As I See It: This Year, I Really Mean It
January 5, 2004 Victor Rozek
It’s a brand new year; time for a replay of all those New Year’s resolutions we failed to keep last year. Most of the people I know who make resolutions in January have forgotten them by March. But not my wife. When we do New Year’s resolutions, she likes to write them down and put them in what she calls a time capsule. Come January 1, she digs the thing out (how does she even remember where she hid it?!) and checks to see how many of last year’s items were actually accomplished.
Okay. Not many. At least not the ones on my list. My wife, however, having strong resolve and an exceptional memory for tracking things I said I would do, delights in auditing the list, happily checking off the items she has accomplished, while I squirm in discomfort. At least that’s my story.
As synchronicity would have it (see “As I See It: Attracting What You Want”), just when I began to think maybe I needed some help with this resolution business, I received an unsolicited e-mail from an organization called myGoals.com. Here’s how Greg Helmstetter, cofounder of myGoals describes the mission of his site: “myGoals.com is the Web’s premier site for setting, managing, and reaching personal and professional goals.”
Here’s how it works. Say, for example, that you have a goal to get fit, and another goal to start your own business. Unless you have a very esoteric goal–such as being the first person to climb Everest barefoot, in the winter, backward, without oxygen–chances are myGoals already has a goal plan, complete with advice provided by subject-matter experts, for accomplishing that goal. Your job is to select the plan that most precisely fits your desired outcome, and to follow it. Helmstetter or his cohorts will send you periodic e-mail reminders to keep you on track. Think of it as electronic nagging, which has all the benefits of traditional nagging without the shrill voice or wagging finger.
If your goal is more obscure, their Goal-Setting Wizard (otherwise known as software) will help you to create a custom plan. You identify the obstacles to your goal and create an action plan, complete with deliverables and due dates. myGoals also provides you with relevant articles and other useful information related to your goal. The service seems quite reasonable: $5.95 per month or $49.95 per year, with a 10-day free trial.
What I found particularly interesting, however, was a summary of goals other people were setting. At the end of each year, myGoals publishes predictions about next year’s New Year’s resolutions based on the goal-setting activity of their clients during the last quarter. They randomly select 500 goals, compare them with the previous year, and project trends. They admit it’s not high science, but it is a revealing snapshot of the adult, college-educated, Web-surfing population.
Last year, perhaps not surprisingly, given the state of the economy, professional growth and career goals topped the list. Twenty-seven percent of all goals were job-related, up from only 18 percent the year before. But this year, concerns about professional growth are dropping slightly and the category has been supplanted by the perennial favorite, health and fitness. So we can conclude that the professional development folks have either achieved their career goals or given up and decided to get fit instead.
And what do we make of the fact that health and fitness concerns are usually at the top of everyone’s list? One possible conclusion is that we are collectively unfit, but that’s not much of an insight; more like a tacit admission that my perception of the obvious is usually unclouded. But another more subtle inference is that we Americans will prioritize almost everything ahead of our own health and well being. We take care of the family, the house, the car, our friends, our pets, our careers; everything creeps up the priority ladder ahead of our own needs. Things have to get pretty bad before many of us will begin to take proper care of ourselves.
After fitness and career, our next priority is personal growth. Apparently we want to take care of body and vocation before we get to mind and spirit. That may indicate we have it backward, or perhaps we believe we are sufficiently evolved already.
To our credit, personal growth takes precedence over personal finances. Although up over last year, only 11 percent of next year’s goals are predicted to involve wealth. I’d like to believe that’s because we have enough, but it’s more likely that many people don’t have any idea how to create wealth beyond earning a salary and making rudimentary investments.
Time management and organization comes next, and that’s no surprise. Everyone I know is juggling too much, and as I look at the piles on and around my desk I wonder why organization isn’t higher on the list. But what is surprising is that it comes before family and relationships. “Don’t bother me, son. Daddy’s trying to get organized.”
The next two categories are education and training, and home improvement and real estate. Helmstetter noted that there was an increased interest in purchasing real estate. He postulates that the investment shift is a consequence of last year’s decreased interest in the stock market.
And after we’ve straightened out our careers, whipped our bodies into shape, grappled with time, money, and all the rest, we finally turn our attention to recreation and leisure. It’s a wonder we have any energy left for play, and probably explains why so many people are play-deprived.
So that’s the breakdown of the goals college-educated professionals seem to aspire to, but the inevitable question, for those of us who make our yearly resolutions only to remake them a year later, is why do so many of us fail to achieve our ambitions?
The answers to that question would fill a library, but according to Helmstetter, the most frequently cited obstacles are lack of time and money, procrastination, and fear–the Four Horsemen of failed goal attainment.
But I think there is another reason too often overlooked. Typically, when we set new goals for ourselves, we pile them on top of everything we are already doing. And given that everyone’s life already takes up a full 24 hours each day, there is often little room for new goals and aspirations. But there is an alternative.
The following model was developed by Kris Hallbom and, as she is fond of saying, “It is based on 13.8 billion years of evolution.” The model appears to hold true for any system. You can see it at work in natural systems, economic cycles, relationships, and careers. It applies equally well to goal-setting cycles.
Every system has a point of creation, like a seed planted in the ground. Then there is a period of growth, followed by a period of maturity and complexity. Using the seed analogy, this is the time when the tree stands fully developed in leafy splendor. Eventually, turbulence begins to impact the system. For a tree, turbulence comes in the form of autumnal weather and light changes. Turbulence is followed by chaos (growth processes shut down), which leads to dropping off (leaves fall), and the system goes into a period of dormancy (winter), which is followed by another cycle of creation.
Turbulence is a message from the system that something has to change. When we fail to listen to the message, turbulence grows into chaos. Turbulence and chaos tell us that the status quo is no longer working; something has to drop off, whether it’s a belief, an attitude, a behavior, a job, a relationship, a habit, or something that we’re doing that no longer serves us. In business, we see companies holding on to old product lines, unwilling to let them drop off, until their customers outgrow them. In relationships, we see people living for years in turbulence and chaos, hanging on to a dysfunctional union, unwilling to leave. But the message just gets louder.
So now, when I want to achieve some new goal that requires a commitment of time, energy, and resources, the first thing I ask myself is, what needs to drop off? What can I let go of that no longer serves me? What can I eliminate that will make space for my new goal? Are there behaviors, beliefs, or habits that stand in my way?
The reason why goals that were once energizing and exciting so quickly become heavy and draining is that we are already carrying too much. Like the Atlas in Ayn Rand’s novel who bears the world’s weight on his shoulders, when the weight becomes too great, it’s time to shrug the excess off.