To Resolve or Not to Resolve

This is the time of year the media tend to talk a lot about New Year’s Resolutions, because (duh) it’s the beginning of a New Year. I’m beginning to think that more people don’t make resolutions than do make them, because most seem to feel that making resolutions simply sets them up to fail.

I agree with the anti-resolution people. I mean, just think about the word. It has the same root as “resolute” which means (wait, let me look up an official definition) “Determined; set in purpose or opinion,” or alternately: “characterized by firmness and determination, as the temper, spirit, actions.” Anybody who knows me knows that while I might be determined, my determination is pretty soft and flabby. I intend to do the things I’ve resolved, but too often I just don’t get around to it. I get sidetracked. Or I forget. Any number of things can happen.

That’s why I set goals instead. Goals are targets to aim for. If I miss, the target isn’t irretrievably broken. It’s still there, ready to be aimed at, waiting for me to get around to reaching it. Somehow, it’s easier not to beat myself up for not reaching a goal just yet than it is for breaking a resolution. (Again, look at the words. You Break a resolution. You just miss the goal.) (Okay, missing isn’t good, but it’s not as permanent-sounding as breakage.)

Setting goals fits right in with the lists I make every day of my life. I’m low tech (as seen by my writing first drafts in longhand…), so I have a little 4X6 fat spiral notebook, and each page is a new day’s list. On that page, I write down all the stuff I a) Have to get done that day and b) Hope to get done that day.

I don’t always get everything done, except for those things like doctor and haircut appointments, but that’s okay. I just move them to the next day and try again. Of course, if they’ve been moved to the next day for, say, a week or so, I start drawing giant arrows at them and putting exclamation points after them. And then I usually remember to get them done. These are items like “Call your sister.” Or “Mend beaded purse.” Because if it’s not written down, I often forget that I intended to do it. I have that type of mind that thinks “If I can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.” And sometimes, if I see a thing too often (like that beaded purse), it stops registering.

Anyway, my daily list has evolved. As part of a “career plan” class I took a while back, I have started setting all sorts of goals. See, you can’t achieve the career you want if you don’t know what it is you want, and if you don’t know how you’re going to get there. So apparently career planners are real big on setting goals.

I start with the Yearly goals. These are broad, generic goals. Things like “Finish mainstream historical novel” or “Travel more.” Then I set some quarterly goals. Here, I get much more specific.

I look at each of my broad annual goals and think of what the next step is. In Goal #1 (finishing that novel), I need to get pages written. But I also have a goal of getting a new book contract. And I have a partial almost ready to submit. So that goes at the top of the list. “Revise chapters, write synopsis & submit by 1/15/10.” It’s specific, concrete, and it has a time limit. One I think I can make. Then for Goal #1, my quarterly goal is to “Write 150 pp. of novel by 2/28/10.” That one could be a bit of a push, but that’s good for me. Pushing. And because I need to leave things flexible, I have a goal of continuing to write on the novel through March if I don’t have anything else I need to do. Then I set a goal for each of the other annual objectives. Some goals fit more than one annual thing–like going on a trip with the fella works both for the “travel more” goal and the “spend quality time with family” goal. (At least I would Hope it would be quality time.)

But wait! There’s more! Now, I set weekly goals. Stuff I want to get done this week. Those goals fit within the quarterly goals, but are broken down further. Like, before I can get this synopsis written, I have to clean off the top of my desk, so that’s a big goal for this week (and has been on my daily list 3 days this week).

Then, to help keep myself on track, I have two goal coach partners. We’re Internet acquaintances/friends who have agreed to e-mail each other once a week with our goals, and how we did on last week’s goals, and encourage each other and sometimes nag. I had already started working on my goals for this year, quarter and week when one of the others sent a “Let’s get back on track” e-mail this week. (We all sorta fell off the wagon during the holidays.)

I tend to make one big long list, with the more important things at the top, and the lower priority ones at the bottom, and if I don’t get something done, I don’t sweat it too much. One of our partners makes a very short list, with only her writing chores, or maybe the Really Big life goals on it. And the third likes to categorize her list with Priority 1 and Priority 2 and If There’s Any Time Left groupings, because if they’re all on the same list, she feels equally bad for missing any of them, even if they’re not so important. (I told you my “determination” was soft and flabby. Sorta like my arms. Or any other part of me… I don’t sweat much of anything–even getting to doctor appointments so late, they make me come back another time.) (Yes, I have done that.) So, see–you can adjust the process to Work For You.

I write everything down, because if I can see it, I’m more likely to remember what I wanted to do. I also Really enjoy marking things off my list. I will write things on my list (especially the daily one) just so I can mark them off. I feel like I have accomplished something. Because I have.

So there you have it. The forgetful procrastinator who is easily sidetracked person’s plan for getting things (like writing books) done.

No, I’m not writing yet. But it IS possible to see the top of my desk. :)

One Response to To Resolve or Not to Resolve

  1. Interestingly, I didn’t learn the list habit from you. But I use almost the exact daily list. And if I just did something that wasn’t on the list, I will add it to the list just so I can cross it off.

    For bigger changes, resolutions particularly new year’s resolutions are the stupidest way to go about it. But I don’t really think of them as setting goals either, instead I tend to think of the bigger, harder changes as ‘habits I want to create.’ There’s absolutely no recrimination for breaking anything, or missing anything. It’s simply still in the process of *becoming* a habit.

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