Another year, another avalanche of collective new year resolutions. January 1st is always a popular time for self reflection and to reevaluate and set goals for the upcoming year. Many people, myself included, start the year with lofty ambitions and an idealized view of what the next 12 months will look like, but how do we actually achieve growth in the new year?
We set goals, make plans, fill out schedules…. everything we can think of to put ourselves on the right track. We think that if we aren’t shooting for the stars, then we aren’t doing enough to improve ourselves.
Then life gets in the way
Our plans and schedules start to fall apart
We are forced to reconcile our new idealized self with the reality of our current situations and make choices about how to best balance our here-and-now with our goals.
This might mean skipping a workout because of an early meeting, or that we don’t have time to read in the hammock because the kids need dropped off at soccer practice.
Often these choices are all-or-nothing. I know I’m guilty of this. “If I don’t have the full 30 minutes to read my book, I’ll just skip it today.” We think that If things aren’t exactly as planned, then they have no value. Or if we can’t completely overhaul our life then we might as well maintain the status quo.
If we look at this at the micro level, it can seem innocent enough. We are making our here and now easier by lightening our daily load.
But over time, these small choices add up; soon its spring and we’ve made little to no progress. We might continue this pattern throughout the year, or simply say “maybe next year.”
In either case we will look back on our year and realize we didn’t achieve what we set out to. Look a little deeper however, and we may realize that not only didn’t we reach our goal, but after an entire year we’re no closer to it than we were.
“sustained progress is critical to reaching your goals”
This illustrates a key point in any sustained growth endeavor: sustained progress is critical to reaching your goals.
So often we stumble in reaching our goals because we feel (and have been taught) that anything less than perfection is worthless (Talladega Nightscomes to mind).
If we can’t read for the full allotted 30 minutes then why bother? If we only have time to run 2 miles and not the 5 we had scheduled then what’s the use?
This mindset is robbing us of reaching our ideal self
“Success is the sum of small efforts — repeated day in and day out.” -Robert Collier
To reach large, exciting, scary goals and to achieve long term sustained successes requires daily actions and choices that add up over time.
Most of us can’t learn a new language in a week or month, or jump off the couch and run a marathon. These things take practice, patience, and dedication.
While driving home from our holiday vacation, my wife and I were listening to this book: Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life. One phrase really stuck out to me. It was a myth that “small steps don’t make a difference.”
This deeply resonated with me as over the last year I’ve seen the difference in progress I’ve made in areas of my life where I maintained consistent small efforts throughout the year versus those areas where I let the drive for perfection lead me to quitting all together.
“Small steps make all the difference”
In my own life, I’ve found that, in fact, small steps make all the difference. That a 2 mile run is better than none. That you can finish a book even in 10 minute intervals. Learning a new skill is better done 15 minutes a day than 1 day a month. In general, we should be focused on making progress.
“Aim for progress; not perfection”
Choosing to make the small efforts sounds so easy on paper (or screen), but often it’s not. If it were, far more of us would likely be hitting our goals year after year. But each day, we have many small choices that ultimately determine our long term success.
We can let perfection get in the way of progress
We can choose what is easy and convenient over what will help us grow
Or we can remember that it’s okay to be imperfect. We can remind ourselves that’s it’s better to achieve half our goal than to give up; that by making small choices and taking consistent steps, we WILL get to where we want to be.