January 4, 2016

Goal Focusing: One Month, One Challenge

I mentioned last week that my colleague Jullien Gordon’s wrote an awesome and free New Year’s Guide; he also hosted a free webinar to talk through it and help people complete it. I’ve only had time to complete about half of the workbook so far, and I was also only able to attend half of his webinar. (Noticing a pattern? Oops.) But I got a lot of out what I’ve done so far, and I’ve finally settled on my New Year’s resolution for 2016.

In years past, I’ve generally created a whole bunch of New Year’s resolutions, and I’ve had varying degrees of success in achieving them. There isn’t anything wrong with that – just last week, I wrote a post about the benefits of making resolutions even if you don’t keep them. But last year my goals and circumstances ended up changing quite a lot throughout the year. As a result, the goals I started the year with weren’t really my top priorities by the end, so I wasn’t all that motivated to achieve them.

In January, I never would have predicted that I’d soon fall in love with my best friend. You just never know what the year has in store!

This year, to prevent that drop in motivation, I’m going back to a goal-setting format I used successfully a few years ago: one month, one challenge. By choosing a different challenge every month and not deciding up front on my goals for the whole year, I increase the relevancy of each goal… and thereby my motivation to work hard and achieve them, one at a time. Focus is the key to learning/ingraining something new, particularly when you haven’t yet built a habit and are having to rely on willpower to muscle through; I’m hoping that focusing on one goal at a time will help increase the staying power of my goals.

My focus on finances in April 2013 is a big part of what enabled me to buy my amazing home in March this year. Small challenge, big impact!

In the week or two leading up to New Year’s, I had already been thinking a lot about this monthly challenge approach to goal setting. A lot of my favorite bloggers write about their successes and failures with periodic challenges (see: Zen Habits and A Life of Productivity). Furthermore, I’ve always enjoyed books about someone taking on a quest and seeing how they can improve themselves (it’s no coincidence that a few of my favorite books this year were Jennifer, Gwyneth, and Me and Living With a SEAL). So why not have myself follow a model I already love to read about, and share my successes and failures with various challenges?

What finally clinched it for me was learning about the concept of goal stacking on Jullien’s webinar. Jullien explains the concept of goal stacking here, but in short, it’s starting only one goal at a time rather than trying to do too many things at once. Goal stacking ensures you have enough energy and focus to truly achieve what you set out to do; only when you’ve mastered one goal do you move onto the next in your planned stack.

It should be noted that goal stacking is different than habit stacking – your goals don’t have to be sequentially tied to each other or even be at all related to each other. While I haven’t yet decided on any goals beyond what I’m doing in January (stay tuned for that tomorrow), I’m pretty sure that my goals are going to be wildly different from month to month. It’s boring to do the same thing all the time, so I would imagine that my goals will run the gamut from health to career to relationships to productivity. (And maybe a reading challenge in there for good measure.)

I should also note that unlike traditional goal stacking, I’m not going to require myself to succeed at one challenge before moving onto the next. Per my rules, I can choose a new goal to focus on each month no matter what. I’m looking at each challenge as a mini-experiment rather than as a prerequisite to move up to the next level of success, and I don’t want to put pressure on myself to find a solution if it turns out I’ve just focused on the wrong problem. (For more on that concept, see this great post by Peter Bregman.) If a goal stops being important to me, there’s probably a good reason why; better to move onto something else that will really get me inspired to work hard.

Yeah, none of this rolling goals over and having regrets about what I didn’t already get done. If I don’t achieve a goal, I’m just moving on to something else (and hopefully learning a bit in the process).

So: my New Year’s resolution is just to make twelve “New Month’s” resolutions. Simple, right? Ah, if only I hadn’t already been struggling with my January challenge today…


6 thoughts on “Goal Focusing: One Month, One Challenge”

  1. “I’m going back to a goal-setting format I used successfully a few years ago: one month, one challenge.” Didn’t you also choose a theme for the year? I don’t think the monthly goals ‘stacked’ directly towards the theme, but they all spoke to the theme tangentially….I thought…maybe?

    Anyway, I thought the new goal/new month + theme of the year was sort of a nice holistic practice. Nice because it seemed (maybe my memory is just too optimistic) that even if the monthly goal didn’t really work out the habits/life choices that did happen still progressed towards the theme….not that every year has to be the same….

    1. Yes, I chose a theme for the last three years; however, as you point out, my monthly goals didn’t necessarily relate to the theme. Great memory!

      I agree that doing both a monthly challenge and setting one intention for the year is holistic, but this year I just didn’t have one theme I wanted to focus on. Who knows – maybe I’ll come up with one mid-year!

  2. I really like the idea of small goals throughout the year, but am too much of s fan of the traditional type of resolutions to not set any of those…..I just wish that mine weren’t so stereotypical ! Oh well though, to your point, if they stick for 6 months there is certainly no harm. After all, my pic of the day was a resolution 2 years ago!

    Also, I forgot to tell you that I finished the seal book yesterday!! Sooooo good / funny (if not a bit outlandish)

    1. You have done an AMAZING job with your Project365 resolution! As you know, I only last a few days when I tried to do the same thing 🙂

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