New Year's Goals, Not New Year's Resolutions
These days everyone is very hostile toward the idea of New Year's Resolutions for some reason. I've heard people say: 'I can change any day, I don't want to wait until new years' or 'new year's resolutions never last'.
That's fine, I'm talking about goals. And I think having goals for the year is important. It's hard to get where you want to be if you don’t know where that is.
What's Your Motivation?
Why do we do things? Everything we do, every single thing, is to avoid pain and seek gratification. That's not to say we are all hedonists. We often suffer through painful things we believe will give us greater happiness in the long run. For example, I don't know many people who enjoy university assignments, but we imagine getting a good grade and getting our degree with allow us to get a job that makes us happy.
On the other hand, sometimes we avoid small things which would make us happier in the long run, because there is a discomfort barrier in our way. Maybe we must make an uncomfortable phone call to get our money back on a faulty item. We know having our money back would make us happier, but the stress of confrontation stops us from doing it.
As I said, everything we do is about avoiding pain and seeking gratification.
But What Is Happiness?
So, I am going to assume that your goals, whatever they are, are ultimately about you wanting to be happier. Losing weight, getting a boyfriend/girlfriend, reading more, cooking more, finishing your novel—you imagine these things will make you happy. No one has the New Year's Goal of getting into debt or becoming depressed, we know those things would decrease our overall happiness.
However, before we can work out what will make us happy, we must define happiness, which is not as simple as it sounds. I prefer Paul Dolan's definition in Happiness by Design: 'Happiness is experiences of pleasure and purpose over time'.
Purpose and pleasure. Not just pleasure. For example, maybe you don't really enjoy exercising, but it gives you a strong sense of purpose that is rewarding. And maybe you enjoy watching reality TV, there I a lot of pleasure in it, but you don't get a sense of purpose from it. There are also double negatives, like being forced to do work you know will ultimate be discarded. And hopefully double positives, walking your dog, for example, which is both pleasurable and purposeful.
Obviously, as much as possible, we need to steer ourselves toward activities that give us both pleasure and purpose, and avoid activities that give no pleasure or have no purpose. Its also important, to maximise our happiness, that we have a balance between pleasure and purpose. If you do nothing but play video games, you are not likely to be very happy, even though they are pleasurable. Likewise, if you do nothing but work, you are unlike to be happy, even if your work gives you a strong sense of purpose.
In this blog post I am going to suggest five sequential personal assessment and development exercises that will help you choose and achieve positive goals for 2018 that will truly make you happy in the long run.
This brings us to exercise one. I want you to write four lists. Each list should have about twenty activities on it, but you can as many more as you want. The activities should include all the things you do in a week (or even month) and all the things you wish you did.
- List 1: Activities that give you pleasure:
- List 2: Activities that are not enjoyable:
- List 3: Activities that give you a sense of purpose:
- List 4: Activities that feel pointless:
Every activity should appear on two of your lists. Because every single activity should be either pleasurable or unenjoyable, and purposeful or pointless. Some examples of activities could include:
- Cleaning = Unenjoyable/purposeful.
- Exercising = Unenjoyable/purposeful.
- Reading (educational) = Unenjoyable/purposeful.
- Reading (fiction) = Enjoyable/pointless.
- Watching TV = Enjoyable/pointless.
- Writing = Enjoyable/purposeful.
- Gardening = Enjoyable/purposeful.
- Angry tweeting racists = Unenjoyable/pointless.
- Watching the news = Unenjoyable/pointless.
It helps to put as many things as possible on these lists, as it will aid you with the following exercises a lot.
If you could go back in time five years and do some things differently, what would you change? Would you have started a savings account? Put more effort into your marriage? Made more time for your kids? Made more time to write your book? Started university? You might want to write a list of these for clarity.
You should never put something off because of how long it will take. The time will pass anyway, the only difference is, if you will have that thing you desire at the end of it.
- So, I want you to write a list. In five years' time, what things do you think you will regret not doing now?
There is a meme that is very popular now that says something like: "People are so intent on the idea that if they went back in time, small changes could have huge ramifications to the present, why don't they think about the small changes they make now that could have huge ramifications on the future?"
Change your future now.
Okay, we're finally here. Time to start thinking about 2018. Now you have a few important lists ready. You have a list of things that give you pleasure, a list of things that give you purpose, and a list of things you think you will regret not doing.
Now is the time to go nuts. Write a list of all the things you would like to achieve in 2018. Note I said: 'like to achieve' not 'plan to achieve'. This is not our list of new years goals, this is a list of all our possible new years goals. And I want it to include the bad things you want to get rid of: like cutting down your commute and spending less time on Facebook. Or the bad things you have been putting off, like finally writing a letter to a parent to tell them how much they failed you.
But also include all the things that you love and that give you a sense of purpose, even if they scare you. Want to start your own business? Move to another country? Cut down your carbon footprint? Go vegan? It all goes on this list.
Make this list long. Longer. Keep going until you can't think of a single other thing you would like to achieve.
Its time to curate. I want you to choose three goals from that list. They must meet three criteria:
1. They must be doable in a year.
2. They must be something that will improve your overall happiness.
3. They should be big, not something you can knock out in a weekend.
These are going to be your primary 2018 goals. Congratulations! Are you scared? If you aren't, you've aimed too low.
Exercise four is about writing down the steps to achieve these three goals. Keep breaking down each step into smaller and smaller pieces. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Ideally, you want to break down every single step into blocks that would take an hour, then do, perhaps, four blocks a day over your different goals. Depending on your goals, this planning and breaking down step could take a long time, but it will be worth it.
If your goal is to lose 10kgs (like me) your steps might look something like this:
- Plan meals for week one with shopping list.
- Plan meals for week two with shopping list.
- Plan meals for week three with shopping list.
- Plan meals for week four with shopping list.
- Plan meals for week five with shopping list.
- Plan slowly increasing exercise routine for 1-10 weeks, cumulating in a plateaued daily exercise routine of 30 minutes of stretches/sit ups/squats and 1km on the treadmill.
- Shop for week one meals.
- Begin daily routine of cooking meals from plan and following exercise schedule.
- Weekly weigh in on Tuesday.
- Weekly grocery shop on Tuesday.
Come hell or high water, you are going to throw everything you have into achieving these three goals in 2018. You will succeed or kill yourself trying. You have a plan, it is in easy to manage steps, and you know achieving these goals will make you a happier person.
I believe in you.
Exercise Five: Optional
If you are like me, there were a lot of smaller things on your possible list of 2018 goals that are good, productive but not vital. It might be worth writing a secondary list of things you will try and achieve, so long as they don’t take time away from your primary goals. For me, that was things like:
- Read 20 novels/books.
- Read or donate everything on my 'to be read' shelf.
- Read my goals every day.
- Write in my journal every day.
- Go to the beach once a week until it is too cold to swim.
- Brush the dogs in the evening while I am watching TV.
These are all things that will make my life better, make me happier and are generally positive, but I am not going to beat myself up if I don't achieve. I will still do my best to complete them—though since most of them are just doing things with a certain regularity, rather than, an actual goal that can be achieved, they are not suitable 'New Year's Goals'.
Feel free to write your own list of these, and put that list where you can see it. These are all on my Habitica page somewhere, and I have the full list written in my new 2018 Day Planner, so I can check it whenever I have spare time to kill.
So that's it. My guide to 2018 Goals That Will Make You Happier. I hope these exercises made a difference for you, and helped you in some way. And I hope you have an amazing 2018!