The #1 Reason Why January Sucks for Setting Goals

It's okay if your plans fall apart

I don’t love setting new year’s resolutions.

It’s tough enough for me to set personal and professional goals without all the pressure of “designing my perfect year” or “getting it right for the new year”.

That’s not to say I don’t set annual goals. I do. I even set them in December with the intention of starting fresh in January. (I know, so cliche.)

But I don’t choose those months because of the changing of the calendar. I choose them because it’s a time of year when I’m consistently at my best.

I freaking love the holiday season and its accompanying traditions. From the camaraderie of Thanksgiving to the magic of Christmas to the last drop of champagne on New Year’s Eve, I adore it all. Always have.

And for the last several years, I’ve created my own little tradition of looking back on the past year—discarding the bad, savoring the good—and looking forward to how I want to feel and what I want to accomplish over the next 12 months. Based on what I come up with, I select a word to anchor me as I set my goals (this year’s is Perspective). I even put together a virtual vision board and plaster it to my computer desktop.

I mean, wouldn’t I have to turn in my life coach card if I didn’t create a G.D. vision board once in a while?

That’s what works for me. But I find so many others are doing themselves a disservice by coordinating their annual goal-setting with ultimately arbitrary dates on the calendar.

While the holiday season may be a magical time for me, it is the absolute WORST for many. Anxiety-inducing. Depressing. Anti-climactic. Way-too-fucking-busy-to-get-all-introspective-and-intentional-about-the-upcoming-year.

Most of us are at our worst in January.

On a basic level, the holiday season encourages us to act in ways we usually don’t. Like eating and drinking way more than usual. Exercising less. Falling out of routines (i.e., getting enough sleep). Picking fights we’d normally let slide. Over-committing because year-end is insane at work. And why the hell can’t Santa do his own shopping?

So it’s no surprise when New Year’s Day rolls around most people are thinking, “I’ve gotta lose weight / try that ridiculous juice cleanse / exercise more / join a yoga studio / do Sober January / reformulate career goals / get finances under control / rehab ALL THE THINGS.”

In essence, we go from extreme indulgence to extreme life makeover in the span of a month. Just as two wrongs don’t make a right, two extremes don’t result in balance. Instead of balance, we end up with unrealistic expectations and a setup for failure.

And that, friend, is the number one reason why so many new year’s resolutions crap out within a matter of weeks.

If any of this is sounding familiar, consider choosing another time of year for self-examination and setting goals.

Think about the time(s) of year you feel most like yourself. Most at ease. With the fewest obligations. And plenty of opportunities for spending a few hours reflecting, dreaming and strategizing.

  • Maybe your birthday is the perfect time for you to think about the past year and what you want your next year to look like. Perhaps while you’re relaxing at a spa thanks to a thoughtful birthday gift. Or during a solo excursion to your favorite coffee spot.
  • Is there a time of year when work is excruciatingly slow? Give your desperation for billables a break and use that time to get your personal and professional life in order. By the time work ramps up again, you’ll have cleared out what wasn’t working for you and be ready for your next challenge.
  • How about a holiday you don’t really celebrate but your office is closed? You could make President’s Day weekend your resolution setting bitch. Or forget about honoring Christopher Columbus’s “discoveries” and instead explore your process for creating meaningful goals.
  • There are two solstices and two equinoxes every year; pick one of those as your start date and use the three others to conveniently mark your quarterly reviews.

Just pick a day (or two or three), schedule a block of time and give yourself the best chance of figuring out what you really want for the foreseeable future. Don’t short-change yourself, here. You need dedicated time for reflection and strategizing so you’re primed for success. Whatever success means to you.

Also, while I usually intend to “start over” in January, it doesn’t always work out that way. Because shit happens. As does vomit. That right there should give you an idea of how I rang in 2015. (And let’s not forget about the month-long head cold that overlapped with this delightful stomach flu.)

My intent isn’t to gross you out via TMI, but to let you know:

It’s okay if your plans fall apart before you even get started.

It’s mid-January, and I’m still easing back into the land of the living. Instead of thinking I’m “behind” on my goals before I’ve even had a chance to focus on them, I’m taking on each one as I’m able. Without beating myself up or declaring the new year a complete failure.

It’s like if you get a stress fracture in your foot tomorrow, you obviously can’t train for that spring marathon as planned. So let that go. Put it on the back burner for when your foot has healed—maybe later in the year, maybe not for another year or two—and move one of your other goals to the forefront. Or create a completely new one.

You’re in control.

You don’t need to let the turning of a calendar page dictate when or how you resolve to improve your life. The only thing you need to do is give yourself a real opportunity to make the meaningful changes you so deserve.

And it doesn’t have to happen in January.

What time of year are you at your best? How will selecting your own special annual review date change the way you view and set your goals / resolutions? Share in the comments!

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