Most people make new year’s resolutions, and a lot of resolutions include the word “more”–followed by something like “self-care”, “fitness”, “health”, or “wellness”. More fit, more clean-eating, more stable, more happy. I notice these resolution-makers when I go to my local Planet Fitness, running for hours on the treadmill or sweating it out on the elliptical or doing rep after rep on God-knows-what-that-machine-does. Yeah, it sucks to have a full, busy gym, but for me, it’s mostly about the excess amount of people staring at my subpar form as I attempt another squat. Please don’t look at me I’m just trying to survive and get thick ok thanks. (Getting thick is a valid new year’s resolution–a little bit spicier than the usual “get fit”, don’t you think?)
I also notice these resolution makers in the self-check out line at the grocery store. The lady next to me will be putting lean chicken and rice and broccoli into their bags while I’m stocking up on salmon and green beans. We will smile at each other, like yes girl we are superior.
The other day, I followed the hordes of Marie Kondo-worshipping newly-converted minimalists to my local Goodwill, where the donation bins were so full of old clothes and shoes and dish ware that I could barely stuff my own bags in there (it was my first time in a long time donating clothes, so I am a part of these masses).
Fast forward to today, where I’m sitting on my boyfriend’s bed with a clay face mask on, tummy full of chicken and rice and broccoli, just a little sore from my second-ever CrossFit class today. I am the picture perfect representation of health.
Haha. Obviously I’m a resolution-making millennial as well. I resolved to do more self-care, hit the gym more often, and eat healthier. You know, the usual. What’s interesting, though, is what will happen in a couple weeks: the gyms will slowly empty, the stocks of double-stuf Oreos will slowly begin to disappear from the shelves of the local Safeway, and the Goodwill bins will once again become manageable piles of scattered garments. Will I be one of the few and proud going strong? Let’s be honest, in the past, I would have given up by February 1.
What is it about millennials and goal-setting, and why do we tend to fail?
Let me start out with a little story. I’m a second year Ph.D. student in microbiology, and I had an undergraduate work for me in my lab this summer. Let’s call him Dan. I somewhat “inherited” Dan from an older graduate student in my lab who was graduating. Dan needed work and came with high regards from the older graduate student. During his interview, Dan was lights-out. Everything was yes, I can do that and yes, whatever you want. Dan was a yes man. I hired the guy because he had good reviews, but I was a little suspicious because of how many “yes”es I was getting.
Fast forward to the rest of the summer, Dan turned out to be a train wreck of an employee. He rarely showed up on time, did the bare minimum amount of lab work, and always had excuse after excuse as to why he didn’t do his experiments correctly. He was all talk, and no game. When I spoke to him about his lackluster performance, he was the same as during his interview: I’m so sorry I didn’t realize I was underperforming yes I promise I will do better yes I promise I will fix this yes I promise to ask you if I don’t understand something or need more guidance everything will be fine I promise. I almost felt bad for the guy, honestly. Instead of being honest with himself and about his abilities, and communicating that with me, he set the bar so high for himself that he had no way of reaching it.
Don’t get me wrong, I was super nice about everything, even up until the day I fired him It was for a good reason, I promise–when he didn’t show up to work for four days, and I found out from a guy on my tennis team who knew him that he had been on a crazy drug bender in the woods instead, I had to draw the line.
This story isn’t meant to bash Dan, it’s meant to be a lesson about setting realistic benchmarks. The point of the story is that Dan bit off more than he could chew. He was all talk, all promises, and not realistic about where he was at and what he had the potential to achieve.
So that’s point one: when setting goals for the new year, be realistic with yourself. This is a no-brainer, but a lot of people tend to set goals that aren’t realistic for where they’re at. If your goal is to make a better effort to take care of your mental health, but you’re still having anxiety attacks every day and have never seen a counselor, then it’s probably best not to aim to be anxiety-free by the time 2020 rolls around.
In most goal-setting scenarios, it’s also best to set goals that are measurable. For example, in the instance above, you could plan to see a counselor once a week, or practice meditation habits once a day for 10-20 minutes. Something measurable helps you not to feel like a total and complete failure if you relapse and have a couple of anxiety attacks.
Another tip: When it comes to fitness goals, do. not. use. weight. as. a. measure. of. success. It’s one thing if your goal is to drop weight for a bariatric procedure, or if your health is eminently at risk due to obesity. If that’s the case, then watch those numbers drop, girl! But after a certain point, weight becomes super subjective. Especially in the present day, where fitness models rule Instagram and strong is the new skinny, weight can be really deceiving and can fluctuate widely based on your diet that day, where you’re at in your cycle, and your daily water intake. It’s just a number, so stop stepping on the scale and start using measurements like waist circumference, or better yet, set weightlifting goals or mile run times.
Another tip I heard recently that has really helped me in my goal-setting mindset is from a podcast from one of my favorite lifestyle-author-couples, Jeff and Alyssa Bethke. In their podcast The Real Life, they talk about how they refer to goals as formations or rhythms in their family. Jeff and Alyssa find that rather than thinking of a goal as an unobtainable trophy with many obstacles along the way, it’s better to try introducing these goals as rhythms that can be introduced into daily life. This was a big one for me– when I stopped thinking of my resolutions as “goals” and started thinking of them as “formations” or “rhythms”, I found it was easier for me to set more measurable, attainable benchmarks, and to stick to them for a longer period of time. If one of your goals is to pick up golf, try reading one blog post a day on the sport, or watching YouTube videos a couple times a week on beginner’s form, or putting money away each week for a set of used clubs. By taking little steps each day to reach your goal, you introduce the goal as more of a formation in your daily life.
So, what have we learned about goal-setting? Number one, set goals that are attainable. Number two, set goals that are measurable. And number three, introduce goals that can be integrated as formations or rhythms in your daily life. Rather than pushing your way towards your “more-more-more” goal, take on a more gentle, subtle approach. By taking one baby step at a time, you can be that much closer to consistently plodding your way toward your goals, long after February ends.