Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Trouble with New Years Resolutions

Thanks, Parents!
At this time last year, I sat down and blogged about three projects I'd decided to focus my energy on in 2012:
  • The Gratitude Project: Committing to starting my Thanks, Parents! blog, and spending more energy in general being grateful, rather than irritated, frustrated or impatient.
  • The Gazelle Project: Wanting to be a bigger part of the running community, prioritizing injury prevention, running higher mileage, and becoming a stronger uphill runner
  • The Energy Project: Getting organized, procrastinating less, prioritizing sleep, and being more conscientious in general about how I nourish my body - including forgoing alcohol for a year
On the whole, I was successful with all of these: I blogged about gratitude all year long, my running life flourished, and I made it the whole year without booze. There was something very valuable to me in the exercise of setting just three major intentions for the whole year. It allowed me to really, truly focus on those "projects" as I called them - and for the first time in the decade+ that I've been making resolutions, actually feel I accomplished everything I wanted to in that year.

Speaking purely from my own experience, I think there are two major problems with New Year's Resolutions, which explain why most of us fail to keep ours.

The Too Specific Problem
I know, SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound) goals, blah blah blah...and I'm all for specific goal-setting! But I think you can set yourself up for failure when you frame resolutions as specific goals, rather than as general intentions. If you look at the specific, measurable aspects of my projects, I failed on most counts.

Let's take my Gazelle Project. I wrote in last year's blog that some of my specific running goals for 2012 included: a sub-20:00 5K, a sub-6:00 mile, and qualifying for Boston. Of these, I accomplished zero. I didn't even wind up running a single 5K or road marathon.

Instead, however, I ran not only my first 50-miler, but my first 100-miler. I went from having gone on exactly one group run with the Seattle Mountain Running crew to going on dozens of training runs, road trips, and race adventures with new friends. When I sent the word out to my newfound trail running buddies of 2012 (well, except Glenn, who's known me since the very beginning of my trail running life, back when it was still a solo sport for me, not a community-driven one) that I was leaving Seattle, nearly a dozen of them showed up for my farewell snowshoeing adventure on New Years Day.

Snowshoeing at Commonwealth Basin with my SMRG buddies

At the beginning of 2012, I'd never even been to a 100-miler. By the end of 2012, I'd volunteered at several, paced at four, and even run my own. I went from running one ultra in 2010, and one in 2011, to running over a dozen (Fatasses/unsanctioned ultras included) in 2012. I volunteered at more races than ever before, and also ran more total miles than ever before (1800+ for the whole year, up from 1300ish in 2011). So...did I keep my resolution to develop myself as a runner, or not?

Calling it a project, and giving myself un-specific, un-measurable goals like "being a bigger part of the running community", "preventing injury", and "running higher mileage" were actually far more attainable and valuable in the long run than any of the specific, measurable running goals I tried to tack on, too.

The Too Many Problem
"Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years." - Attributed to both Bill Gates and Anthony Robbins...not sure who said it first

I think we often expect too much of ourselves. In addition to the three major projects, I had many supplementary goals and ambitions for 2012. Some of these happened: I read at least a book a week all year, I landed a full-time writing job by the end of the year, I did more yoga. On the other hand, plenty of them didn't happen at all: I didn't take banjo lessons, I didn't eat less refined sugar, I wasn't diligent in budgeting and tracking spending, and I still can't do a pull-up.

But...I think that's okay! It's perfectly fine to aim big, but I think it's also important to be patient with ourselves. None of us pull it all off. So...I think that three, from now on, is my magic number for New Year projects: three big, ambitious ones to which I really, truly commit myself and my energy. Of course, there will always be other ideas, other goals percolating in my mind - but above all, let me not lose sight of the big three.
With that, I present my 2013 Projects.

The Simplicity Project
I've moved a lot in the last few years. There was a little window of time where I managed to stay in the same apartment for over a year. Aside from that, in my adult life, I haven't lived in the same space for more than 3-8 months. In fact, I've had a dozen different residential addresses in the past five years alone. The good news is that, every time I move, I get rid of more stuff. More things feel superfluous. This all feels immensely rejuvenating; instead of stressing about the fact that I'm once again renting a truck and moving my life halfway across the country, I'm embracing the opportunity to lighten up.

In 2013, I'd like to keep things simple. I want to be more relaxed in my day-to-day life; I've left a cushy corporate job in the big city for the passion gig in a tiny mountain town, and I'm hoping the shift in scenery can help me simplify the expectations I have for myself. Life is about being, not doing.
Sunrise in Glenwood Canyon
I want to be more spontaneous in daily life, rather than setting a tight agenda and always feeling rushed. I want, as I blogged about several months ago, to stop glorifying busyness. I want to have the patience to meditate, to not set an alarm on weekends, to give myself permission to spend hours reading a novel or doing a jigsaw puzzle, to keep my mind present during more of my daily life. I want to live amid less clutter, and be less attached to material things. 

Well, except running shoes: a vice that, on a sidenote, my new job will be no good at discouraging. Below, on the left, is my new boss's entrance hallway at home. On the right is my own. Oi vey. At least I know I've come to the right place. Speaking of which, trail running friends and blog readers alike, drop me a line if you're interested in wear-testing shoes for Trail Runner. I need folks from all over the country, so speak up!

But, really. I'm serious about simplifying.

The Wellness Project
This will follow some similar themes as last year's "Energy Project". Of last year's three, it's the one I feel I did most poorly on. I made some strides - forgoing alcohol and juicing daily for most of the year, establishing "Health Home" with James, picking up yoga again, trying to bike commute more, etc - but I still feel I have a long way to go in this realm. So I'm repackaging it for 2013 as a Wellness Project :)

In this, I would like my life to include more: sleep, juicing, cooking with whole foods, salads and veggies,  green smoothies, tea, running, yoga, reading, journaling, meditation, being outdoors, love
...and less: Facebook, internet, iPhone use, refined sugar, dining out, spending money, caffeine, processed foods, meat and dairy, stress and anxiety, hitting the snooze button on my alarm clock

The Courage Project
Here's something that may come as a surprise to those who've met me in my adult life: I was a pretty shy kid with a lot of insecurities and a big inferiority complex. I had a rough time for many years, making new friends, "fitting in" socially, feeling I had much to offer to others. I can say with confidence that I've overcome most of that - but as with anything in our childhoods, the shadows of those memories still trickle into the cracks of my adult life. To this day, I have a strong need to be well liked, to seek the approval of others. Am I perfectionist? Often, yes, more than I like to admit.

Without getting too psychoanalytic here, I know that there are many things about this coming year that will prove challenging in this realm. Having my writing and editorial skills spotlighted in front of a national (and opinionated!) audience is scary. Learning to not take criticism personally will be a tough, but necessary, lesson.

I'm also struggling with all the fears that come with moving somewhere new, and having changed virtually all aspects of my life over the course of a few short months. People here don't really know me yet, and it will be a while before I can feel myself around them. I miss my friends, the familiarity and comfort of my old life in Seattle. It will all come with time, I know - but for now, it's hard to feel like a blank slate again.

Rather than letting myself be swallowed by these fears, I hope to see them as the opportunities they are, and grow from them.

During my few months with Solavei, I was fortunate to have a great boss who nudged me out of my comfort zone daily, who always challenged me to take on new responsibilities I didn't initially think myself capable of. This was a hugely valuable learning experience for me (thank you, Rudy!), and one I want to continue building on on my own in the coming year. 


So there you have it. I think that because I was able to accomplish so many of my concrete, external goals in 2012, I'm necessarily deciding to focus on more abstract, internal goals in 2013. That feels good. 

We're not in Washington anymore: Luna Moonshine, my ever-capricious VW who almost broke down the day before leaving for Colorado...didn't know if she'd make it all the way, but here we are!
There's a great deal more to say about adjusting to new life in Colorado, but this blog entry has gone on long enough already. Suffice to say, for now, that I have gone from a world where the essentials are waterproof jackets, poncho pants, and GORE-TEX boots, to one of chapstick, sunglasses, and insulated gloves.

Most other things, I'm pleased to report, have stayed consistent: the abundance of fleece, Patagonia puffy jackets, tea, coffee, dogs, Subarus, dirty hippies, wool socks, and microbrews.

More soon. Happy belated new year, all!