Why setting quarter-year resolutions works

A year ago I made a list of very big resolutions. I planned to:

  • Start exercising everyday

  • Make 80% of my meals at home

  • Lay out and use a budget spreadsheet

  • Learn Javascript

  • Keep my apartment in an organized state of existence

But, life has a sense of humor

Just 5 things and a year to get them done. Should be doable, right?

Well, at the time I did not have a car, which would be fine if I lived in even a remotely walkable or public-transit friendly city, but I lived near the mall in Charlotte, NC which is decidedly unwalkable and the public-transit leaves much to be desired. I took the bus everywhere which meant I was walking around 3 miles in getting between bus stops and where I needed to go (and somehow I didn’t count this as my exercise). My boyfriend and I would lug groceries home in bookbags as we rode banana-seat style on a scooter that was, in reality, much too small for the two of us. My apartment had a termite infestation which the management would only apply band-aid fixes to before it exploded again and would soon tell us they were knocking the complex down and we would have to move out.

My life felt like one frustrating experience after another and attempting priority management to reach my list of resolutions was a near herculean task.

By March, the apartment complex closed down and we were forced to move along. I bought a car which helped tremendously with moving to another area in Charlotte (not to mention grocery store runs). Once settled in to my new place, I turned my attention back to my list of goals.

I had used up 25% of my year and had nothing to show for it so far. I was not even one step closer toward reaching any of the goals I had set out to accomplish in the year and I felt like I had failed myself.

As someone who prides herself in her reliability to other people, I had a constant problem being reliable to myself.

I never had a problem of setting goals; I just had a problem of cutting myself too much slack when I wouldn’t make the effort I knew I needed to in order to reach them. I can be hard on myself when I fail at doing things I know myself capable of doing (and doing well), but when it comes to new standards, I didn’t have the same same non-negotiable tough love.

I was inconsistent about cutting myself some slack

This fact always sat uneasy with me. I wanted to be more reliable in reaching the goals that I set for myself. What was my problem?

I thought about this question constantly and, through some sort of backwards logic, I stumbled into a solution.

The new woman I moved in with had a taste for eating out and I, for the ease (which prompted the resolution in the first place) as well as for the social/camaraderie aspect, obliged on most occasions. This kept me from advancing at all toward my 80% of meals at home goal. For the first few weeks of being at the new place I didn’t have internet turned on yet which kept me from being able to lay out my budget properly. I didn’t have enough extra cash to buy a good Javascript book. I had packed all of my belongings in liquor store boxes which meant I had around 70 boxes to unload; an organized living space was obviously weeks away.

This meant I really only had one thing I could focus on: exercising every day. I started by doing it on my lunch which was nice to break up the day plus the added benefit of being the only one at the office gym. I made my way through “Orange in the New Black” on Netflix then “House of Cards” which made exercising a way to indulge in a guilty pleasure as I don’t watch television otherwise.

During this time, I got back in the groove of intense cardio so when I switched to going before work I wasn’t conquering 2 tasks (waking up early and pushing myself to finish my exercise regimen). I was only overcoming the task of waking up early. Within a month of switching to exercise in the morning I had made it a habit and now, at the end of 2015, I am proud to say I am a habitual morning exerciser.

I don’t think this would have happened if circumstances hadn’t forced me to only focus on one goal at a time. While my life was in what seemed like chaos, it turned into a gift where I was forced to just work on one goal at a time.

By July I had completely transformed into a regular morning exerciser when chaos arose again. My new apartment was getting broken into regularly. Another young woman living in the apartment complex had been mugged and kidnapped (we were never told if she was okay). While I loved living there, it was not looking like a great idea.

I again packed all my stuff and stayed at my aunt’s house while paying off the lease. My exercise habit stuck, and an opportunity to focus on making more meals at home came to pass. I worked on that goal while I lived there and in September made my third move of the year into a new duplex.

Noticing patterns of accomplishment

I was 66% of the way through with the year and only 40% through with my goals. I cook at home the vast majority of the time now and still exercise every morning, but the budget and organization still eluded me.

At this point, however, I realized exactly what accounted for my success in the other two goals: singular focus.

After unpacking everything at the new place, I immediately set to work on creating a budget and put blinders on for any other goals. I used Asana for a couple months to try to lay out when things were due but that made it difficult to make predictions and tally up the effects of my credit card spending. I finally bit the bullet and in November spent an entire Sunday making a very comprehensive spreadsheet. It’s glorious and I have a routine of going in and tallying up what I’ve spent, in which categories, and tracking it next to my spending goals.

I will end 2014 with a 66% for goals accomplished. That’s a failing grade by any school’s standard by I call it a success for myself, particularly because I notice what works for me in goal setting.

Setting Resolutions for 2015

I have two resolutions that I am rolling over for 2015, but I will not be trying to tackle both at once. Instead, I will be implementing a new practice of quarter-year resolutions. My resolution from now through the end of March will be to learn Javascript.

Are you setting resolutions this week for what you want to accomplish in the next year? If so, I hope you will take my past year as a lesson in priority management when trying to reach your goals.

If you’re plagued with having numerous goals and feeling like you don’t ever fully reach any of them, take a step back and intentionally focus on reaching just one goal. Don’t try your hand at too many or you may find that, amongst the inevitable life chaos, you don’t get any of them done.

Let me know in the comments below just one goal you hope to accomplish in 2015.

Happy New Year folks!