This year, I'm going to write a novel. This year, I'm going to lose weight. This year, I'm going to organize my photos and redesign my photo website. And this year, I'm going to spend less time doing stuff I think I "should" be doing and more time doing things I enjoy.
Sounds like a great plan, right? The only problem is, those are the same resolutions I made last year. So what makes me think that this year is going to be any different?
The difference, I hope, lies in the approach. The whole problem with New Year's Resolutions is that, so often, we make them with a "year" in mind. As the fireworks are going off over Times Square (or the Thames), it's easy to feel that a year is a very long time indeed. Twelve months -- oodles of time to accomplish all those things that we want to "have accomplished" by December 31. That sense of "loads of time" is what makes it all too easy to say, "I'll do that tomorrow."
So this year, I'm not looking at year-end resolutions. Instead, I'm trying for "bite-size resolutions." Rather than maintain a vague hope that, somehow, I'll weigh less at the end of this year, I'm looking at weekly resolutions: This week, I resolve to lose one pound. This week, I will take specific steps, however small: Changing something that I eat, getting on the exercycle, actually lifting those weights that are sitting on my counter.
At the end of the week, I can evaluate the success (or failure), not of some nebulous long-term goal, but of my specific goal for that week. Did I lose a pound? Fabulous! Did I lose half a pound? Then I must be doing something right, and need to keep doing it -- and do more of it. Did I lose nothing? Then I need to evaluate "why." Is it because, despite my "resolution," I didn't actually change anything? Or did I make changes -- but not enough changes? Each week's "evaluation" gives me information that will help me plan my goal for the next week.
The same applies to writing goals. This week, my goal is to complete one chapter of my novel. As I write this, it's Monday. By Sunday, I can evaluate my progress: Did I write a chapter? Did I write half a chapter? Did I write anything at all? If I didn't meet my goal, what did I actually do with my time -- and how can I prioritize my tasks a bit differently?
Weekly goals also make it easier to adapt to changes in plans and circumstances. If all your relatives are coming to town for the holidays, you probably won't have much time to write -- so make your goal for that week to "enjoy the family." If an article deadline is coming up, take a week off from your novel. Being able to set goals by the week gives you the flexibility to set different goals when circumstances require them.
The best thing about bite-size goals, however, is that every time you achieve one, you feel like a success. You don't have to wait twelve months to determine whether you've achieved your resolutions. Instead, you get to pat yourself on the back every week -- for every chapter you write or pound you lose or query you send out. Better yet, every success makes you feel confident that you can do it again: If you wrote a chapter last week, you know you can write another one this week. If you lost a pound last week, chances are pretty good you can do it again -- and again. And if you don't meet your goals for the week, it's just a week. On Monday, you get to start over.
And for the record, I'm down two pounds and up four chapters...
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