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Fitting your goals into your daily life
I often get asked to describe what my book’s about. My answer? In short, making good choices about how we spend our time.
Each year, and every quarter, that’s part of what I think back on: How do I spend my days? What am I super happy with? And what’s crying out to be changed?
No doubt you also have things you’d like to do much more. (Or far far less.) Maybe you have a new year’s resolution that’s starting to fade, or a goal you’re working on this quarter, or a dream you have yet to start pursuing.
If you have goals that focus on some future result (like I want to slim down to a weight of X or I want to read more books in 2023 or I want to write), it can be useful to approach these plans from a time perspective. That is, by looking at what you spend your time on. You can then choose to make drastic changes, but that’s not required. You can also take a more gradual approach.
The drastic cut
These are the big ones—when you want to drastically reduce the time you spend on something or simply cut it out of your life altogether. Folks who are nearly through Dry January know what I’m talking about. Other examples include deciding not to touch your phone in the evenings. Or like a few years back, when I went cold turkey on Netflix.
Drastic cuts can be appealing, and they can really change your sense of how much time you have in a day. But they do require a good deal of self-discipline.
Regardless of how your latest attempt is going, committing to a strict regime—even temporarily—can be a great way to kickstart more intentional choices in your life. And be gentle with yourself if you slip up. After all, even a not-quite-completely-dry January will often change your choices for the better in the months to come.
For best results:
Make sure your drastic change is super clear and non-negotiable. If you say you can watch only one streaming episode, that can easily turn into two, and that makes change hard. Make it easier on yourself by not watching at all for a given time, or only on certain set days.
Start a streak. Keep track of each day you manage to hit your goal. The desire to keep the streak going can give you extra motivation to keep at it. There are apps that help (I use streaks), but you can also track your progress on a paper calendar, Seinfeld-style.
The drastic addition
Want to introduce something new into your life? Many of our plans and goals require a serious time commitment. So if you want to start something new, don’t just do the thing you want to do, but make room for it by cutting out other stuff.
Less drastic cuts
The idea of a complete turnaround in your habits can be hugely appealing. Smaller, less drastic changes? Less so. But this is where you can book some solid results. That’s because making little changes today, where you do just a tiny bit better than yesterday, are often the things that stick.
You know the familiar tips for cutting back: making clear agreements, keeping track of progress, and letting someone else in on your plans who can hold you to them.
Here’s something else that helps me: Kick small things off with a drastic start. Some time back for instance, I cut out drinking coffee entirely, as an experiment. After my system reset, it was far easier to go back to 2 cups a day and stick with it.
Less drastic additions
So you want to read more books, take more walks, spend more time with friends, or eat healthier meals? Nothing earth-shattering about such resolutions. But without a reliable strategy, you could get to the end of 2023 (or the end of the first quarter) and see that nothing’s come of them.
You don’t necessarily have to scrap other activities first, like you do with drastic additions, but I’ve found that designating a time for your new challenge makes all the difference. “Meditating more” this year is suddenly a lot easier when you make time for it each morning before breakfast. Coupling your goal with a specific, fixed moment in your day is key.
And it’s important to make these changes so small that you can meet them effortlessly. So, maybe don’t launch into hour-long meditation sessions if you’re just starting out. Try ten minutes, or whatever works for you and the thing you want to add. Then build it out, step by step.
Looking at how we spend our days is a really nice, lowkey way to look at what we’re doing with our lives. It makes clear where my ideal image for myself doesn’t line up with my actual life, and makes change realistic and doable. You can’t do it all of course, and adding any new stuff means something else has to move aside.
So take a fresh look at those goals and plans you have for the year. And see where you can fit them into—or cut them out of—your daily life.
Have a good week,
produced by the language girl