The inevitable influx of articles has begun. New Year, New You! 30 Days to Bikini Abs. How to Achieve Your Goals in 2022. Intentions, resolutions, goals—these may excite and motivate you, or they might be cause for overwhelm and depression. If you are an ambivalent goal setter, you might need to think about goals setting through the lens of self-care.
I have nothing against setting goals at the start of a new year. Some years I do; others, I don’t. Some years I’ve achieved those goals; most years I’ve forgotten them by June (or, if I’m honest, February).
However, as the new year loomed, I realized I had some goals, as well as habits I wanted to restart. I spent a couple of days reflecting on 2021 before pinpointing the things I want to focus on this year. I approached goal setting with my mental health in mind. Achieving a particular goal isn’t worth sacrificing my mental, physical, or spiritual health.
If you’re an ambivalent goal setter this year, these tips are for you.
Don’t Set Any Goals
You don’t have to set goals. We live in a productivity-obsessed, achievement-oriented culture, so many of us feel pressure to set goals. But it’s not a requirement for being human—or even for productivity or achievement. If you feel an internal resistance to setting goals, I do think it’s worth exploring why—but I also think you should honor that feeling.
Keep in mind that we’re nearing the two-year anniversary of when our lives changed drastically due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And it’s still not over. Even if you live in an area where life has mostly returned to “normal,” you are likely still experiencing the ongoing effects—and stress—of the pandemic.
If you are an ambivalent goal setter, you likely have good reason to be. Honor yourself by choosing self-care over self-improvement.
Set a Focus Instead
As 2022 begins, I’m coming off a busy fall and a difficult December. I shut down every optional part of my life in December to focus on my mental health. I did not blog or use social media for most of December, and I started counseling again. Any plans or goals I had for the final month of the year were pushed aside in favor of focusing on my mental and spiritual health.
If you are ambivalent about goal setting, consider setting a focus instead. Perhaps you sense a need to focus on your home, or relationships, or, like me, your mental health. I think choosing a focus for the year (or even for a month!) can help to inform your decisions as you move into a new year.
Asked to serve on that committee? I can’t, I’m tending to my mental health right now. Your kids want to sign up for art classes? Not this session; it interferes with family dinner, and you’re focusing on those relationships right now.
Reflect Before You Set
If you want to set goals in the new year, I think it’s helpful to take a couple of days to reflect on the past year. (I used these questions from Tsh Oxenreider this year.) Doing so allows you to take stock of what worked and what didn’t, and how you’re feeling as you move into a new year.
Take the Long View (You Literally Have All Year)
As an Enneagram One, I lean heavily toward perfectionism. When it comes to goals, this means I often hit the ground running—hard—on January 1, only to burn out by…oh, say January 10. It took me years to understand myself enough to recognize this pattern. This year, I’m taking a long view with the goals I’ve chosen to set.
You literally have all year and beyond to work on these goals. If you set a goal for 2022, choose one concrete action you can take in January to make it happen.
Of the five or six goals I’ve set, I chose three to take steps toward achieving in January. For each of those three, I’ve chosen one or two baby steps to take this month.
For instance, one of my goals is to incorporate more movement into my everyday life. My goal for January is just to make a few purchases (like a pedometer and a standing desk) to help me move more. I’m not planning to walk every day or make any other changes to my life. I’m just starting by buying a couple of tools that will help me take steps toward my goal of increasing my daily movement.
I’m a huge fan of Gretchen Rubin’s work, especially her book Better Than Before. (I’ve also referenced her Four Tendencies framework multiple times!)
What I love about Better Than Before is that Rubin helps us to understand why we haven’t been successful with making changes before, and how we can become successful. Much of her work can be boiled down to a quote from Annie Dilliard: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” With that maxim in mind, Rubin focuses on building habits to impact change and create a more meaningful life.
You can do the same. Rather than naming a huge, all-encompassing, and likely overwhelming goal like “Eat healthier,” think about the habits you can form to aid you in that goal. Perhaps in January, you’ll simply focus on making sure there’s at least one fruit or vegetable on your plate at every meal. In February, you might limit your sweets only to items you bake from scratch.
Building habits that support your big-picture goals will carry you further than an all-in perfectionist mentality.
Give Yourself Grace
If you decide to set goals in 2022, be realistic with yourself, and consider why you really want to set those goals. Is it because you think you should, or because you really desire to see change in your life in that area, and you think it’s worth pursuing? Are you trying to turn yourself into a fully optimized human, or are you gently leading yourself into new arenas of growth?
Revisit your goals regularly and extend grace to yourself. If a goal that you set in January feels like an ill-fitting coat in March, allow yourself to discard it without beating yourself up.