There are no tiny buds poking their seeking heads out of the bare branches, but the whisper of Spring has soared in on the wings of the Canadian Geese, returning from their winter shores and in the sparkling dark eyes of the robins bobbing about on their inquisitive search for worms.
In my sunroom, new life abounds - a verdant carpet of small green things; sweet pea vines starting their stretch towards the sky, tiny dianthus bravely beginning their journeys, cilantro marching in a cluster.
I understand, of course, why January 1st is the date most associated with “new beginnings” and goal-setting, but the advent of Spring is, to me, truly a new beginning in the sense of new life waking up and unfurling from the stark relentlessness of winter. Mind you, I live in an area of Canada where snow is often a presence for six months out of the year, so the much shorter “season of growing things” is a miracle and the more precious for its brevity.
So, despite it not being January, the thought of goals comes to mind.
I used to have a love-hate relationship with goal-setting; the younger me got swept up in society’s hype about “New Year’s Resolutions,” but disillusionment eventually set in. What was the point, after all, of making these resolutions if I only managed to maintain them for a few weeks at most?
Over the years, I’ve come to understand two things: one, goal-setting is extremely important as it’s how we become better versions of ourselves. Two, personal goal-setting should not be a big once-a-year “event,” but rather a daily practice.
Though I didn’t know it at the time, looking back I realize that the very first personal goal I set for myself was a catalytic turning point in my life. It was the summer before grade 9. I’d spent my school years up until that time a shy, lonesome creature with very few friends, almost no self-esteem and acute anxiety when around people. High school would be an opportunity to start fresh as very few of my then-current peers would be attending the same one. Up until that point, I would classify myself as putty, voluntarily sliding into whatever mold other people wanted of me. I didn’t have much of a work ethic, no growth mindset, no motivation. I’m not sure what prompted me not only to make a personal goal for myself, but one that pushed way past my comfort zone (which, as you can probably infer, was narrow in the extreme). The interesting thing is that had I only made a goal like “make more friends,” I probably would have failed miserably. Goals like that are too broad and have no strategic rungs to climb. Instead, I told myself that I would make more friends as a larger, overarching goal, and that my first small goal in that direction would be to talk to one new person on the first day of school.
I did. A small goal (like talking to one new person) was achievable; giving myself a specific time frame was also crucial to success. Over the next few years, I accumulated a large number of friends and acquaintances. The shy mouse had become a social butterfly.
It has been many years since I’ve abandoned the “New Year Resolution” movement. Instead, I follow the same format that I started at the age of 14: set overarching objectives and then set small targets on a daily basis to get there. This is how I teach my students as well. For example, while the overarching objective in a particular unit may be to learn how to clearly express and support one’s opinions through persuasive essays, setting and working on small learning targets every day is essential to successfully climb to the overarching goal.
Goal-setting is essential for growth, but getting to where we want to go is a journey that involves struggle and challenges. Setting large goals like “lose weight” or “save money” or “get good at cooking” are unreasonable and generally unattainable on their own. Instead, set your overarching objectives and then set your much smaller target “rungs” on a daily basis. Make them something you can do without too much extra fuss in your schedule. When they become “the norm,” or at least comfortable, then you can add to them.
Let’s say that losing weight is a goal. Step one would be to examine lifestyle and eating habits. Is exercise a part of the routine? Is snacking on chips and candy a regular occurrence? Are vegetables and other healthy foods a component? Here, the overarching goal would be to lose weight, but I would even suggest possibly changing it to a “healthier lifestyle.” Negative emotions and thoughts can abound if weight does not appear to be going down, making it much harder to maintain the mindset needed to persevere (which can then negatively impact the body, making it even more difficult to lose weight), whereas the aim of a healthier lifestyle does not have the same stark numbers attached to it. If exercise is not a part of the routine (or not a significant part), make a weekly target that works for you; deciding to exercise every day at the outset is probably not going to work well, but starting with a 10-minute routine two days a week might. You can (and should) always build from the starting rung, so don’t worry about starting “too small.” If the issue is constant snacking on junk food, create a reasonable daily target of (perhaps) one small bag of chips/ day and one dessert portion (for example).
Any overarching goal can be achieved in strategic “rung” steps; want to save money? Even putting aside $10 from a paycheck will add up, and when/ if you eventually find yourself not missing that $10, you can add a little bit more. What about becoming a good cook? Start with simple recipes, perhaps one or two new ones per week and build from there. Want to learn how to draw? Challenge yourself to draw one small simple design every day.
The key? As with any learning and growth, it’s perseverance. Don’t give up when the going gets hard. Don’t berate yourself if you slip, simply course-correct and try again. Accept that true learning and growth take time. While it may seem like “so-and-so” is just naturally gifted at this or good at that, the truth is that everything takes continuous work and effort, no one is “simply gifted” at anything, and yes, you can do it if you really want to.