Tuesday, February 18, 2020

What to Do When You've Lost All Interest in Your New Year's Goals and Wonder Why You Ever Made Them

It's mid-February now, and I'm here to report that I've pretty much lost all interest in the complicated set of goals I formulated for 2020. Part of the reason is that the goals were SO complicated: to improve my health in half a dozen ways on each of eight dimensions. I mean, what was I thinking?

In the past I've had greatest success with goals that are simple: submit something somewhere every month (my goal for 2017) and log ten hours of creative joy each month (my goal for 2018). My 2019 goal of embracing the new was pretty much a bust after the first few months of the year. (It turns out that embracing the new gets old after a while.) And now this health-related grab-bag of goals has petered out after just a month and a half.

I'm back to the very uninspiring goal of sheer survival, which is especially discouraging as I realize more and more each day that the problems in my life that are most horrific ARE NOT GOING TO GO AWAY. They may be permanent features of my reality for the rest of my days.

Now what, oh self-proclaimed queen of goal setting?


First of all, even though my goals peter out ALL THE TIME, and the "new life" I proclaim for myself on the first day of each month slips back into the same old life with alarming rapidity, I owe everything I've ever accomplished in my life to goal-setting. It's better to be frugal and fit and creative and productive for five days a month than for no days at all.

In my burst of health-enthusiasm during the first weeks of the year, I did accomplish these things:
1. To improve my financial health, I re-did my estate planning. I met with financial planners for both my retirement accounts and consolidated and simplified my investments (such as they are) in pleasing ways. I had a buy-nothing week that probably saved me $300. Three hundred dollars is nothing to sneeze at!

2. To improve my spiritual health (and with the aid of Facebook responses to this blog), I discovered the Insight Timer meditation app. Admittedly, that, too, petered out for me after a few sessions, but I've retained ways of calming and centering myself from its instruction that I continue to use. Hooray for that!

3. To improve my emotional health, I deleted the Twitter app from my phone, the best use of ten seconds ever spent. I continue to reap benefits from this every day.

4. To improve my social health, I reached out to a few friends and had some highly enjoyable get-togethers that wouldn't have happened otherwise.

This is not such a shabby total.

In this challenging season of my life, I've decided that it's fine to focus on itty-bitty goals instead of huge, sweeping ones, or even to give up goals altogether (though NOTHING makes me as happy as productivity - it is my drug of choice). One of my favorite small goals is to plan for five episodes of happiness every day. The goal is small, and often the episodes themselves are teeny-weensy, but they make each day just a little bit happier.

Here are the five episodes of happiness I scheduled for yesterday:
1 Luxuriate in bed for ten extra minutes in the morning, savoring the feel of the warm covers and the sleeping little dog beside me.
2. Walk for a sunny half hour on a springlike morning with this same little dog.
3. Eat four clementines and a peanut butter and jam sandwich on a cinnamon-raisin English muffin, brought from home to my university office for lunch. Pleasures of frugality AND taste.
4. Put my nightgown on as soon as I return home (five p.m.) and eat leftover Chinese eggplant and brown rice from a restaurant outing over the weekend.
5. Curl up with a blanket and spend an hour in Paris with Eloisa James's delicious memoir Paris in Love.

Both of my classes that I taught at the university yesterday - one on Kant and one on Rawls - were also episodes of happiness, as was my meeting with my two TA's for the Intro to Ethics class to grade some sample Aristotle papers together. But they weren't on my happiness list for the day, as teaching and meetings are never GUARANTEED to be episodes of happiness - they may be joyous, or they may be horrendous. I have to be able to COUNT on my episodes of happiness. Snuggling with a little dog is something I can count on.

So: I'm celebrating what I DID accomplish in my new year's frenzy of goal-setting, forgiving myself for not accomplishing more, and allowing myself right now, in a hard time of my life, to make VERY small (but very sweet) goals for each day.

Not such a terrible plan, after all.