I’ve always been a person who set a lot of goals. Birthday list goals, financial goals, reading goals, travel goals. I would set goals at the end of each year for the coming year, and on my birthday, and each month, and most weeks. I’ve tried a lot of approaches to goal setting, including The Desire Map method,the Day Zero project, and creating lots of bucket lists. I have goal tracker sheets taped to my wall as we speak, to track my daily meditation, reading, and exercise habits.
But just as I’m starting to be more mindful of what I’m measuring, I’m also starting to be more mindful of my goal-setting process and whether it’s serving me.
Over the past few years, my process around setting yearly goals has shifted considerably. When I was living abroad, I usually didn’t know on January 1st where I’d be living or what I’d be doing for work for the next 12 consecutive months, so the idea of setting goals made a lot less sense. In my yearly goal-setting, I started to shift instead toward setting intentions for the year and creating daily habits.
I continued to make birthday lists of things I wanted to try or do before my next birthday, but those began to feel stale too. I realized that as I was creating the lists, I was actively searching for things that sounded sort of interesting, or that I thought might be fun. Some things on the list would be exciting no-brainers, but others, much less so. By the time my birthday rolled around, I would never have done everything on the list (and would feel bad about that), but it was usually because as the year passed, I never felt motivated to do the things that felt kind of arbitrary. This year, despite my deep love of repeating traditions every year, I didn’t create a birthday list.
A couple months ago, I sat down to create a list of things I thought would be fun or interesting to have achieved or accomplished within the next five years. But just like the birthday lists, it didn’t really resonate with me: everything felt kind of arbitrary, forced, like what I “should” be working towards or creating for myself. Nothing was pulling me towards those particular outcomes – or I should say, nothing within myself – except lots of external voices and ideas.
I was chatting about these ideas with my friend Bridget tonight, and she wondered if maybe this shift was because this year I’ve really established the habit of a daily meditation practice. I’ve never thought of it before, but I think she might be on to something there. It’s true that this year, I definitely feel more present in my daily life, more grateful, and more connected to my community and family than ever before. The idea of setting goals to get me to “somewhere better” doesn’t resonate with me as strongly, because I’m pretty happy with where I am right now. I feel engaged and motivated every day, but I don’t feel that constant urge to strive, reach, or leap. I feel that I’m growing and learning all the time, but am happy with where I am and with what I’m moving towards at the pace that feels tailor-made for me.
I also feel like this year has sharpened my intuition, which is now quicker than ever at helping me find things, people, and experiences that I feel aligned with and connected to. This means that I’m spending a lot more time being in the right place at the right time, and moving away from anything that doesn’t serve me. But listening to my intuition is a moment-by-moment process, so the idea of setting goals now when I can’t know yet how I’ll feel a month or a week or a day from now isn’t feeling as appealing to me.
And the last thing is: I don’t want to block myself from experiencing abundance and flow. Life unfolds in magical and mysterious ways, and I’ve found that trusting that process can bring about better things than I could ever have forced to happen on my own, had I been moving blindly towards an arbitrary goal. One year ago, I never could have predicted where I’d be now, the friends I’d have, or the work situation that I’m currently in. I could never have predicted how amazing my life would be today. Had I set a bunch of random goals and efforted my way to them, who knows if I’d have ended up at such a great place! Trusting that unfolding is not always easy, but more and more it feels like the way to more expansion and joy.
Who knows? I might change my mind about goal-setting yet again a few months from now, but for now, I’m consciously taking a break from it. How do you feel about goal-setting? How do you set goals in a way that works for you? Tell me!
This year, I’m keeping things simple. In the past, I’ve been all about setting tons of goals, checking stuff off, and working towards things. But back in December, when I started thinking about what goals I wanted to set for myself in 2017, I just felt tired. Looking at my list of goals from last year felt a little exhausting and a lot discouraging, because it made me feel like I “had failed” because I hadn’t checked everything off the list. The last thing I want to do is create more standards to measure myself up against and subsequently “fail” at!
That’s not to say that I don’t want to try new things and feel a sense of progress this year, it just means that I want to do it with a different kind of energy. The idea of hustling and striving and obligation is just not sitting right with me at the moment. It’s the idea of flowing, allowing, accepting, embracing, and doing things from a place of enthusiasm that is really speaking to me.
Which means I don’t have a lot to say in the goals department this year! Here are some of the few goals and intentions I’m hoping to cultivate more of in 2017:
When I embrace silence, I experience miracles.-Dr. Wayne Dyer
I want to create more time and space in my life when I’m not tethered to my phone. I want hours to go by without checking social media, and I want to cultivate a morning ritual that doesn’t include any technology whatsoever. My work is on the internet, as are some of the ways I choose to spend my leisure time, so I never disconnect unless it’s intentionally done. This year, I want less comparison, less scrolling, and more of my eyes on my own mat, so to speak.
Embrace the situation
Whatever the present moment contains, embrace it as if you had chosen it yourself. -Eckhart Tolle
I talked about this a little in my one little word post, but this year I am very interested in the idea of wasting so much less energy on resisting the way things are. When I embrace situations, I accept and love my people for who they are. I bring the light to the moment. I am forced to stop complaining (mentally or otherwise), moaning, criticizing. I experience so much less tension than when I’m trying to steer the ship or make something happen. Things feel easier, lighter, and more abundant (heyyy all my past words hello hi). In short, life is better.
Celebrate the Everyday
Embrace the amazing potential magic of today’s everyday moments. -Zina Harrington
I used to do a photo project called Everyday Beauty! And then I did one called Steph Loves Today while I was living in Korea. Those both feel like so long ago, but the idea was exactly the same: pay attention to the beauty of your life, just as it already is. When you notice it and appreciate it, things start to seem brighter, lovelier, and happier. You start to see the ordinary things for what they actually are: special and precious. I’m only setting one goal in this department (see below), but it’s a feeling I want to carry with me to encourage me to document things more.
Read 75 books
You didn’t think that having fewer goals would mean giving up my reading goal, did you?! Wild horses couldn’t keep us apart. As always, you can follow along with my progress over on Goodreads!
Film 1 Second Everyday
This is one of the more concrete ways I’m hoping to celebrate the everyday in 2017. I love looking back on my 1SE video for 2016, and even though I missed (several) days of the project throughout the year, it’s still just as special because it’s mine. That’s how life looked, and seeing it just brings me right back. By the end of the year, I’d really gotten into the habit again of taking my one second video, so it felt natural to continue. But hey, I might get bored of this project or abandon it, and that’s okay too.
And that’s it! Simple stuff this year, because that’s what feels good. Maybe next year I’ll want to make lists again. Maybe next month I’ll want to make lists again! But for now, this is what feels right.
Doing a year-end review always brings me so much joy and reminds me of that old saying: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I have a tendency to feel like I’m not “doing enough” as the weeks and months go by, but taking the time to look back over the year as a whole always reminds me of how lucky I am and how much I’ve experienced. This year was a big one for me, and it’s pretty surreal to remember all that’s happened in the past 12 months. Here are my highlights from each month of 2016:
My boyfriend (at the time) and I took a trip to the coast of Ecuador, to a place called Canoa Beach. We spent a few days enjoying the heat, the food, and the sheer novelty of being on a beach mid-January! Throw in some outdoor yoga classes, stunning sunsets, and beers with my toes in the sand and I was a pretty happy camper. I also tried paragliding for the first time, and despite a rough crash landing with the instructor, it was a lot of fun. Canoa, like so much of the coast, was unfortunately affected when the earthquake hit in April, so it turned out to be extra special to be able to visit when we did.
The highlight of February was my friend Katie coming to visit me in Quito! We spent a week running around the city, exploring the old town, heading up El Panecillo, soaking in the baths (and hanging out with the llamas) at Papallacta, watching movies on my couch, and eating as much awesome food as we could manage. We also went to a local soccer game, checked out the drive-in movie theatre, risked our lives climbing the tower at the basilica, and took the TelefériQo up to the top of Pichincha for amazing views of the city. It was so great to show her around and to get to know Quito a bit more myself.
I spent most of March getting more involved in life in Quito. I joined a book club full of awesome people, found cute coffee shops near my apartment, started teaching private yoga classes, went to a few trivia pub nights with new friends, started volunteering for a local organization, and helped run yoga in the park every Saturday. I also went to another live South American soccer game! What an experience that was, especially since it was a FIFA 2020 qualifying game, and Ecuador won.
At the very end of March and the beginning of April, I went on a press trip to the Amazon rainforest and stayed at Sacha Lodge. The experience had me pinching myself the entire time – I saw monkeys and caiman, climbed up to the top of a 600 year old tree, walked a 40m high sky canopy, went on a night walk through the jungle (very loud, very amazing), and stayed in my own private cabin complete with a hammock on the porch and a lullaby of frogs outside. It was incredible. You can read more about the adventure here.
After kicking off my birthday month with a trip to the jungle, I went on to have a fabulous time back in Quito. On my birthday, my boyfriend’s family surprised me with a four-piece mariachi band that marched into the living room and played for hours while we all danced. I cried, because it was so hilarious and thoughtful – and even though I no longer live in Ecuador, the people I met there will always hold a very special place in my heart.
In April I also started an intermediate Spanish course at the local university, which was a ton of fun. My professor was a real character, a born-and-bred Quiteña with tons of personality, and it was so great to start to get a better grasp of the language.
This was a busy month! I finished up my Spanish course and wrote my final exams. I picked up a couple new freelance jobs. We went to a beautiful wedding and danced the night away. Toward the end of the month, I flew home for the summer, and a couple days later, we had a big beautiful party in my mom’s backyard for my Grandma’s 88th birthday!
This was my first time home (besides 2 weeks at Christmas) in a very long time, so June was spent reconnecting with as many friends and family members as possible. My sisters and I took my dad out for a lovely Father’s Day dinner on the waterfront. I started sewing my very first quilt! I went to see the Making a Murderer Conversation on Justice with my friends (#fangirl #TeamStrang). On a whim, Katie booked a trip to Toronto (we are in the best LDR ever) and we spent the week exploring yet another city together: we had beers on the waterfront, saw a Jays game (which was inadvertently a Korea reunion), went for hikes, ate great food, had a campfire, and really kicked off summer.
My favourite month of 2016! July was packed full of things I love. One weekend, I was invited up to my friend Mike’s cottage with Laura and a group of friends, and we spent the whole time eating delicious vegan food, playing board games, stand-up paddle boarding and swimming. Another highlight was a day spent filming videos and doing photoshoots with the Red Tent Sisters at a beautiful home in Toronto.
Best of all, in July I took my now-annual (!) trip to New York City to hang out with Katie and Nancy Sue! We spent the whole time eating amazing food (special shoutouts to Benny Tudinos and Goa Taco: you have my heart now and forever), hit up The Strand and Nature Republic as much as possible, rode bikes through Central Park, played Pokemon Go in taxis, went to a Gaelic football game (and a Gaelic football afterparty), toured The Tenement Museum and did a hundred other amazing things together. Katie & I also went to Vermont with her family for gorgeous, highly strenuous hikes, gin & tonics, outdoor showers and star-gazing. Then we topped it all off with a Rob Thomas and Counting Crows concert, for the win.
Without a doubt, the best part of August was bringing home Bodhi, my mom’s Golden Retriever puppy. He is the best, and really helped to make 2016 so special for our family.
August was also important for another reason: I ended my long-term relationship with my boyfriend and simultaneously decided to move to Toronto.
The first words that come to mind are: busy and messy. There was a sudden death in our family, which meant a very emotional time and a bittersweet memorial service.
All at the same time, things very quickly fell into place with my new living situation, so I spent most of the month running around getting things out of storage and buying new kitchen stuff. Also, my friend Adrienne came to Toronto and we had a sleepover to celebrate our first time seeing each other in more than 2 years.
Yay! I moved into my first Toronto apartment and instantly fell in love with my new neighbourhood. I hung things on walls, put things on shelves and settled into my space. I celebrated my move to Toronto by spending lots of time with my friends and exploring: tons of walks on the Sunnyside boardwalk, friend dates at adorable coffee shops, a walk down Leslie Street Spit, lots of time meandering through High Park, and leaf peeping. I also did some dogsitting with hearts in my eyes.
November was a bit bumpy as I worked on finding my rhythm and building my new life. I read a lot of great library books, suffered after the election results, watched the Gilmore Girls revival, started knitting a sweater, and kept up my weekly coffee dates with Laura. My sisters and I went home to celebrate my mom’s birthday with tons of sushi and cuddles with the puppy. November was also when I had my most profitable freelance month ever!
I always love December for the lead-up to the holidays, but it was even more fun this year because I was finally close to home! My whole family visited my apartment at different times, which helped to make it feel even more like home. I went to my friend Laura’s yoga jam class where her brother Ian played acoustic guitar the whole time…it was amazing. Other super-fun events included an aromatherapy workshop, hanging out my high school friends for the first time in 3 years, having a surprise lunch with my mom and Grandma, and of course, every moment of the holidays.
And so here we are, at the end of another year. When I look back like this, I feel grateful. I feel blessed. I feel excited about what hidden, wonderful opportunities 2017 might hold that I don’t know about yet.
One Second Everyday
This was my first year doing the one second everyday project and I’m so happy I did it! I definitely missed more than a few days – basically all of August, in fact – but it really doesn’t matter. Having this little record of what each day looked like is so special to me. It is also so interesting to see just how much my life has changed over the past 12 months.
Firsts of 2016
My friend Laura inspired me to think about the “firsts” I experienced this year (you can see her list here), so here are some of mine:
I donate monthly to Pencils of Promise through their Passport program. I also began giving to the Ian Anderson House, a local hospice, made some one-off donations to UNHCR, and supported both my sisters’ fundraising efforts for runs they were each doing.
6. Daily goals:
Plan my day: I’d say this happened this year about 75% of the time. I also realized that I’m ready to drop this as a ‘goal’, because I do it when I need to and soften it when I don’t.
Wake up by 7AM: I didn’t count, but I’d say this only happened about 25% of the time. I’m more of an 8AM kind of gal, even if I wish I were more of a morning person.
Do something creative: This wasn’t really specific enough! I am creative every day, but not always “for fun” – often it’s for work, which I usually find fun anyways. I’d give this one a score of 80%.
My Word of the Year: Light
This was easily my favourite word out of all of the words I’ve chosen over the years. I kept up an Instagram hashtag all year to collect the photos that made me feel happy, were inspired by something positive, or that helped me find perspective during a weird or sad time. My word was catchy enough that it stayed in mind as the months went by, and broad enough that it popped up for me in so many different ways and at different times. Although this was an amazing year, it contained quite a bit of dark (as most years do). I was grateful to have this word as a reminder when things got hard.
If you’re curious, you can see more of my year-end reviews here:
We’re almost halfway through the year, so it’s a great time to check in with your goals or resolutions for the year. How have you been doing? Have you been doing them?
Even if you’ve forgotten about your goals entirely, the year is not over yet. Not even close! It’s not too late to re-evaluate, re-configure & re-commit to your goals. Here are my top tips for sticking to your goals right up until December 31st (and beyond!).
Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good
On my list of 26 things I’d like to do before my next birthday, I included the item “collect quotes”. Not only was this very vague (more on this in a bit), it also conjured up fantasies for me of how best to go about completing this goal. Maybe I could make a beautiful collage on my wall! Maybe I could sit down and hand-letter all of the quotes and later bind them into a book! Maybe I could write each of them on a slip of paper and put them into a lovely jar!
But then I realized that it was a month after I created the list and I hadn’t written down a single quote. All of the above would be amazing options, but waiting until I could implement one of those plans would slow me down or even completely prevent me from following through on this goal. So, I opened up a Google Doc, titled it “Jar of Quotes”, stuck it in my Bookmarks Bar and went on with my day. Maybe later I’ll make it into a beautiful book, but for now I’m just happy I’m doing it at all.