3, 2, 1, GOAL!

Why setting lots of goals is better than having one big one

A woman practices yoga at a centre in Kuala Lumpur
A woman practices yoga at a centre in Kuala Lumpur
Image: Reuters/Zainal Abd Halim
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If the past two years have taught me anything, it’s that the future is uncertain. And yet, despite the capricious nature of the universe, I spent the first day of January writing down 22 goals for 2022.

I got the idea from the podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin. As Rubin writes on her blog, many people find that writing annual lists, and checking in on their progress throughout the year, is a more enjoyable alternative to making traditional New Year’s resolutions.

For me, New Year’s resolutions have always felt too narrow and rigid. I’ve got to commit myself to one thing I want to change, and then inevitably fail at it? It’s too much pressure! Far better to spread my ambitions around, from the lofty (write a book proposal) to the mundane (find a new system for organizing my shoes).

When I sat down a few days ago to make my list of 22 goals, I wrote them knowing that chances are slim that I’ll get to everything. First of all, there’s the aforementioned unpredictability of life. The pandemic could well interfere with my plans to visit friends in Mexico City or go on a reporting trip. I could break my ankle on an icy sidewalk tomorrow, and there go my plans to do yoga every day.

There are also hurdles presented by my own struggles with self-esteem and willpower. I want to write a song this year, with the help of Jeff Tweedy’s book How to Write One Song. But I may get stuck on the first verse, or get so down on myself that I never even try to write a song at all.

Still, I suspect that for many people who partake in this annual ritual, the point is less about achieving all 22 items on our list, and more about giving ourselves the time and space to reflect on our hopes and priorities.

Goal-setting seems to come naturally to some folks—the type who are always training for a new half-marathon and have no trouble sticking to a budget to save for their dream vacation. But others, myself included, need a little more structure to really think through not just what we want out of life in the big picture, but also what small, proactive steps we might take to feel happier and more fulfilled in the near future.

These days, I don’t necessarily believe that I’ll get everything I want in life. But making the list is a reminder that it feels good to want things. And even if I can’t count on all my plans for the new year coming to fruition, it’s still worthwhile to think them through.

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