At the beginning of each year, I have become accustomed to setting goals like most people. Blissfully looking into the future, as I churn out resolutions with the silent prayer that this year will be different. That I will be realistic, even pragmatic, while retaining that nervous streak of ambition. That the goals that I have been rehearsing for many years will finally come into fruition. I have become even better at the whole process, involving strategy, tactics and key performance indicators as suitable instruments in the entire endeavour. My mantra always being it is not enough to have a goal but a plan!

New year resolutions debacle

However, as the days, weeks and months drag on, many of these resolutions become herculean tasks. Difficult, tiresome and requiring sheer will power to retain the consistency to achieve them. Many do eventually fall off and those that do remain are an ember short of their initial majestic flame. In a lucky year, I do stumble through the final days with one goal achieved on my belt. A testament that anything is possible.

My goals have always been varied: from wanting to be slimmer and fitter to intellectual pursuits of reading 50 books within a year and most awesomely to becoming an avid writer. All ambitious and all achievable. The difficulty has often not been setting them (I have rehearsed many of them for the last 10 years) but in maintaining the momentum and consistency to achieve them. January always presents the high peak of goal achievement momentum. I am excited, eager to start and I have set the necessary pieces in motion: renewed my gym subscription, picked a book to read and onto my first writing project. But as the weeks and months wear on it becomes difficult to keep up the upbeat. My consistency wanes and I often find myself increasingly reliant on my will power to get things going. The daily workout slowly transforms into a twice a week showing, the book per week maneuvers into a monthly project before trickling to a quarterly one and the writing project dies after the second month. 

Many of us have been here. Many times. And after a while, the near misses and failures makes us despondent and disillusioned with the whole activity of goal setting. At worst, we even discard the whole endeavour entirely; opting for a ‘let life happen’ approach to sooth our afflicted ego. I have given up on my own dreams a couple of times, going with the flow and finally returning back to the same inklings that set me on the initial path. So with time I have adopted a new approach to setting goals and eventually achieving them.

Eating an elephant one bite at a time

A mentor of mine once asked me how one eats an elephant? The obvious answer was with a spoon or a fork. The real answer was bite size.

I had to learn to overcome the normal challenge of setting big hairy audacious goals in order to learn how to set smaller habitual and achievable milestones. It was still useful to know the big picture and map out points of destination. However, it was equally important to understand that in order to get there I needed to work on the Today. Focus on the two steps of the staircase than the whole. So I started working on bite size goals. My annual goal of 50 books transformed to a weekly goal of completing one book. If that was still challenging I broke it down to spending 45 minutes daily reading. My fitness goals evolved from losing weight to working out 30 minutes each day. What I was doing was not novel or a new age hack but what great athletes, philosophers, academics among others had been doing for eons. The trick is that we often encountered them at their peak success. The hard miles of road they had walked to get there was often hidden to us or jumbled into some well-meaning self-help advice.

See failure with different eyes

Beyond miniaturizing my goals, I also needed to overcome another wanton enemy of success: failure. I needed to shift my paradigm of failure into one of setbacks. To do this I needed to learn to be more kind to myself. To appreciate the defeats as much as the successes. So each day I set aside time, to wallow in my own defeat, to grieve the loss and to reflect on the lessons. Conversely, I have also learnt to proactively celebrate my successes. To live the ordinary in an excitable way. 

The full breadth of our lives is mundane, made up of a series of everyday ordinary stuffing but we can also live it serendipitously; by filling out the hollowed out spaces with much joy and presence. And what is a better time to begin this than during this season of Corona where we have to face ourselves and each other.