A Pro-Resolutions Case
For some years now, an anti-new-year-resolutions stance has been growing popular. There are the usual arguments of how resolutions should not be made only once a year but as needed, or how resolutions simply box one into limited possibilities, or how it might be harder to course-correct if unforeseen things happen, and so on.
Um. Sorry. Not buying it.
I have been making annual resolutions for decades now. I have not always checked ALL of them off perfectly as my 2016 summary shows. But I am much closer to my longer-term life goals because of the annual process of thinking over what I have accomplished in the past year, where I need to focus in the coming year, and how I am going to do that.
We expect detailed annual business plans from the companies we work for or invest in. Why should we not make similar plans for our own lives?
By some point in adulthood — during our twenties if we’re lucky — we have a vision, hazy though it may be, of our ideal career and life. For me, it was always about creative writing even though I was light years away from pursuing it as a full-time vocation. Still, each year, I took certain steps to help me get closer — whether that involved taking writing workshops or reading writing how-to books or writing short stories. I did these things in purposeful ways because of my annual habit of reflecting on my situation and the options available given my financial and time constraints, then creating appropriate goals, milestones, and tasks.
There is also a ritualistic, habit-like aspect to this annual self-reflection exercise. And habits can be powerful when leveraged properly.
Overall, I am a metrics-driven and goal-driven person. I need to be working toward some larger purpose at all times. This has stood me in good stead throughout my corporate career and I have applied it throughout my personal life also for a long time.
For me, a resolution is a hierarchy of goal -> milestone(s) -> task(s) -> habit(s). I plan and track the entire hierarchy as part of my resolution management process.
However, as many people use these words interchangeably, let’s get clear on definitions first.
A GOAL is something we want to achieve. And, yes, it should be SMART. So, something like “Complete 10 short stories in 2017.”
A MILESTONE is like a sub-goal, a marker to show progress toward a goal. Something like “Complete 1 short story a month.”
A TASK is an action item that gets us closer to the milestone or goal. A good example: “Finish first draft of each short story in 1 week.” For me, a first draft in seven days translates to a much better chance of hitting the above milestone.
A HABIT is a regular discipline or ritual that supports any or all of the above. Like: “Write 1K+ words daily.”
Let me state the obvious: it is most important that resolutions are realistic and specific, not simply high-level intentions. “Get a book published” or “Be more grateful” are not going to be very successfully implemented. That hierarchy of goal -> milestone(s) -> task(s) -> habit(s) is necessary.
Resolution Management Is An Ongoing Process, Not A One-time Event
Another obvious point: writing down resolutions and then forgetting about them till the year ends is a fruitless exercise. An ongoing progress review process is essential. I review progress weekly for tasks and monthly for milestones and goals.
Think of it this way. You go for your annual physical checkup and your doctor gives you a few pointers on what you need to change, stop, or start. You come home and forget all about it till your next checkup. It is highly likely that you will find yourself going back in for more than just checkups.
Setting resolutions is also not a once-a-year party you throw and then spend the rest of the year trying to forget what happened. (Speaking of: how come those who are anti-resolutions as a once-a-year event are happy enough to throw or go to once-a-year New Year celebration parties?)
I’m not going to get into how to decide which resolutions are right for you. My annual resolutions focus on these areas: personal health, personal finance, reading, writing, and relationships. When I worked in the corporate world, I had a category for my professional career too. Your categories may vary.
If you get the hierarchy above, you’ll do just fine. And there are plenty of articles out there if you need more help.
There is also an ongoing debate about whether resolutions should be about things you would like to start doing versus stop doing. I have always created resolutions for things I want to do versus not do. Read why in my book review of The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.
How to Track Resolutions
There are many free apps to help with goal tracking. Some of them even hold you accountable with real financial penalties. I have been using the GTD methodology with Evernote for a few years now. Here’s how to incorporate goal-tracking. It takes a bit of time to do the initial setup, then it works smoothly. A couple of personal tips I would add to that how-to:
— With step 4, I keep all my goal-related notes in a single notebook and just shortcut the notebook rather than doing the saved search thing.
— Evernote has a reminder feature but not with recurring reminders. So, I get around that by creating weekly calendar tables with task-level actions and checkboxes and placing them in the “Progress Report” section of the goal detail note (see step 2). There’s a screenshot below. Then, during my weekly review, I summarize the week’s progress at the top of the note and clear the table to start a new week. You can also use IFTTT — there’s an applet for recurring reminders in Evernote. Just keep in mind that, whatever system you go with, do not make it so automated that you are not looking at your goals and tasks list at least weekly. Yep — weekly.
My 2017 Reading and Writing Resolutions
These are my top-level goals. I have, of course, specific milestones, tasks, and habits underlying each of these so I can track progress.
1 Complete 20 works of fiction, creative non-fiction, and book reviews.
2 Get 10 works published.
3 Get ongoing short story collection professionally edited by end-June and start querying.
4 Take 1 in-person writing workshop.
5 Read 35 books (more books in translation, more rereads, more non-fiction)
6 Write 25+ Indiatopia posts highlighting books, literary magazines, and writers.
My 2017 Word of the Year
Last year, I started focusing on a single word to define my year. 2016 was Commitment and it really worked for me. It was a kind of personal mantra I referred to often to keep me, yes, committed.
For 2017, I am going with Self-discipline. Here’s why:
So, Here’s Looking At 2017
In 2016, I I lived and shared some richly diverse lives through the stories I wrote and got published: a street vendor whose sense of right and wrong is upended overnight; a a sari shop worker who blurs the lines between his real life and his fantasy world; a wife who continues to love her husband even after death; a house maid who dreams of a new world for herself; a father who cannot handle the violently splintering relationship with his adolescent son; an auto driver who finally finds his godlike wings; an architect who learns the difference between moral values and material success; a grieving married couple for whom secrets have consequences; a divorcee who realizes that baking, much like life, does not have to be a prescribed science and that adding the odd, surprise substance into the mix can be interesting — both in life and in baking; a teenager who finds meaning and happiness in dancing to her own rhythms; an English Lit professor who cannot let go of certain memories; and more.
[Note: I also visited some cool places in India — more on that sometime later.]
Writing, for me, is an act of exploration and cognitive reframing. Through fictional stories, I am able to understand and appreciate better whatever I am creating — a human being, an experience, an emotion, a moment, a place, an object. It deepens my experience of and engagement with the world; allows me to bear witness.
The actual process of writing — the aesthetic pleasure of playing with language, words, ideas — is where I find my ideal, magical flow state.
I hope to continue growing as a writer in 2017 so that I might have both the skills and the chutzpah to tackle more difficult/varied themes, characters, subjects. And, if any readers are able to experience even a smidgen of the above with one of my stories, that is always the cherry on the icing on the cake.