How I Set Goals

I’m going to talk about goal setting in a more general way – less about the goals I’ve set, and more about how I choose to set them. I’ve mentioned previously that I have a skewed perception of how much there is of something, whether that’s a physical/concrete resource, or something more abstract like time. There’s also the fact that as much as I like to believe I can control everything (a topic for therapy, if nothing else), I most certainly can’t, and there are so many things that can come up from the beginning of the day to the end. This isn’t supposed to be defeatist in tone, but more so a recognition of the fact that I don’t exist in a vacuum and there are many things that take up my time and energy. I’m a sentimental and emotional person, so when I set my heart on a goal, the goal is likely to be lofty, life-changing, or something that becomes all consuming in some way or another until I lose motivation, dopamine, or time to keep it up.

What this resulted in – frequently, but not always – was a pendulum swing in the opposite direction of “if I can’t keep this up, I’m just not going to do it at all,” which isn’t the most helpful approach either. It’s taken me a long time to figure this out, but the easiest changes to make are ones that aren’t going to build up to exhaustion, or deplete other resources like willpower or focus (not trying to sound like a hustle and grind type, I do legitimately mean that I backslide or get distracted more easily). I remember reading in a study skills guide for college students that if you studied a bunch but got a meh grade, you shouldn’t try to do a complete overhaul of how you approach studying, but should instead change one thing at a time to isolate which one thing is (or isn’t) working. I used this while studying, though it took me longer than it should to realise I could apply this to settings beyond academia – and even then, I’ve only really started using it in the last year or so.

I’m also the type of person who likes to do “prewards” (pre-rewards) as in I have the thing that was supposed to be my reward for completing a task BEFORE even starting, since having the thing first will motivate me to get the work done. While this might sound completely backwards (I mean, it is), it has worked sometimes, but it’s super context-specific and not always repeatable. Which means that it also wasn’t a sustainable approach to “treating myself” since I knew full well that if I was the one to give myself the reward, I’d just go get it/order it online immediately and then it’s done and taken care of, and the happy chemicals maybe carry me through the task until I get bored of it. Basically, unless there was someone else involved in the equation, I would get done what got done and usually put myself and my needs last (not sure if you’ve seen this trend on tiktok, but dishes are the Rocco to my Elmo, and generally the last chore to get done – and even then I’ve eaten a piece of chicken off the lid of a cookie tin with a plastic butter knife).

I finally figured out that what works best for me is to make my goals (and the steps of these goals) much smaller – which took a lot of tinkering to figure out. I point this out not to rag on myself, but for the sake of transparency that I didn’t suddenly understand how my motivation works overnight once I decided to take a closer look. In case this hasn’t already been explicitly stated, I’m a fun mix of perfectionist, procrastinator, stubborn, and super competitive all rolled into one – which meant that if I wasn’t almost guaranteed a success, I wouldn’t bother doing it, or I would wait until the panic set in and rush to complete it (which didn’t change until late in my degree, since I could still churn out a psych term paper in around 10 hours with minimal editing, and still get 80-85%, so I had no reason to change if the grades were still good enough). I’ve discovered that the flip of that works for me even better – setting a goal that is so simple it would be difficult to fail. In the debt-free community, this would be akin to shifting from an avalanche to snowball perspective, but I don’t necessarily want to build up like the snowball effect. I like having such a wide berth of wiggle room that I can choose to be go-go-go for a few weeks, and then take a break and ignore the goal entirely since I’m not only a bit ahead, I’m ridiculously ahead.

For the sake of making this less abstract, I’ll use the virtual race/walk that I signed up for that is 1332.5 km/828 mi. This is the distance of Highway 1 around Iceland, and that’s the challenge I signed up for about nine months ago. If I wanted to complete this in a year, I would have to complete 3.65 km/2.27 mi per day. The maximum number of days the challenges are allowed to be set as the completion time is 564 days, or just over a year and a half. The challenge accepts any activity to be converted into a distance according to their conversion chart, so even if I don’t have time for an actual walk that day, the housework that I do and the dance party I have in between tasks still gets counted as a recordable distance. You bet I set the deadline as the furthest out day, which only required 2.4 km/1.5 mi a day (which I get from walking around at work if I happen to remember to carry my phone with me, according to my pedometer). I’m not an overly fitness-oriented person, so having an app tell me every day that I’m amazing for being 360 km/220 mi ahead of my set pace is great for my ego and for motivating me to keep going. At this rate, I’m going to finish before the 1-year mark (74% of the distance done, versus 47% if I only did the daily minimum), but had I told myself I only had a year to complete it, I would have likely given up a while ago and asked for my money back. I’m also doing well by my body for doing the physical activity on a daily-ish routine, but even then, my motivation is like, 67% seeing how wide the percentage gap can be between my completion rate versus the pace, 30% seeing how strong I can get from using free weights, and 3% I like putting stickers on my calendar. Either way, it works for me, and that’s what matters.

What I hope you’re able to take away from this is that your approach to goal setting can be influenced by techniques and information that has been tested and successful for others, but it doesn’t need to be exactly what others are doing if your brain/motivation/situation isn’t the same. Heck, I don’t even expect that my method will work for everyone – but my point is, don’t be too unkind to yourself as you’re figuring things out, allow for flexibility as you navigate what works, and celebrate your progress and wins as loudly as you feel they should be (that’s 100% an invitation to tell me about your progress in my DMs on instagram).

Anyhoo, toodaloo on me being super chatty this week – more structured content will be back next week. Thanks for reading!

January Review

With the first month of my No Buy year finishing up, I thought it would be good for me to have a look at how things have been going this month. One month down, 11 to go!

No Buy:

I made it! I made it through the whole month without buying anything from my no-buy categories. I had a birthday gift to send (gifts are part of my allowed categories), and I took care of booking a flight to visit family (travel is allowed, and I didn’t want to not get a discount while it was available), but other than that, there were no other purchases outside of necessities. I feel good about making it through the month without really wanting to buy anything, and part of that has to do with doing inventories for each category, as well as my tracker for clothing and accessories. I think things will keep going like this for now, as I didn’t have anything on my wish list, and there isn’t anything that I’ve felt like I might “need” otherwise. There were a few new releases that I looked at online, but I walked away from the site knowing I didn’t need it, so nothing was purchased.

Books:

I forgot that I had a library book left to finish from December. I also tutor some students and I had to (re)read some classic titles to help them with upcoming essays. You can see where this is going, in that I likely didn’t finish reading both books that I set out to read – and you’d be correct. I was able to finish jut over half of the linguistics book, but the father of impressionism will have to wait a little while longer. I think having flexibility for this sort of thing is necessary, otherwise I’ll just be reading for the sake of completing a TBR, rather than enjoying the works as they should be.

Productivity:

I know this already about myself, but I forgot just how much more productive I am when I have my “perfect” amount of a full schedule. Granted, I’m getting a chance to express myself creatively while sticking to my goals, but I haven’t been at this level of “go” in a while. Knowing what had to get done – and things that could be pushed to later – allowed me to take on smaller bits of larger tasks throughout the month, rather than what I’d usually do, of setting out to do something big but not finishing it once I get tired. The clothing tracker is not 100% done, and I’m okay with that – I wrote in the majority of the categories I usually wear, and that matters more to me than a filled notebook where I can’t find where things are because I rushed the process.

Procrastination:

This was an interesting mix – I had some tasks that I’d hesitate to get started on, but others where I limited what I expected myself to complete, which made it easier to start. I also went back to using the 5/10/15 minute start rule (scaled up according to the task), where if after 5, 10, or 15 minutes of attempting to do the task, I still am not in the right headspace to tackle it, I stop and come back to it later. I find this most helpful when it’s for chores I like the least, as I tend to have a skewed perspective of how long something will take to complete (which I’ll talk about more in a future post).

What I will keep doing/what helped:

The biggest help? All the support I’ve had this month. IRL, my parents have been keen to check in and see how I’m doing, as well as lend an ear if I need to work through things – and my friends have been so willing to offer advice and feedback as I’ve been figuring things out. Online, my little community of other no/low-buyers sharing where they’re coming from, what their “why” is, sharing vulnerable moments – and offering support or another point of view has been so powerful to be surrounded by. Community is important to me in general, and being able to find other people in similar yet unique situations has helped keep the self-critiques to a minimum – and its hard to say I’m coming from a place of no judgement toward others and but then let the meanie voice run rampant for myself. So, thank you for the comments about how much something has hit home from my writing, to the dm check-ins, and anyone who has reached out in other ways – it has made a world of difference 🙂

What I will do differently in the future:

This month felt a bit like getting into university: a commitment to a long-term goal that has a fixed but flexible path to follow, with a lot of optional stuff on the side that I don’t have to do, but I sure tried to. While there’s no “wrong” way to approach a no/low-buy challenge, I do have a tendency to try to do more than there are hours in a day or I have energy for. Part of it has to do with the skewed time perspective, another deals with how competitive I am (in the sense that if I say I’ll do 10 more entries in the clothing tracker before bed, I would push and make it to 15 just to say that I could), and another part is pure curiosity for trying out different things. I think for February, I’ll focus on my planned content, as well as leave myself wiggle room for new ideas as they come up.

Later this week, I’ll go into detail about what exactly my February focus will be – as well as dropping some new printables for you on Saturday. Thanks for reading!