I used to be the sort of guy who loved to have a list of goals. At least once a year — usually around New Year — I’d sit down and make a list of all the things that were wrong with me, all of the things I wanted to change.
In 2007, for instance, I made a list of 101 things I wanted to accomplish in 1001 days. (It took me longer than three years to finish that list, by the way. In fact, I still haven’t done everything on it because my priorities have changed. But now, ten years later, I see that I have completed nearly all of the ones that still matter.)
Eventually I realized that making a long lists of resolutions is a sure path to disappointment — at least for me. There’s a reason you see newspaper and TV stories every spring about how most people aren’t able to maintain the resolutions they set at the first of the year. It’s because most of us try to do too much. (And, I think, because we try to set goals that aren’t truly aligned with our primary purpose in life.)
Nowadays, I do something different, something that’s actually proven to be successful. Instead of trying to change many things at once, I’ve learned to change only one thing at a time.
One Thing at a Time
In 2010, for instance, I focused on fitness. In fact, I dubbed 2010 “The Year of Fitness”. My aim was to lose fifty pounds. Every decision I made was with that goal in mind. You know what? It worked. Though I didn’t lose fifty pounds that year, I did lose forty. (And I lost the final ten by the middle of 2011.)
I was able to do this because for the entire year, my only goal was to get in shape. I was focused. Nothing else mattered. I didn’t have any other big goals clouding my view or competing for my attention. I set one goal, and I worked hard to meet it.
In 2011, my one goal was to learn Spanish. And I did it. Three times a week, I paid a Spanish tutor for ninety minutes of personal instruction. In my spare time, I watched Spanish movies and listend to Spanish music. I read Spanish books. I consumed Spanish podcasts. Within a year, I’d achieved reasonable fluency in the language. I could carry on converstations in South America, and I could read Spanish-language novels. (Though not all Spanish-language novels.)
In 2012, I tried something a little different. Instead of one big goal for the year, I chose to work on one goal each month. Some examples:
- In March, I had lunch or dinner with a different friend every day. This let me reconnect with people I’d been missing.
- In April, I embarked upon my Extreme Dating Project. I’d just been divorced, and my goal was to meet as many women as possible. (April was a fun month! And it led to my current relationship with Kim.)
- Next, my goal became to make it to the gym every day in May. I didn’t quite succeed — I only worked out 28 out of 31 days — but I came close.
- My next goal was “no junk in June”. I focused on my diet, which helped me lose five pounds and two percent body fat.
Sometimes I spend a year on any given goal. Sometimes, I spend a month. And sometimes I spend even longer! After Kim and I decided we wanted to take a trip across the United States, for instance, I spent the next eighteen months devoted to that project.
During the first part of 2015, we shopped for and purchased a motorhome, then prepped it for life on the road. We left Portland on 25 March 2015 and spent the next six months exploring the U.S. We paused for six months in Savannah, Georgia, before beginning our homeward journey this time last year. On 29 June 2016, we made it back to Portland. We had a blast — because for those eighteen months, we were committed to one thing and one thing only.
You get the idea. At any given time, I’m concerned with only one major goal. [Read more…]