We’re approaching the end of the year and the beginning of an onslaught of pressure to set goals for self-improvement in the new year. With all that pressure, it can be easy to feel like now is the time to change ALL THE THINGS. I want to remind you that you don’t need to start waking up earlier, read more books, make more homemade meals, write thank-you cards, learn Spanish, take guitar lessons, volunteer at the food bank, call your mom more often, drink more water, use your phone less, and practice mindfulness all at once. It’s great to want to improve and grow, AND remember that you don’t have to work on everything at the same time. If your list of goals is starting to get as long as a CVS receipt, it might be time to consider that perfectionism may be taking over your goal-setting.
Self-criticism might be telling you that you really DO need to change all of your habits at once because you’re not good enough. Perfectionism might tell you that not setting goals in all areas of your life means you aren’t trying hard enough. If your goals are bred by feelings of self-criticism and inadequacy, you’ll likely have a hard time sticking to them. In the end, trying to criticize yourself into changing probably isn’t going to help you. On the other hand, if your goals are born out of a desire to have more of what matters to you, you’re more likely to feel motivated to achieve your goals.
If you want to increase your chances of success, pick one or two goals that resonate with you, rather than having an intimidating, stress-inducing list of things you’re trying to change at once. Real, meaningful change happens through gradual, focused effort. Think about how an icicle forms–one drop of water at a time, dripping and freezing in the same spot over and over until the icicle takes shape. Give yourself a chance to focus on improving one important thing at a time, instead of overburdening yourself with a long list of goals.
Here’s one strategy for creating a short, manageable list of goals:
- Start with a brain-dump. Write down all the things you feel like you should or want to change. It’s ok if the list is long.
- Cross off anything on the list that feels like it’s coming from self-criticism.
- Cross off anything on the list that feels like it’s coming from someone else’s expectations, instead of from what really matters to you.
- Look at what’s left, and limit yourself to circling just five items that resonate with you.
- Of those five, narrow down to three (I know, this is hard!).
- Turn your three items into SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-defined). For example: instead of “Read more books,” try “Read 12 books by December 31, 2023.”
- Write down your three SMART goals in a place where you’ll see them daily.
I hope that as you wrap up 2022 and begin 2023, you’ll be able to feel hopeful and excited about the growth and change ahead of you. If overwhelm is starting to flood over you, remember that it’s ok to simplify, ok to say “no” or “not yet” to some changes, and definitely ok to remember that perfectionism does not have to be in charge of your life.