Me: Okay, let’s set realistic goals for 2019.

Also me: Yes! Fully agreed. Okay. Let’s say… A zine every month, two blog posts every month, start an email list and send out an email every week, complete one collective document every month, write a book, 10 narrative sessions every week, revamp and run all the online courses, and take one day off every week. And present at some conferences and publish some papers. And get healthy! And keep the house clean. And get back to Stick Figure Sundays! And maybe start another year-long project. This is going to be great. Keep it realistic.

Me: … wait …

Also me: You’re right. Also read a book EVERY WEEK!!!!!!!!

There’s a running list, in a little cream-coloured notebook, of all the projects I hope to complete. Sometimes I read through the list, see the checkmarks and the projects still coming up or in progress, and I feel excited and accomplished. This is how I like to engage with my goals – always a longer list than I can finish, because it is joyful to do the work that I love.

But many times, and especially at the end of the month and the end of the year when I assess what I accomplished in comparison to what I hoped to accomplish. In those moments, I see everything outstanding and I feel a sharp mix of shame for being so ambitious and shame for not getting enough done. Shame squared. This is nothow I like to engage with my goals, but so often, that’s what ends up happening.

A couple weeks ago, I posted an invitation to contribute to a conversation on this topic.

The new year is coming!!

Some of us (I absolutely do speak of myself here) end up being aggressively recruited into the whole “New Years Resolution” thing, with all the pressure and guilt and shame and excitement and joy and enthusiasm that entails.

I sat down with my journal for a couple hours this afternoon and spent some time starting to plan out my year, and I was so conscious of the pressures of capitalism, ableism, and individualism in my thinking.

At this time of year, we can be influenced by discourses that say all we have to do is “dream it,” and when that doesn’t work, we can end up feeling like we’ve failed. And! At the same time! We can end up feeling powerless and hopeless in the face of dreams that feel entirely unattainable.

If you are a goal setter and year planner, how do you navigate that process?

I want to put together a small collective document to bring some community care to this process that often ends up feeling so individual.

Send me your thoughts about surviving the goal setting season! Comment, send a message, or email me at sostarselfcare@gmail.com. Send your comments in by December 19, so I can have the post ready to go by December 21!

Image description: A to-do list with a pen. (Surviving) 2019 Goal Setting. What we want to accomplish and how we handle the pressure. A little collective document project.

I loved the responses.

Lindsay’s comment echoed my own experiences. She shared, “I find this so challenging. Knowing how much I did not get done has started to push me to stop setting goals, because it is starting to feel futile and like the goals just create undue pressure and guilt – SO not the effect I’m seeking! But I love goal setting and when it feels positive, it’s SO good! I am trying to shift my perspective by tracking “achievements” daily. Some days this might be “took a rest day” or “cooked a healthy meal.” And then there are times where it’ll be “ran in a 10K race” or “presented at my first conference.” I think I need to look back and see that I’ve made positive movements, even if they didn’t always match or meet my goals.”

How do we balance the joy and motivation that can come from recognizing the positive effects of our actions, and the progress in our lives, with the invitations to failure that can come with certain practices of goal-setting?

Or do we even need to “balance” these, which might imply that the preferred state would be to have both in some kind of equilibrium. Is there a way that we can decline to participate in the comparisons and expectations?

Can we find a new way to talk about goals, accomplishments, success and failure?

Some folks had ideas!

Emma shared, “I’m planning on levelling up in a few areas and gaining a new skill or 3 or 5 💗 I’ve got some talent points to carefully spend this year. Increase my damage against the patriarchy. Day to day stuff ya know. This way of looking at it helps me hide my terror at another year of gardening and canning but this year with a 6-month-old! This isn’t just a new year thing, it’s been a way of looking at my overall healing as well.”

The idea of approaching healing as a game, particularly as a roleplaying game that gives you the opportunity to put your “skill points” into areas that you choose, is so delightful and interesting.

It has me wondering about things like what might become possible if we imagined our goal setting projects as quests in a game? Would might shift in our sense of “self” if we imagined ourselves as characters, with skillsets that we could increase through experience points and choice?

If you were playing a game of your life, what class of character would you be? A ranger, a paladin, a rogue, a healer, a warrior? Would you be multi-classed?

(Because my little cream-coloured notebook needs more projects, a thought occurs to me: If I put together a collective document or project on the topic of roleplaying games and their role in our lives, would you want to participate? Let me know!)

Rachel also had an idea about the format of goal-setting. She shared:

Just the act of listing goals in a bullet point list (how most people do it) leads to a total and complete loss of proportion.

Here’s one goal I have for next year next to my major focus goal from this past year:

  • Learn to cook squid
  • Find a post-doctoral job

Those are not the same size at all. The time/number of steps/degree of complexity/degree of that being under my actual control at all are entirely different. But they are the exact same amount of space on a list. So that’s something I will be being careful of in the New Year.

This has me curious – have you found ways to format your documentation of goals so that it’s more representative than a bullet-point list? How do you create the document of your goals?

A couple folks said that reflecting on accomplishments rather than setting new goals was helpful for them.

Dottie shared, “I never know what my life is gonna be like that far in advance so I never know what a realistic goal even looks like lol I am queen of the short term goals. ‘Gonna put my laundry away.’ ‘I hope I can make a pear crisp before these pears go bad but who knows!’ ‘Gonna look back in awe at everything I’ve managed to accomplish.’ ‘Gonna set things aside when I don’t have spoons to finish.’”

This last piece – “gonna set things aside when I don’t have spoons to finish” – feels so important.

Have you ever been able to set something aside because you don’t have spoons to finish? How did you learn to do that?

Richelle also uses reflection as a tool. And her idea turned into the ten-day group that has been running since the 21st! (You can find more information in this facebook album, and you can still join by sending me an email.)

Richelle shared, “I want to do a New Years count down – my top 10 things I’m proud of this year. The pressure to look forward can be overwhelming and I think I want to celebrate what I already am. If media gets to fill time to let staff chill by repeating the awesome that’s happened this year, why can’t I?”

Speaking of chilling…

Shawny shared, “I like to keep it silly/small. Two years ago my resolution was “wear a bra as little as possible.” I met it! It worked great! I’m back to bras, but it was a wonderful year. This year my resolution is “wash my hands more.” It’s also a nice subversion tactic when people ask, especially as a person in a fat body who gets bombarded with extra toxic weight loss goals.”

Rei shared the role of Hygge in helping them work through the process of 2019 goal-planning:

I had a bit of a “lightbulb” moment the other night and a lot of my goal planning for 2019 kind of all fell into place, and along with it, coherent enough thoughts to send something in to you about the goal setting collective document!

I’ll say that I don’t like the idea of “new year’s resolutions” because they tend to set up extremely specific and often unattainable goals that we’ll feel incredibly guilty over when we inevitably fall short. But I do like to pick a couple of key things or areas of my life that I really want to focus on throughout the coming months (I can always adjust course whenever I need to, and I often do reevaluate my goals throughout the year).

My lightbulb moment started with Hygge. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the Danish concept of Hygge (could be roughly translated to coziness, comfort, connection, safety, warmth, and a lot of other related and much more nuanced concepts if you’re not familiar with the term). I really enjoy the idea of exploring Hygge as a way to connect in a spiritual sort of way with my Scandinavian roots and so I know that’s something I want to focus on as one of my goals for 2019. My next step after the main goal is to brainstorm and list a few ways in which to accomplish that goal. I always keep these things as flexible items I can work on over time rather than hard and fast things that NEED to get done so as to realistically honor what my chronically ill self is capable of. While I was listing things to work on to incorporate Hygge into my 2019, I started to think more about what I wanted my life to look like all around, and settled on a couple more areas I want to focus on, mainly Art & Writing, certain organizational/responsibilities based things, and a general sense of self projected through activities and aesthetics. I won’t get into all the details, but I planned out those areas briefly using the same steps as above.

I like to keep my lists, main goals, and sub goals, in a planner or journal to refer back to throughout the year. I can then make more specific goals that are relevant to my schedule and energy needs each day/week/month and so on.

I know that this kind of planning and goal setting probably won’t appeal to everyone, but I very much like the idea of goal setting as a way to try and create a life I love in realistic ways. Ways that honor my capabilities and acknowledge my chronic illness and limitations. It gives me a sense of control when so much of my life is outside of my control, while being realistic about it all so as not to slip into the victim blaming mindset of “if only I come up with the exact right systems and exact right steps and goals I can accomplish anything DESPITE my illness, and if I haven’t then I must not be trying hard enough.” As anyone with chronic illness will know, there are a lot of things I wish I could do that are just not doable in my life as it is, so this method helps me focus on what IS doable to try and create more happiness in my life. A rejection of toxic positivity, and a focus on the realistic and what actually works.

I’ll also mention that I find it very helpful to use the “Life Pie” system from Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” in order to assess various areas of my life and figure out what kind of goals might be helpful to focus on. Though I tweak the categories she uses as “work” in the traditional sense doesn’t apply to my circumstances, and so on.

I appreciate both Rei and Dottie for disability and chronic illness into the conversation, and Shawny for bringing the specific concerns facing folks in larger bodies. Each of the contributors to this small projects bring their own intersections – racialized, queer, trans, disabled, fat, poor. I’m so thankful for that diversity. I am so thankful for my communities.

I’m ending this post with the work of a fellow narrative practitioner, Daria Kutuzova.

In her phenomenal work on “Hijacking the New Year and Other Practices of Anti-Depression,” Daria describes how depression uses “celebration” as triggers, and offers suggestions for an alternate approach. You can find her slideshow here. This section is paraphrased from her work.

Some of her observations about how Depression sneaks in:
– “Taking stock” of the past year (practices of comparison)
– Anticipated lack of the “miracle of renewal”
– Anticipation of things getting worse in the coming year

One of her suggestions is a Tree of the Year exercise as an antidote to these triggers. Here are the questions associated with the Tree of the Year.

– What did you come into the past year with? What was the focus of your attention then?
– Which of your skills and character strengths supported you most through the last year? What new skills have you learned this year?
– Into which projects and relationships have you been putting your time, energy and heart during the last year?
– What were the most magical, sparkling and meaningful moments of the last year?
– What were your successes in the last year, however small or big? What are you proud of?
– What did you pleasantly surprise yourself with in the last year? What good things didn’t you expect, but they happened anyway?
– What gifts have you received in the last year – from people and from life in general?
– What have you lost, had to let go of or had to put on pause in the last year?
– Who has been a really good friend to you in the last year? With whom would you like to celebrate?
– What are your dreams for the coming year? What are your wishes for yourself?
– What were the good habits that you tried to learn/create in your life during the last year, that did not fully “stick”, but while you were doing the routines, it was good?

If we abandon the idea of writing grand, “all or nothing” New Year resolutions, if we decide not to force ourselves into committing fully to doing something for the whole year, but instead look for shorter time increments (a week, a month at the most), which good routines would you like to try in the coming year?

If you find any of these suggestions, reflections, or exercises helpful, I would love to hear about it, and would be happy to pass your reflections on to the contributors.