Resolutions, goals, and real change

I’ve never been a believer in the effectiveness of New Year’s resolutions, but I learned something this year: not everyone is introspective or self-motivated or willing to look at themselves honestly on a daily basis. And that’s okay. If the New Year motivates you, good for you! Use it! I analyze myself so often that I forget to consider that might not be someone else’s experience. What can I learn that is new? How can I improve the skills I already have? How am I growing as a person right now? Are my actions and my distribution of time reflecting my priorities? What do I want? What am I here for? Who am I? These are questions that I ask myself all the time. What motivates me? I have no idea. These are the places that my brain goes when I let it go. My best guess is that it’s based in my natural curiosity, rather than a belief that I need improvement.

I love setting goals - but the truth is that I’m terrible at it. Motivation (drive, ambition, etc.) isn’t something that I’ve had to search for much in my life, but it is something that I have to learn how to direct. I have (many) notebooks full (truly, full) of resolutions that I’ve made to myself throughout the year. Whether or not I achieve what I’ve set out to do is a result of how I set goals. My two main methods in the past have been: 1. Take on an extreme task that requires tremendous planning and then not follow through (or even start) because I can’t live up to the expectations that I set. 2. Take on an extreme task that requires tremendous planning but do no actual planning and be relieved to have completed it because I had no expectation of success. Both of these severely flawed approaches are based in fear of real growth. It’s usually the things I want most that I approach this way. The little things are so much easier to change.

I’ve been thinking a lot about setting goals lately, as one does when training for a marathon. The real question is how do I set goals without sabotaging myself? Where do I start? How do I gauge whether or not my assessment of my capabilities is accurate? How can I challenge myself without end gaining? For the first few months, I’ve been conditioning myself to train. I’ve been loosely following a schedule of running and other cardio cross-training to prepare myself for the distance, and I’ve set my expectations very low. I’m afraid that if I challenge myself too early, I’ll fail to live up to my expectations and quit. The goals I’ve had in mind so far are: “Just show up! If you make it to the starting line, you’re doing well!” and “Finish the race, even if you have to walk some!” But is that enough? Is that growth?

In 2014, I ran a half-marathon on a whim. Someone offered me a bib the day before and I said “yes!” (Sorry, y’all, I was a bib bandit.) This is a prime example of approach #2, no planning and low expectations. I finished in 2:06. For not training at all, that felt like a huge success! Sure, it’s not an elite running time, but I’m not an elite runner. I’m just a person who likes to run. But why have I set my goals so low for a marathon that I’m actually training for? If I figure it out, I’ll let you know. In the mean time, I’m enjoying running. That’s really why I registered for the race to begin with. I love running, and I’m going to try to set goal times based on how fast I can run and still be joyful. Maybe goal times are more like guideposts for now.

For more caffeine-fueled ravings and unanswered questions, check back soon. Happy resolution setting!

Alexandra Kassouf