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How to set realistic goals

The beginning of February feels like the right time to check in on New Year’s resolutions. Do you make New Year’s goals? Do you keep them?

This year, as I was working on setting my goals for the year, I talked to several friends who expressed frustration with the process. I saw the same sentiment on many social media feeds. It basically goes like this: “I feel like I can’t ever keep the resolutions and then I’m frustrated and feel like a failure by the third week of January, so what’s the point of setting them in the first place?”

I get it. I’d say I spend the first 35 years of my life feeling like that. I’d make a list of resolutions, become frustrated at my failure, and never really change the way I was doing it.

Then, in January 2016, I changed the way I see yearly goals. I had a six month old and was barely on the road to recovery following a long bout of antepartum and postpartum depression. I lacked confidence. I was overwhelmed. I knew I couldn’t make a lengthy list of self improvement ideas. But I wanted to learn how to French braid. I’d never learned and I really wanted to be able to braid my own hair and my daughter, Clara’s.  So, that was my only goal for the whole year. Learn how to French braid.

Two things happened that year that forever changed the way I set yearly goals. First, I turned my notion of what a New Year’s Resolution was on its head. It can be anything you want, I realized! No need for a formula. And second, I shared my goal on my Instagram feed and gave myself a hashtag: #annelearnstobraid.

Here’s what I’ve learned since then about how to set realistic, achievable goals:

1. Think outside the box.

If a list of resolutions isn’t your thing, choose a word or phrase. This has become really popular and it’s a fantastic way to work on self-improvement.  (My phrase this year is “follow through” because hot dang I lack self-discipline and consistency!)

Choose a new skill you’d like to learn (like braiding!).

Decide on something that would make you more happy.

(photo by Whitney Hunt Photography)

In 2018 my focus was “more dancing.” It changed dish time and other chores.  When you blast Freddie Mercury or the Greatest Showman soundtrack after dinner, suddenly everyone wants to be in the kitchen helping out.  Most importantly, Mama is in the best of spirits!

(photo by Justin Hackworth)

For 2017 I decided that I wanted to focus on having fun.  I wanted to laugh more.  I wanted to go on more adventures.  I wanted to say yes to invitations to things that typically give me anxiety.

With “more fun” on my mind, I dared myself to do the hard things and seize the day.  It was the most incredible year.  I took multiple day trips to the coast with the kids (without Taylor there to help, which I had never been brave enough to do before).  We drove all the way to Waterton and Banff National Parks and had the time of our lives.

I jumped off waterfalls and into freezing glacial-fed lakes.  I ran in snow.  I seized opportunities to take the kids to the park.  I pulled up a Jimmy Fallow or SNL clip when I was grumpy and needed a good laugh.  Sincerely, #acmorefun changed the way I see myself, changed the kind of mother I am.  It literally changed my life.

2. Make a plan.  In Janary 2017 I decided I really wanted to up my fitness level and run 10 miles per week.  This was much higher mileage than I’d ever done.  I realized that the only time of day open was early morning.  I got a running buddy and scheduled runs for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at 6 am.  With a plan in place, this somewhat bold goal became totally achievable.  Running has become one of the most beloved, anticipated parts of my week.

3. Don’t overdo it. I find that a long list of resolutions doesn’t work for me. It’s too much. Too many things to think about. Choose 1-5 things for the year. Honestly the years I do 1-2 are the best. The nice thing is, when you really turn something into a habbit (like my running), then you don’t really have to think about it anymore.  Like I said, with “follow through” on my mind, my goals this year include running 520 miles, attending Yoga 1-2 times per week and publishing a blog post each Monday.

4. Build in flexibility and expect to fail sometimes.

You’re going to get sick. Or go on vacation. Or have a really busy or hard week that throws you off your game. If the goal is to “run every day” or “eat clean every day,” the reality is, you’re going to fail. And then, if you’re like me, you’re going to throw your hands up, determine that this year’s resolution was a bust, and feel disappointed in yourself.

Plan on failure sometimes. Plan on needing to pick yourself up when you fall and plan to be kind to yourself, for Heaven’s sake! When I set the goal to run ten miles per week I knew that I run 12-16 miles on a good week, but that some weeks I only hit 6-8. So I average 10 and I’m great with that! Some weeks are just insane with family stuff and I can’t get out the door. I ran very little in December because I was dealing with various injuries and sick kids. And I still crushed my annual goal of 520 miles because I’d built the goal to work that way! The weeks I don’t reach my goal of 10 miles I just shrug my shoulders and say “oh well. Hopefully next week.” And I MOVE ON!

5. Create accountability and check in regularly.

Make a list of your goals and hang it where you will see it daily. Tell someone what your word for the year is.  Make yourself a hashtag and tell the whole internet about it so they will keep you accountable!  Honestly, the best year for this was 2017’s #acmorefun.  Just about any time I was feeling lazy or anxious about accepting an invitation to do something fun, my friend Ashley would text me and say “COME ON! AC MORE FUN!!!” And, do you know what? It motivated me!  It reminded me, hey, you made a goal to be more fun this year.  You can pack up the kids and drive to the coast today.  You can!  And I DID.  Having accountability is everything for me (because, remember! I have ZERO self-discipline!)!

6. Don’t be afraid to re-evaluate and change it up. Change the terms of the goal or ditch it all together. If it’s making you feel guilty or like you can’t measure up, kick it to the curb. Ain’t nobody got time for guilt and self-loathing! I have started on goals SO many times, gotten a few weeks in, and realized it wasn’t achievable or measurable or worth my time or motivating enough!  So I moved on, set different goals instead, and never looked back!

Like I said with running, once we work long enough on a goal, it can become a habit.  It becomes a part of who we are.  And then we choose the next thing to work on and begin again.  It’s beautiful.

I would love to hear about your resolutions and goals in the comments here or on Instagram @annecropper.


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