Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Two Years Later: Goal-Setting That Works

M3 began as  a New Years resolution two years ago today. It was a promise I made to myself to never give up on my writing career again. For as long as I can remember, I've always wanted to tell stories. Somewhere in my mid-twenties I lost my way. My expectations got the best of me, thinking that I could get rich from writing, I lost hope. What I failed to realize is that I was going about reaching my goals in all the wrong ways. I was starting with the end in mind without a clear process of how to get there. Every attempt to reach an unattainable goal seemed feasible in the face of everyday obstacles. But now I see that I can do a lot better simply by taking it a day at a time and focusing on the small victories. M3 is proof that New Years resolutions can work if we start to rethink the way we set goals. 

The problem with New Years resolutions isn't that we fail to reach our goals, it's about how we set goals. It's not the fact that it's a New Years resolution that is the problem, it's the framework of goal setting that is flawed. Think about how this works. You set a goal, something you really care about, often excluding any methodology for attaining that goal, and then we ask ourselves to do things we would normally never do all because it's an arbitrary date on a calendar. We all of have ambitions, and it's an admirable quality of most people, but what we have to do is start focusing on the method by which we will achieve our goals rather than the goals themselves. 

The First M3 Logo
The Right Kind of Resolution
M3 worked as a New Years resolution because it started with the simple goal. My goal was to write more. I didn't say what it was I was going to write. I didn't set an arbitrary amount I was going to write. What I did was set up a process by which I would challenge myself to write every day. I started a joint blog with my boyfriend, and we challenged each other to post to it every day. We didn't know what we would post, but we knew that we had a built in audience of one. Since we wanted this goal for each other we, had the built in motivation to write our post every other day. We don't want to be the one who dropped the ball and we wanted to see each other succeed. 

I was sure that I wouldn't be able to post to my blog every day. I had tried that before. I started my personal blog almost 11 years ago, and there was plenty of evidence staring me in the face that I need some accountability to force myself to write. I had written about crime, politics and spirituality for my local paper and I loved talking about science and philosophy amongst my friends, but on my personal blog I'd gone months at a time without posting about anything even though I enjoyed it. James had a blog too. He was writing about entertainment and bear celebrities. and we had talked about doing a blog together for months, but it wasn't until the new year that someday became today. And even then it took us a couple of weeks to figure out how to get it done. We didn't know that what we started would attract and inspire others to want to join us. We didn't know that we end up making YouTube videos on Google Hangouts, I'd never made a Facebook group or page. I didn't even know what Instagram or Tumblr was when we started. The thing about a system is that you don't have to know what you're doing first, you just follow the system and learn as you go along. Our system was simple. First, I post. Then, you post. Repeat.

A New Adventure for M3
2015 is going to be big for M3.  Its like that spirit of discovery and experimentation has never left. Even as James has moved on to do his own thing with The Big Boy Project we still, live up to the resolution we made in 2013. Writing expanded into video and then into a full talk show. And now it seems like we're entering into the podcasting game. For more than a year, I've thought about doing my podcast. Breeze went ahead and beat me to the punch with his podcast about The Real Housewives of Atlanta, and it turned out to be great. He showed me that sometimes you just have to jump in with both feet and splash around in the unknown before you can learn how to swim. I just uploaded my first episode of the M3 Bearcast to PodOmatic. I have a lot to learn about podcasting and how to tell stories in an audio format, but the best way to learn is by doing. M3 has taught me that over the years and it continues to teach me things about myself and life. 

We all have a desire to improve ourselves or our experience of life. The problem with the resolutions we make is that we don't take that next step. We have to be willing to be a disappointment to ourselves. The interesting things about our willingness to take chances is that failure has something more to teach us than success ever could. So no matter what the outcome we should always act on our dreams and be open to what it has to teach us.  

What do you like to do?
We rely too heavily on willpower to get us to do things we know we don't want to do. The fact is we never have to get ourselves to do things that we enjoy doing. Any goal you set for yourself should include a process that you enjoy. When you only focus on the goal and forget that you live in the moment, you forget why it is you made the goal in the first place. You can spend each day striving to reach something far off thing into the future and forget you have to live in the here and now. If your goal is far off into the future and your process is uncomfortable and unenjoyable, then you will stop doing it... eventually. Each day you attempt to reach your goal by doing things you hate, you just remind yourself of what failure tfeels like. Day after day, you will try to bully yourself  into doing what you think you ought to do. We should take a moment to think about what it is we want to do and  why, and consider recontextualizing our resolutions into the way we actually live.

How to Set Goals
Do you want to lose weight? Just eat better and move more. Easy right? We all know this, but what are some ways in which we can achieve this goal? Instead of forcing ourselves to eat food we don't like, we have to  find healthy foods that we actually enjoy eating and preparing. We have to find some other payoffs other than the taste of the food in order to succeed. Willpower will never get you to where you want to go. Why? Because life is hard and willpower it is a limited resource. As soon as things get tough in one area in your life you going to run for that comfort food. But what if you found real comfort in something that was good for you? 

I will never enjoy working out. So how do I use this new philosophy to make it to the gym more often? When it comes to working out there has to be a system in place that makes it an automatic part of my day. One suggestion which worked for me was packing my gym bag ahead of time. When I pack my bag it doesn't mean I'm going to the gym, it just means I'm doing a part of my daily routine. So I pack my bag. Then when it's about time to go to the gym I get dreassed. It doesn't mean that I'm going to the gym it just means I'm putting on my clothes like I do each day I go to the gym. Then I go to the gym. It doesn't necessarily mean that I'm going to work out, it's just the thing I do each day that I go to the gym. If when, I get in the gym I'm far too exhausted to work out then I turn around and go home. But the thing is I almost never do. By the time I'm actually there it's not nearly as bad as I might have imagined in my head had I forced myself to consider going to the gym as I was getting ready. It's just something I do. I don't think about the things that I do on a regular basis I just do them. 

How to make a Resolution Stick
So I'm not giving up on new years resolutions. I think they can work when you do them right. First off I don't focus too much on the fact that it's a new year. You can do this anytime you'd like to make a change in your life. I see that the new years is a great time to make a change if you want to use that opportunity. I see that the problem is how we implement those changes. We can't feel like failures each time we set out to do something good. It starts with knowing yourself and setting up a system that works with who you are and instead of fighting against your inner nature. For me, that means just going through the motions and rewarding myself at every step of the process. 

I have a goal of how much weight I want to lose, but I don't focus on that each day. I think about how I'm going to cook a meal I'm going to enjoy eating. I hate doing laundry, but I don't think about that. I think about how good my clothes will feel and smell when they're clean as I separate the whites from the colors. I don't like going to the gym, but I don't think about that. I think about how good it will feel after I get home and go to sleep. I don't sleep well except after a good workout and keeping that in mind keeps me going back. 

You don't have to know everything before you start reaching for your goals. I try to learn something new each day, something that will help me along the way. I make it a point to keep learning. Because of that I don't have to worry about all the many things I don't know. The process of failing over and over teaches us things too. So don't be afraid to fail. Make the mistakes a part of your system. Don't be surprised about those days you don't want to eat well, workout or write posts, expect it and learn from it. Build failure into your system and keep moving forward. 

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