Simpler Goals

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. They are usually motivated by well-intentioned, but often misguided, factors and are typically designed to fail. That said, the annual passage of January 1 is a good milestone for assessing goals for the coming year.

A lot of the work winds down between mid-December and January 1, so that time period offers a bit more opportunity to reflect. I typically want my New Year’s goals to be focused more on self-improvement or habit-building. In recent years, I have found that the opposite of SMART (specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, time-based) goals work better for me with these kinds of goals. Some aspects of SMART can apply, but I try not to be too doctrinaire about it.

For example, in the past, I would say that I am going to read one book a week. That generally meets all the criteria of SMART, but it tends to set me up for a narrow interpretation that can lead to a feeling of failure. What if I spend time this week reading some academic papers or articles? Those aren’t books? Do they count toward my goal? What if I have a heavy workload and can’t get the book done this week?

The same can often be true for exercise. If my goal is to run 25 – 30 miles per week and I only hit 15 in a given week, I can feel the psychic weight.

In the end, what I want is to build better habits and that is a function of repetition. I have been working my way through “Atomic Habits” and the general goal of getting 1% better is one I can get behind.

Under this paradigm, I am focusing on more time-based goals for the coming year. I’ll try to read 30 minutes every evening. I can usually manage that before I drift off to sleep. That reading will be done with a piece of paper in front of me, not a screen. Another goal this year is to reduce my exposure to notifications from devices.

I’m also focusing more on time-based runs for exercise. I have a lofty misogi this year of completing the Armed Services Challenge. To do that, consistency will be key, so I’ll focus on 30, 60, and 90 minute runs during the week. Whether outdoor or treadmill, I can tune the timed runs to focus on cardio, tempo, speed, elevation, or whatever the target is for that day. Taking mileage out of it will help me focus on results. My distance-based long runs can be for the weekends.

So my meta-goal for 2024 is “simpler goals.” Just do the thing, over and over, until it sticks. Then work on doing the next thing.

Thanks for reading. I’ll see you out there.

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