It doesn’t seem possible. It doesn’t feel real. But 2019 is here. So enter it with zeal.
Practicing poetry is not a goal of mine this year, thank God for you, dear reader. But I do have a few, and they’re listed below.
But first, I wanted to revisit the whole idea of writing down goals. Why do it? And why publish them?
A wonderful friend posited this question extremely well recently, which forced me to revisit my reasoning for taking some time each year to do this. She asked very clearly if meeting goals is the thing that makes one happy and if it’s good to feel content or unsettled based on success or failure. She also wondered if it is better to explore and be open to what happens and discover what God might have in mind.
And she’s right I think. But it leads to a false choice that isn’t quite right either. This isn’t an either/or situation.
Our openness and willingness to adapt and change allows us the freedom to keep our eyes open and see ourselves and others clearly, and hopefully suss out just a bit more of the mystery of life. But it’s also true that some endeavors and parts of life just can’t be done with an eyes wide open and flexible perspective.
An easy example is writing a book. It can’t be done without some form of regimen. I know because I’ve tried a couple of times. The closest I got was a half-finished manuscript, and I only got that far because I put in concentrated work every day. Writers talk about this extensively; when they’re working on a book, it’s the first thing they do every morning.
“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” -Flaubert
This is one of my favorite quotes about writing. In order for our work to flourish, we need to be diligent and “orderly” about it. Not all activities are like this, but some of the most worthwhile ones definitely are.
The Power of Consistency
Consistency is a consistently undervalued property. It’s even more undervalued in the modern world. We are drawn to the highlight reel and the Instagram story. We naturally feed on this immediacy, and in some ways it can set us up for impossibilities. We don’t want to see all the work that went into the success, we just want to see the final product. We admire the great musician on the stage, but we forget the countless hours in a studio practicing scales. We appreciate the drama of an actress on TV but miss the hundreds of times she went over her lines until they were second nature. We sometimes envy the body of an athlete, forgetting the time spent in the gym or on the field.
In fact, promoting goals that require consistency are in some ways all about forgetting the goal itself. All human endeavors that require consistency have a peculiar property: the proximate focus is the process itself.
In other words, on a day-to-day basis, you’re not directly attacking your goal. The athlete in the gym is focused on the workout - and getting it in each day - not on how he’ll look on the beach. And the musician isn’t focused on the stage performance, she’s focused on getting every scale exactly right, over and over. And the successful novelist doesn’t think about the completed novel sitting on a shelf, they revel in the act of writing and storytelling every single day.
Setting up goals is about balancing our every day tasks and explorations with long term focus. It’s about setting up frameworks to enjoy the process and know where we’re going.
For much of our lives, we have externalities that have forced us towards certain goals. Expectations are already set for us in places like school or work. Success isn’t guaranteed, but a framework is already built for it.
Goals allow us to have the same focus internally, all on our own, without the externality to drive it. It’s easy to get too enraptured in this sort of long term thinking. You certainly shouldn’t do it every day. But every once in awhile - say, every year - seems like a good time to reflect on how things are looking. Maybe that’s not for everyone; in fact, it probably isn’t for everyone. But depending on your interests, it may be worth exploring.
“You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It’s easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally.” -Persig, from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Ok, Why Publicly?
Say you accept my premise and believe writing down goals is worthwhile. Why publish them in any way?
The reason is simple: accountability. And this is basically a cheat. We’re taking our internal plans and externalizing them to others. This sets a framework of expectation just like school or work.
If other people, especially those close to you, are aware of what you’re trying to achieve, you’ve created greater expectations to actually do it.
Gail Matthews at Dominican University did a small study on this idea. Here are her conclusions:
- The positive effect of accountability was supported
- There was support for the role of public commitment
- The positive effect of written goals was supported
So. If you have interests or endeavors that align to the power of consistency, and if occasionally reflecting on your long term goals will help you build a regular process, and if you write those goals down, then sharing them will help make them sticky.
And now, let’s get back to the crux of the biscuit. Some goals for 2019!
I didn’t get there last year, so I still need to drop some weight. I still believe that your 30s are a pretty important decade in your life, and I’m committed to getting this done in the next two years. But I’d rather get it done now, enjoy the time in a lighter body, and make it even better in the future.
Last year, the goal was 210. I got down to 230 and stalled out. I just went back and checked and I’m starting this year within a half pound of what I weighed Jan 1 2018: 245.
So I reset the goal to 215 because I have a monthly plan to get there with much more reasonable chunks. Here it is:
8, 7, 6, 5, 4 .. (3, 2, 1)
8 lbs. in January is no problem. 7 in February is a piece of cake (I just did 8 in January?!). Add that up and it means 215 should happen in May. That sounds like a great way to kick off summer.
I’m much less focused on weightlifting this year. Something screwy is going on with my back and until that’s resolved, I’ll just be doing cardio and keeping calories in the 1800/day range. This should still be enough to make a 1.5-2 lb per week calorie deficit.
A Year of Daily Yoga
Breathing was a goal from last year. While I started it late in the year, it’s still been quite revolutionary. I’ve been doing the Five Tibetan Rites nearly every day for nearly 8 weeks. It only takes 10-15 minutes and helps start the day off right. It also takes some effort, and I’ve improved both my flexibility and some shoulder strength already (downward dog to cobra is no joke).
Another interesting thing about this plan is that it should help with heart health. Spinal flexibility seems to act as a proxy for arterial flexibility, even when controlled for other fitness properties.
The Five Tibetan Rites are also probably not actually a traditional Tibetan yoga practice, so I expect this exploration to lead to other types of yoga practices. It’s a world I know next to nothing about.
Walk Every Day
Walking is another activity that is deceptively simple but wonderfully beneficial. I just got a Fitbit again for Christmas so I can track it daily.
I don’t have anything particularly measurable for this one, it’s just something I want to continue to be mindful of on a daily basis. 10 minute walks after every meal or every couple of hours can make a big difference.
I mentioned this diametrical quote earlier:
“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” -Flaubert
This is something I’ve never been particularly good at. I tend towards a more.. fickle schedule. So this year, it’s time to explore this idea a bit and see what it’s like to apply a slightly more rigorous daily routine, with a regular bedtime and a morning alarm.
This is by far my least committed goal. It’s an exploration.
A Sub-24 5k
I’ve given up heavy lifting for the time being, but I still feel the drive to have more athletically oriented goals. This year it’s an improved 5K time. 5 years ago I hit an (adult) personal best of 24:48, which was super gratifying because it was a 7:59/mile pace. This year I’ll work on training and speed and see if I can kick that time down another notch. This will coincide with the weight goals well, as HIIT (high intensity interval training) will take the place of weights this year for helping cut the weight.
Last year’s duathlon was successful, and I’d like to make it two in a row. I won the Clydesdale division (225 lb. and up) this year, but I’d like to not compete there this year. I think I could get into the top 3 in my age group, which should mean something around 1:45:00 or better. I’m pretty confident of peeling some minutes off my bike time, and if I succeed at the 5k goal above, I should be able to get into the 8:xx/mile pace range for the run.
Write Something Longer
Some stats from last year. Between Kanonical and Just A Dream I wrote 45,563 words in 47 posts. Of these, Math and Theology was by far the longest at 6,639 words. That’d be about 25ish book pages.
I’d like to beat my word count this year. Quantity is important because this is still really hard and it takes practice. The more you practice, the easier it will be.
But I’d also like to write something longer this year. Writing Math and Theology was decidedly different than anything else last year. The whole piece didn’t fit in my mental buffer, so it required a different mindset and different techniques to try to make it all coherent.
I’d like to explore that process even more and write a single piece upwards of 10K or even 20K words. I don’t know yet if it will be fiction or non-fiction, but it will definitely be fun.
Another New Project
I’m looking for another project to build at home. I’ve had the opportunity to play a bit more with Vue.js (12inchesbehind and Vue Vert Bar, for example) and it’s the first JS framework I’m actually somewhat happy in. I’d like to find and build another new project this year. I don’t know what it will be yet, and that makes this goal quite vague, but I’ve got some ideas. Bonus points if it ends up being something I could actually charge money for.