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  • Writer's pictureJulie Love

Doing vs Being

From the Archive: January 2022

Welcome to the new year, I guess. That time of year when we traditionally set goals, even formalize the process into “making resolutions.” And we all know the key aspects of making goals – they need to be specific, measurable, and within our control. The problem is, an awful lot of our goals these days seem to be so far outside our locus of control that they might as well be in another galaxy. I want normal life back. I want the pandemic to be over already. Even self-centered goals can easily be derailed. I want to go to the gym regularly. I want to go on vacation. I want to sing with a chorus.

Maybe it’s time to step back from the gold standard of “SMART Goals” (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely) to remember what those goals are resting on – our aspirations for who we want to be, our values. Daily life is a constant barrage of tasks – To Do lists that should keep us organized but mostly just make us feel inadequate and overwhelmed. And now with the New Year, instead of taking a breath to look at the bigger picture, we often simply throw more items onto the pile.

So, slow down and ask: Why do I want to do this thing? The immediate answer is usually because I wish to be the sort of person who does such things. Not terribly surprising that it’s hard to stick with a task rooted in disliking yourself. But don’t give up yet; dig a little more. What is “that sort of person” like? You’re already like that, at least a little. (If you aren’t, it’s really worth asking who taught you to value others’ characteristics over your own. Plus, if you’ll notice, often no one is like that. You might consider letting go of your goal to be the first Superhuman Perfect “X” ever. Chasing such standards comes with a cost, and it’s important to notice when your goals push you to sacrifice your values.)

Now look at how you already exemplify the reasonable goals, and appreciate that. (We know students respond more to praise for what they’re doing than to being scolded for their shortcomings. As it turns out, the same applies to everyone.) Now look for ways to do it a little bit all the time, instead of only in one big chunk. Sure, solid specific measurable plans are also good, but don’t discount the value of letting your goals infuse your daily life – don’t be the person who circles the lot to find the closest parking space when heading to the gym.

And when plans are thwarted, being in touch with the underlying theme can help you adapt. You wanted to get in shape, to feel better physically – get active in other ways, maybe even more fun ways, and let the feeling better start with enjoying what you’re doing to get there. You want to sing with a chorus, in order to connect with people – connect with people in other activities, and/or sing along in other ways. You want the relaxation of a vacation… work restful breaks into your daily routine. How to find the time? Well, there’s a secret: Many of our goals boil down to “when it’s finished I get to not do it anymore.” Guess what? For a lot of things… you can actually skip ahead to that stage and just not do it. Not everything, of course, but this certainly applies to many more tasks than we let ourselves!

So, Happy New Year, each day. What do you want to do today? Who do you want to be today? Go ahead, be that. Don’t wait for when you have everything you need to be the perfect exemplar of it, just be it as much as you can, each day.

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