The beginning of the year is a great opportunity for a brand new start; it’s the time most of us set new goals and get all fired up and motivated again.
By the end of January, however, that feeling of freshness of the new year is long gone. Many of us don’t even remember the goals we had set, let alone achieve them. How can we keep that feeling of novelty throughout the year so we can follow through our goals?
Years Fly By
When we look back at the goals we set and forgot about, some of us may get a little disappointed but we all move on. Anyone can handle such a mild disappointment once a year. However, if we keep postponing our goals year after year, at some point life will eventually catch up with us: We don’t have many years to live.
If it takes you one year between each time you think about your goals and your life, pretty soon you’ll run out of years. Sad but true, but here’s the good news:
That doesn’t mean that your life is short:
it’s short only if you measure it in years.
Reviewing Your Goals Is Not Enough
What if we review our goals throughout the year, then? Traditional goal setting literature tells us that it’s critical that we not only set goals, but keep reviewing them. I wholeheartedly agree with that, but let me suggest something different.
Even if we review our New Year’s resolutions regularly, this always has a feeling of being an intermediate step. There’s no real sense of completion until it’s time to set new expectations again, at the next new year. Even if we review our goals regularly, we’re still in a “yearly mindset”.
In Search of a Better Life Heartbeat
What I am proposing here is dropping the year altogether as a unit of measurement for our goals.
What I realized is that yearly goals are out of sync with the rhythm of many of modern life’s demands. The year may be meaningful for farmers and their crops, but frankly, I think it does more harm than good anchoring personal goals around it. Years are way too spaced out; we may be better off with a shorter time unit to serve as our personal lives’ heartbeat.
Author Peter Russell goes all the way and measures his age not in years, but in days. From his website:
“[…] I can hold a day’s experience in mind quite easily. Trying to go back and take stock of a whole year is much harder. Numerous incidents and discoveries are inevitably forgotten.
I also find it far more meaningful to think that I have lived through nearly twenty thousand days this life, rather than 50 years. And it reframes the future. I have — probably — thousands of days still to come. Thousands of new days to discover, enjoy and learn from. […]”
The Week is My Best Shot
Although I find Peter’s idea of counting life in days truly inspiring, I doubt its practicality for most of us. What about tracking life in weeks?
The week is a great fit for most of modern life’s demands. It’s the shortest practical and meaningful cycle of our lives, both for personal life and work. If you think about it, there’s always a feeling of closure at weekends, as well as a feeling of “fresh start” on Mondays. For me, a week seems the perfect life heartbeat: it’s short enough to keep our goals fresh and active; and long enough to do something about them.
The challenge, then, is to promote the week to a first-class time cycle as much as possible. Some specific steps I am taking to raise my “week-awareness”:
- Calculate age in weeks, not years. Just like Peter Russell described, counting life in smaller time increments has a strong psychological effect. I enjoy the feeling of knowing that every week is a great new opportunity to start afresh to achieve my goals. To help in the age calculation, there are many resources online, such as here or here. (At the time of this writing, I am 1624 weeks old.)
- Use a week-based calendar. David Seah’s excellent Compact Calendar is a greatly designed calendar that focuses heavily on weekly planning — definitely worth checking out for everyone.
- Use ISO week dates. Instead of ’01/Jan/2008′, how about ‘2008-W01-2’ (meaning: 2008, week 1, Tuesday). This is surely weird at first, but I’m really looking forward to using this date system. An ISO date converter will definitely come handy. Adopting the ISO 8601 Week Calendar has some interesting side effects, such as knowing the days of the week without needing to resort to cheap tricks. Note: for a long time I have been looking to adopting an eccentric geeky quirk— you know, like speaking Esperanto or using Dvorak keyboards. This is just the perfect opportunity.
- Integrate goal setting in weekly and daily reviews. Although I am a regular practitioner of Getting Things Done reviews and love them, I was always concerned with the excessive focus on tasks and projects. Actively tracking goals will bring a new light to reviews.
- Stay aware of new opportunities. Weekly thinking can create some interesting opportunities for personal growth. For example, I’m interested in how I can integrate holidays and other seasonal events into regular weeks. Wedding anniversary? A bit every week. Taxes? Keep records always updated. And so on.
- Connect with vision and values more often. Remember that having short-term goals does not mean dropping your long-term vision. Since goals derive from vision and values, that will be an opportunity to be in touch with them much more often.
- Fully integrate Kaizen as a way of life. The ultimate goal for all this is to create a better framework for making practicing Kaizen easier, meaning centering life around small, continuous improvement steps. By doing so, goals have more to do with evolving habits than with big one-time achievements.
A Brand New Start, Every Week
Of course the idea is not to completely forgo our yearly calendar — there are many aspects of our lives that are centered on it, and will continue to be so. But there’s no reason to buy the notion that goals have to be that way, too. By breaking free of the yearly mindset, you give yourself many more opportunities to start over — many more opportunities to follow through this time.
Happy New Week!