Keeping Your New Years Resolutions Beyond January

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A lot of people roll their eyes at the idea of New Year’s resolutions, either because they bristle at the arbitrariness of January 1, or because they, smugly annoyed at the huge crowds in the gym for the first few weeks of the year, think that no one actually keeps resolutions.

I might be guilty of being in the second camp, as someone who actually exercises all year long (not a humblebrag: I mostly do it to maintain my mental health and avoid feeling terrible). But I get the eye-roll - the reason why resolutions often don’t work is because they can be pretty wishy-washy. Stating your intention is a good first step, but if you don’t make a plan for actually doing these things, you risk getting overwhelmed and not starting your big goals, or forgetting about them entirely! (Not that I’ve ever done that…😳)

We're hitting the time in January where the freshness of the new year is starting to lose steam, so here’s what I do to try to keep my goals rolling all year long:

Regular Check-Ins

Truthfully, I haven’t always been the best at these (often the urgent tasks push out the important), but I’m trying some new things lately:

  • CEO Day

I got the idea for this from the amazing Being Boss podcast - they sell a bundle of worksheets that I’m sure are amazing, but instead I made up my own process (and am continuing to refine it). Each month I schedule a whole day to look at my big picture/overall vision for my work, including an emotional check-in (how am I feeling about my work), financial update, systems, things to delete from my life, and surveying upcoming goals and projects.

  • Desire Map Planner

I’m trying out Danielle LaPorte’s daily Desire Map planner this year - it has spots for core desired feelings, gratitude, and things to stop/change, in addition to the usual to-dos. It’s giving me a more positive vibe for my daily tasks, which is always welcomed - mindset is the underpinning of everything!

Also Being Boss-related, Kathleen Shannon devised this method: each quarter you make a chalkboard (mine’s a bunch of post-its on posterboard) with blanks for the things that you want to invite into your life, such as clients, gigs, certain amounts of income, followers/subscribers, and unexpected extras. I also have spots on mine for my word of the year (Connect) and 2 daily habit trackers, one for meditation and one for piano practice (from Elise Blaha Cripe’s newsletter). I have been doing chalkboards for about a year now, and they continue to evolve (as our goals do).

  • Weekly check-in

I admit that I have gotten lazy about this one (because sometimes there is just too much to do, and it’s not as essential), but I have a checklist of things that I try to accomplish on a weekly basis (keeping up with financial stuff, updating my main Trello board, sorting through my unruly downloads folder, and checking my Goals Trello board. This might soon just be replaced by the CEO Day.

Make non-negotiable daily habits (one at a time)

I am the kind of person who’s motivated by keeping up a streak of days and not breaking it, so coloring in little circles on a chart, or using an app that tracks these things (I use Insight Timer for meditation). We all miss days of our daily habits, and that’s okay - don’t get discouraged and quit - but missing two days in a row greatly increases your chances of quitting entirely, so avoid that, if possible. Also, only adding one thing at a time (or maybe two) also increases the likelihood of keeping that habit (as I wrote about here).

Set goals whenever you want, not just on January 1

The beginning of a year, or any time after a period of rest, can be great opportunities to revamp our routines and habits. For teachers like me who operate on an academic calendar, that’s September, after Thanksgiving, after winter break, after spring break, and the beginning of summer. So, I could easily take any of those opportunities to reboot.

But, something I often need to remind myself is that we can create fresh starts whenever we want to - today or even on a Saturday night at 10pm. As the writer Alexandra Franzen is fond of saying, “Today is not over yet!” It’s easy to let mindset get in the way, but with a little self-compassion (doing and committing to new things is hard - give yourself some credit!), we can keep moving forward.

Break everything down into bite-size pieces

 

Q: How do you eat an elephant? A: One bite at a time!

(I say that to my students a lot - they don’t think it’s that funny, either.) The fact remains - we can accomplish big things in small chunks, especially committed, consistent small chunks. In 2017, I did two 100 Day Projects in which I wrote 8 measures every day, and ended up with dozens of finished pieces and tons more ideas. It didn’t feel like I was doing much each day, but those small efforts really do add up.

As for big, overwhelming projects, I often find that when I’m procrastinating the most, it’s because I haven’t broken down my tasks into small enough pieces - “Launch sheet music store” needs to be broken down into: “Decide which pieces to publish”, “Edit Piece 1”, “Fix layout of Piece 1”, “Research legal concerns”, “Look into how to set up Squarespace shop”, etc. (That’s on my list for this week.) Our brains are way more capable of handling a bunch of small tasks, one at a time.

Schedule everything!

If you have a big goal for the year (one of mine is recording my first album, eeep!), it’s easy to sit around on January 1 and make your big dreamy list (yes, this is also an important step), but never convert that into actual bite-size action steps or make time for doing each one. It seems so obvious, but when I don’t get projects done as fast as I’d hoped, it’s because I didn’t make time for them, like actually putting it on the calendar on a certain day (or at a certain hour if you really mean it!) I love using Trello’s calendar function, so that each card that you’ve designated a due date for fills itself in on a month view of the calendar, giving a great big picture view of when everything has to happen.

Make sure deadlines are realistic

I am often (okay, most of the time) way too ambitious when planning out what projects I want to accomplish in a month. It’s a fine line, because setting a deadline makes me finish sooner, but when I have too many things to focus on, I either get overwhelmed and don’t finish many of them, or get burned out. This is definitely something I’m still working on.

Regular journaling

I’ve started and stopped this habit so many times, but I got a fresh start on it this week, starting each work day with some journaling. It’s not something that I want to pressure myself to do daily, but definitely want to do regularly, so that I can stay in touch with my thoughts, ideas, and dreams, and also have a dedicated place to process my experiences.

Don’t give up!

As a recovering perfectionist, this is one I've worked on a lot (and continue to work on) - part of me is dead set against failing at anything. But, the more I soften this viewpoint, the more I can embrace learning as I go (since that’s actually what we have to do), and adjusting what doesn't work right away, making getting started less scary.

If that goal is really important to you and you still haven’t done it, figure out why - could you tweak something about the process, are you just resisting getting started (if so, set a timer for 10-15 minutes and make yourself work on it just a little bit), or do you need to make time in your schedule? Maybe there’s a little shift that you could make in your lifestyle or your mindset that would really help.

Bottom line: don’t be afraid to start, and restart (again, and again) - a little flexibility with yourself goes a long way, especially if you have the illusion that everyone else has it together and you don’t. (I might sound like I do, but I have to work really hard to stick with things, too.) It’s all a process, we’re all just doing our best.

How are your 2018 goals or habits going so far? Are you going strong, or losing steam (or some of both)?

Rebecca Hass

Pianist and composer