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It’s 2018 - Stop “Shoulding” All Over Yourself

It’s my new favorite expression.

The last few weeks have been full of ads for gym memberships, healthy eating websites, and other reminders that January is the annual “reset” button for life choices. People are inundated with what they should be doing. We should stop doing this, or should start doing that.

Instead of rushing toward what we love, we’re encouraged to shape ourselves into false obligations (faux-bligations, you’re welcome).

So, how can a checklist of “shoulds” in January translate to success in July? Glad you asked. Follow me.

Setting big, bold goals is part of the exciting possibility that comes with a new year. The new year brings opportunity to evaluate and reflect on life.

Bask in the potential for a bit and take time to assess the “why” behind the “what”.

Eating healthy, saving money, or travelling more are all admirable goals. But really getting into the “why” is a critical aspect of achieving those goals. Are you striving to travel more because the experience makes for an interesting memoir? So you can learn another language? Because gourmet vagabond Anthony Bourdain makes it look awesome? All of these are viable reasons, but understanding what motivates the goal will help you push through when things are difficult.

Another important aspect of the ‘why’ is to pinpoint if this goal is truly yours, or belongs to someone else. Too often we aspire to things because of someone else’s accomplishment. Still worse is setting goals based on a memory of our former selves as the driving force.

I’m not saying hold back, but comparing yourself to the 25-year-old version of you is more likely to end in injury or disappointment.

None of us will ever look, lift, or perform better than a memory shifting over time.

“I used to be able to” is the kiss of death for any future success. This, right now, is the body, financial situation, and ecosystem you occupy. Set goals outside your comfort zone, but within the bounds of what you can control. Keep your goals forward-looking. State your intent and make a plan to keep things on track. Defining ‘why’ is fuel for when the novelty of a goal turns into the reality of training and self-discipline.

Writing down the steps and timelines makes a deeper connection with a goal.

1. Find what inspires you and pursue it relentlessly.

It doesn’t have to make sense or fit into someone else’s schema. It doesn’t have to look good on paper or drive profitability. Do it. Keep doing it. Fail spectacularly at it. Get frustrated to the point of ugly crying. Then ugly cry for a bit. Then start at it again, but with a new understanding and appreciation of the process. Keep working at it until you don’t recognize yourself anymore. Because you’ve become the person who is accomplishing this thing you never thought possible.

2. Build a plan.

Goals without a defined path quickly become overwhelming. Want to run a marathon? Build a plan. Travel more? Build a plan. Pay down credit cards? Build a plan. Defining a plan has several benefits. It helps break down a large goal into a series of smaller tasks. You can measure progress along the way and make course corrections. The process of planning also causes you to get more specific and realistic about what can be accomplished.

The plan doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does need to be captured in whatever form works best for you. I’m very visual, so having an outline posted in full view is more helpful than a list buried somewhere.

3. Have a healthy amount of tension in your goals.

Frustration and internal conflict can be a necessary part of growth. That is where the change happens.

4. Set your intent.

The first time I heard this expression was during a snowboarding lesson. The instructor was emphasizing the connection between a line of sight and direction of travel. Super helpful for avoiding trees, but also translates nicely into achieving goals.

5. Remember to reward yourself along the way.

Goals definitely fall into a category of “the journey, not the destination”. Yes, that sense of accomplishment is huge. But the process of becoming, and mastery along the way, lasts much longer. Anyone can show up on race day, you’ll have put in all those pesky training miles that get to the finish line. Include acknowledgments of the times you wanted to quit, but decided to stay.

Believe in yourself and keep moving forward, especially when that gremlin starts whispering in your ear that this is all a waste of time. Even if it looks like ugly crying, you are crushing it right now.

Originally published at on January 7, 2018

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