There is nothing in the whole world which abides. All things are in a state of ebb and flow, and every shadow passes away. Even time itself, like a river, is constantly gliding away.
Winter is still very much with us – but the mornings and evenings are getting lighter earlier, and even though the weather is still cold and wet, some plants in the garden are showing early signs of growth.
It’s a familiar pattern and these subtle changes signal that spring will soon be here. It’s all part of the ebb and flow of the seasons.
But just as the seasons ebb and flow, so does life in general.
We’re crazy busy for a few months, then we have a period of relative calm.
Our social life is hectic, then it goes quiet for a few weeks.
Our health goes through a rough patch, then we start feeling like we’re in top form.
That’s why it’s important to have a sense of balance when it comes to goal setting and what we can realistically achieve in life.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking we can do it all when our focus should be elsewhere. This is especially true at the start of the year when it’s normal to think about what we want to achieve in the year ahead. It seems like everyone is starting off the year with big plans and this creates a sense of optimism.
Even though the start of the year isn’t the only (or indeed the best time) to develop big goals, plans and projects, there is a logic to it. It marks a transition and transitions can be a genuine opportunity to kick-off something new. But this often leads to new year resolutions made on a whim that barely last a few weeks.
Did you start the new year with a 'new year new me' mantra only to find that a month later it's a 'new year same me' type of situation ?
After the holidays life gets back to normal at an alarmingly quick pace. Those habits we started to build in the first couple of weeks slowly get replaced by the day-to-day routine.
Then frustration sets in as we realise that all those good intentions have come to nothing.
There always seems to be an impending feeling that there’s ‘never enough time,’ so we constantly try to cram things into life and then beat ourselves up because we can’t achieve everything we want to do.
We let our energy and attention become fragmented to the point where more things end up half-done and left hanging around on some fantasy ‘to do list’ that we don’t really have the time or intention to complete.
So, if your resolutions came to an abrupt end in the second week of January, maybe you should ask yourself if the goal was really important to you in the first place.
Was it the right goal for you?
On reflection, maybe it’s just a ‘nice to do’ goal rather than one that excites and energises you.
Maybe it was an impulsive decision you made without thinking about the time and effort it would take to complete.
It could even be someone else's goal and you were just trying to give some moral support.
Maybe now isn’t the time to be starting a diet, learning a new language, or taking on more responsibility at work.
Perhaps we should focus on the things that are demanding our attention according to their ‘season’ – the health of an ageing parent, securing that new client at work, or recovering from that health problem.
Sometimes these are the true priorities. And we need to give them our time and attention.
If that is the situation, we can happily set aside the goals and resolutions for now, and wait until circumstances change. (And circumstances will change eventually).
Of course, there will be some who tell you ‘you just didn’t want it hard enough’ and that ‘if the goal was really important you’d make time for it’.
Well, sometimes that’s true, but sometimes that's just a load of nonsense.
It depends on the goal and the motivation for setting it. Only you can say. Every season passes. And you need to be realistic in your expectations otherwise you just add to the stress and the feelings of unhappiness.
That said, if it is a goal you really want to achieve, then it’s time to sit down and redefine the goal.
Re-assess your goals
Writing a goal down, breaking it into manageable chunks and scheduling time to complete the goal are important steps in making the goal become a reality. Because life does get in the way, and your goals won’t happen by chance or good intentions alone.
One or two false starts in January doesn’t mean you should ditch the goal. That type of ‘all or nothing’ mentality’ can be demoralising, and doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Funny enough, we only seem to apply that mentality to our diets or our goals.
If we ‘fall off the wagon’ once, we just decide to give up altogether. One bar of chocolate, junk food meal or missed gym session isn’t a good reason to give up on your fitness goals.
Can you imagine if we had the same attitude towards learning other skills or teaching them to our children? We would never have learnt how to walk, tie our shoelaces, drive a car, cook… The list goes on.
Instead we persisted, realising that sometimes it just takes some practice and a bit of determination.
So when it comes to our goals, setbacks often mean we have underestimated the extent to which the goal will take time and effort to complete. And that can be resolved with reflection, planning and scheduling on our part.
Think about why you underestimated the scale of the challenge:
Was it a lack of time? Schedule specific time in your diary and make a commitment to use that time to reach your goal.
Was the goal too overwhelming? Then break it down into smaller chunks so that it’s more doable. Create milestones and reward yourself when you reach them.
Was it a lack of resources? Perhaps you need to spend more time researching and planning your goal.
Did you feel discouraged by a lack of progress? Enlist the help of a family member or friend who can act as your cheerleader, giving you encouragement along the way. Find a partner who shares the goal and keep one another accountable for your actions.
If your goal involves creating a new habit, don’t overburden yourself with too many changes at once.
It’s much more realistic, productive and conducive to our happiness if we let life move at the pace of the seasons.
Most aspects of life follow predictable patterns – as a translator I know that business will be slower in August and late December. As a language tutor I know that September to December are crazy busy months. As a gym-goer I realise the gym will be hectic in January but quite empty in August.
Knowing that allows me to prepare, plan and set my goals accordingly. And I don’t give up just because of a ‘busy patch’ knowing that it won’t last forever and I’ll get back on track with my goals.
If you look at your life you’ll see predictable patterns too. So, follow the ebb and flow of things instead of being thrown around by the expectations of others or pulled in a direction that doesn’t suit you.
At the end of the day, it makes for a happier and more productive life.