tables. Now, let me be clear - both of these types of goals are incredibly powerful in their own ways, and each can be used effectively for different purposes. For example, a goal could be either “move more this year” (vague, but leaves lots of room for different ways to meet this goal,) or “walk 1 mile a day and attend 2 movement classes each week (measurable.) Which type we tend to lean towards comes down to our constitution, how well we know ourselves, and what our mindset goals are for our overall holistic wellness.
While someone who thinks in a rigid, highly structured way might be able to set and meet the measurable goals, this might also bring out their tendency to be controlling, perfectionistic, and negative. If this person sets their goal to go to the gym every single day, and then they get sick, or need to go on a last minute trip, or just don’t make it one day…this perceived “failure” could send them into a self-destructive spiral of mentally damaging thoughts or an abandonment of a goal that was once so important. You may be familiar with this pattern; you miss your goal, and you think “Oh, I’m a failure. I never get anything right. And since I failed this one day, what’s the point of even trying.” And then you abandon the goal, perhaps with the idea that you’ll pick it back up at another time when your motivation comes back.
On the other side of the coin, these types of strict and measurable goals, aka S.M.A.R.T goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based) can be incredibly effective. Putting your habits on a check list, say, the ever popular “drink eight glasses of water a day,” is a great way to motivate yourself, and have a way to track your progress. They give you quantifiable ways to understand your life and your progress over time, and these types of goals work really well for the person who needs a little bit more structure in their life.
The other types of goals, the ones that are vague and flexible, can work….but they also run the risk of giving you too much flexibility. I know I personally have fallen victim to this, where I tell myself I am going to do something, but then I don’t follow through, and instead of feeling the weight of that goal’s importance, I say “nah, I’ll just try again tomorrow.” And then the next day. And the next. I keep saying I’ll put the computer away before 10pm, and then I end up watching youtube videos until 1am without meaning to. When we don’t hold ourselves accountable, we run the risk of jeopardizing our self-trust. Our self-trust is like a bank that we interact with every day; we can make either withdrawals or deposits, and every action we take either shrinks or increases that self-trust. The more deposits we make, the more momentum we build and the better we are able to rely on discipline to achieve our goals. When we make withdrawals, well….
But just as SMART goals have their place, so does this other form. If one has the tendency to fall into that trap of self deprecation upon not fulfilling part of a goal to perfection, then having a goal that is soft, but yet extremely meaningful, can be the perfect antidote. This type of goal allows for flexibility, so you can plan your goals around your life and not the other way around.
All in all, both types of goals have their place in our lives. Even better is when we combine the best aspects of both; make your goal measurable, relevant, attainable, and time-based (optional.) The level of specificity is completely up to you. Furthermore, if you choose to make a highly specific goal, remember that our goals are meant to enhance our lives. Approach with the lens of forgiveness. When this happens, and you allow yourself to make mistakes and take rest and breaks when you need them without viewing it as a moral failing, it can open up space for the next day to be a new beginning - another day to try again.
Three Rituals to Help You Set Your Resolution
So, now you have your resolution(s), and you have formulated your own unique blend of goal setting to hold just the right balance of accountability and leniency for your individual constitution and needs. Now what?
Part of New Year’s Eve, (the dropping of the ball in Times Square, Champagne, the singing of Auld Lang Syne, fireworks, kissing the nearest stranger at midnight, etc,) is the addition of ritual. Ritual takes a moment and calls us to pay special attention to an event - to really use all parts of ourselves to devote to this present moment and all the moments that surround it that have not yet been decided. Returning to ritual allows us to reconnect with ourselves and our spiritual and/or religious traditions, and is yet another powerful tool to create the life we want for ourselves.
Some suggestions of rituals to help you set your resolution:
Make a fire in a fireplace or pit (just somewhere that is safe!). While the flames grow, take two pieces of paper. On the first, write down all the things you want to leave behind this year. On the second, write down the corresponding things you are inviting in. (Example: leaving behind my need to have everyone like me. Inviting in validation by my own self love.) When you are finished, throw the first piece of paper into the fire. Feel your intention beginning to manifest as the page turns to ash.
In the hours leading up to midnight, (or just after if you are somewhere this isn’t a possibility - remember! We are allowing for flexibility in our goal setting) grab a journal and find a quiet spot in your home to reflect upon the last year. What are the things that you held on to in the last year that were helpful, and which would you like to send the way of the Dodo bird? If you were to meet your future self, what would be your favorite things about them? Can you describe the differences between you now and your future self? What can you do to close the gap?
If you prefer the power of company, form a circle with trusted friends (either in-person or virtually). Take one minute per person to share what you would like to manifest in the coming year. When everyone has spoken, close your eyes and imagine creating a powerful circle of energy that surrounds your group. Picture every person’s intention heading into the center of the circle and rising up and out, becoming its own entity, holding even more power with all your friends supporting it together.
No matter what type of goal you decide to set, or even if you set one at all, please remember that you are the driver of your own life. You have the power to make changes in your life. Though New Year’s Eve is a wonderful beginning, even the start of each new day is a new opportunity to shift your habits, your choices, and your surroundings.
May 2022 bring you courage to live your favorite life.
“No matter how hard the past is, you can always begin again”. - Buddha