rethinking resolutions

Last year’s resolutions were uninspiring at best. I think I’m a fan of setting (and keeping) goals, and I do find that it feels like it’s time to reevaluate things at the start of a new year. But the general list of things I’d like to accomplish during the year feels more like a list of items that I’ve generally failed at completing in the past. It’s a rather defeatist attitude to carry into a season of new beginnings.

That’s just it – at the end of last year I was feeling really defeated. Everything in our lives turned upside down. Every morning began with this realization that nothing can be taken for granted, and the pressure of that feeling before the sun has even come up can be crippling. Every evening brought about real exhaustion, and that combination of deep to the core sadness and despair doesn’t lend itself to any sort of productivity. It required a very conscious effort to move slowly and choose wisely – determining where I could focus the little energy/drive/smiles that I had. The first week of December I mentally mapped out what I could do to get through the month – making very concrete lists of things that I could let go and let be. And because I was so very tired and sad about being tired and sad, I also made a very concrete list of things that I could do that would bring some peace and some focus and (maybe) even a little joy back into my outlook. 
The act of doing that was truly transformative for me. It felt like it worked. December and the holidays were still difficult, but I felt like I navigated those waters with something of a plan, and in the end there truly were some special moments in between all those tears.
As January rolled into town I thought I’d take a look back at my short term approach to December to see if maybe I could apply the same sort of tactic to the months of this year – instituting a different way of thinking about resolution lists. This was the list of overall goals I put into place for December, and the specific things that I did to implement them.
Chose a Focus
My focus for December was on the holidays – specifically trying to get through them on a personal level that wouldn’t reduce the amount of joy / happiness / traditions that my girls were excited for and deserved.
Named Feelings
At the end of the month I wanted to look back at December and be able to describe my general feelings as quiet, reflective, thoughtful, contentI did not want to have to describe them as anxious, harried, guilty.
Made Some Lists
First I determined what I had to do during the month as well as those things that were optional. I examined mandatory items first, and made a plan to engage in or complete those things is a way that would leave me feeling the way I described. Going to work was not optional, but I could put on headphones and listen to old archives of “This American Life” – something that helped me focus and reflect on the general absurdity of life in a way that often made me smile. I could offer to be the one to pick up the toys and gifts for the family our office was sponsoring, and I could take breaks from my desk to wrap up those presents or call a friend. 
Then I took a long, hard look at the optional things, and I marked many of them off my list, letting go of any lingering guilt about it at the same time. I could feel confident that I could organize a holiday concert reception and also feel confident that it would still run smoothly if I didn’t contribute something homemade of my own.
The first was an act of adjusting (priorities, approach, perception), the second was an act of subtraction (filtering and letting go). The third component was adding something(s) back in – things that were only allowed if they would bring about those feelings of quiet, reflection, thoughtfulness and contentment. I actually took my annual tradition of making holiday cards off the list in order to remove any sense of obligation or stress or deadlines that might have been related to them. And then I purposefully added them back in, pledging to myself – and out loud to my husband – that I would only work on them if they contributed those feelings to me – and I asked him to keep me accountable for that. (He did, especially on the evening that I started assembling everything and realized that I had grossly underestimated my production, and there was no physical way for them to be completed and mailed before the holiday.)

Which brings us around to the new year, and how I plan to approach it as it relates to resolutions or goals. Using a similar framework, I’m going to focus on something different each month, and then carry through with it on several different levels. So I’m choosing a theme for each month, and under that theme I want to accomplish several things:

First, I want to accomplish something that’s been on my to-do list for awhile. This will be a little like the 52 weeks projects I did a few years ago, but I’m giving myself the entire month to tackle something on that list. Second, I want to push myself to learn something or do something that I haven’t tried before. This might be in the form of taking a class, or it might be as simple as sitting down and reading online tutorials or just trying out a new technique. Third, I want to describe the way I’d like to feel at the end of each month, and then work at my specific goals with that end feeling in mind.

In addition to those three things, I’d like to intentionally set up at least one social event for the girls each month – make a better effort to help them connect up with their friends instead of just saying I’m going to do it and then realizing we’re through the weekend already and haven’t made any plans. I think we’re really good about getting out and doing fun things as a family, but I’m not the best at organizing fun play dates outside of the more typical school and scouting and sports activities. I’m also going to be more proactive about setting up date nights with M, and with other couples. I have a slew of restaurants I’m itching to go to, and I’d like to make going out a more regular thing.

Each month will be different, and (if you haven’t figured this out already) January’s theme is this blog.

Focus: third story(ies)

To-do’s related to that theme:

1. Migrate the blog to WordPress, and continue to tweak the design and features.

2. Schedule 30 minutes a week to upload the past week’s posts to Blurb as well as two old weeks to Blurb, with the long term goal of publishing the blog in hard copy each year. I loved doing that for the first year, but it’s unrealistic for me to set aside a large chunk of time each year to do it. I can, however, tackle it in small doses – one step forward, two steps back is what I’m calling it.

3. Back up the blog – at the same time I’ll do this, once weekly.

4. Publish posts on a more regular basis. I have about seven “regular” sort of post themes around here, and I plan to implement a loose sort of calendar of publishing. I’ll outline some of those ideas later this month.

Learn something new:

1. Migrate the blog on my own. Learn new things like web hosting, and domain names, and CPanels and DNS codes, and source feeds and .php files. Encounter a road block and then research until I get through it and onto the new one.

How I want to feel at the end of January: 

Organized, inspired, productive (and a little bit proud)

I plan to post at the beginning of each month about the theme and my plans, and then I’ll check back in mid-month and at the end as well. Hopefully this will be a little more inspiring and productive than Stop biting my nails. Yawn.

I’d love to hear what you are planning on tackling this year – even if it’s about your nails.

8 Responses to rethinking resolutions

  1. I have never made new year’s resolutions. With this said, here are some of the things I am making happen right away. I am still thrilled about our 2013 driveway – this excitement will likely continue further into 2014. We will do a few house projects: (1) finally get the glass installed for the shower – got our bid today and (2) bookshelves for the family room – the plans are set). In 2013, I decided we would go somewhere warmer for spring break 2014. Trip was booked a couple weeks ago. I have been wanting to get back into a regular yoga class. In order for me to do anything on a regular basis it needs to be close, inexpensive, and simple (no fancy equipment, clothing, etc). The first week of January, a new yoga studio happened to open in my zipcode. Yay! And my favorite yoga instructor is teaching several classes there. I have been to two classes so far and I love the new place. That is about it for me!

  2. I like this approach a lot. I found that when Eliza died, it suddenly became so easy for me to prioritize. I basically started with a clean slate because I quit everything–literally–and then slowly starting adding back in only what was essential (work) or healing (yoga, therapy, coffee with a friend, blogging).

    I hate that it took a devastating event for me to do that, but it has definitely affected the way I choose how I spend my time, what kind of work I bring home, what I get done right away, and what I can push off to some other time.

    I like your monthly focus, too. And damn–I need to back up my blog!
    Brooke recently posted…First Hair CutMy Profile

    • Yes you do need to back it up – it’s not hard, and it would be criminal to lose all of your writing. Do it tonight. 🙂

      Are you still doing yoga? Because according to Anne above, you guys have a new yoga studio in your neighborhood! Sounds warmer than running.

  3. I’ve been following your blog for a while now, and just wanted to say that I find you and this blog to be incredibly inspiring (even last year’s resolutions which I did not find to be uninspired at all)! I imagine you must be as productive and organized as you are inspiring to keep up with the blog, your work, all of your creative projects (which are truly beautiful), your home, and that amazing family. Your goals for January have long been accomplished, if you ask me – but you don’t even know me, so of course you have not 😉

    I have ached for you and your family over the past few months, and been inspired by your handling of a tremendous loss. Your outlook has been both optimistic and realistic… allowing yourself and your family the time to grieve, while still recognizing the need to appreciate the precious gifts still in your life. While not nearly as devastating as your loss, my family has been facing it’s own struggles this past year, and your words have brought such comfort — whether it is the happy distraction provided by one of every day posts, or the wisdom of your words in your more reflective moments. Your perseverance, and tactical approach to making the world for you, your family, friends and community a bit brighter is about as inspiring as it gets. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself with us.

    • Thank you, you are incredibly kind. That is a nice way to head into the weekend.

      I hope that this year proves to be a little easier for you and your family. I know trials and sorrows don’t end at the stroke of midnight on December 31, but I do think there is something to taking a deep breath, and trying to start fresh again on January 1. Some years it just takes a little more planning and effort to do that, doesn’t it?

  4. If any of those restaurants are in Maplewood (or even if they’re not) let us know 🙂

    Once we sell the old house I hope to regain some mental clarity, but I need to figure out something to accomplish my goals this year and this sounds like an interesting way to try.

    Main Goals:
    -Complete the move-in//unpacking and decorating
    -Start to plan the kitchen renovation (later in the year)
    -Eat, and be, healthier
    -Craft and create more, with a better space in which to do it
    -figure out next career goal

  5. Absolutely – to that first line!

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