Setting Systems and SMART Goals to Help 2021 Start on the Right Foot

A #Reclaiming2020 Thread

For so many of us, the end of 2020 can’t come soon enough. The allure of a new year and the proverbial blank slate is something that has incredible psychological power.

Well now we’ve got 30 days left and, though the last few months have given me hope for a brighter future, my own personal future is still a bit of a hot mess.

While the allure of January 1st as a clean start is tempting, I know from personal experience that starting a brand new routine or adopting new habits is a process of trial, error, success and failure, highs, and lows. Starting on a new blank routine from day zero anticipating perfection and success is a recipe for disappointment. Logically, you wouldn’t sign up to run a 10k on January 1st without participating in some kind of training regimen beforehand. So why do we consistently operate on the idea that we can successfully launch ourselves into a brand new routine or lifestyle with zero preperation?

There are 30 days left in 2020, and I intend to use them as my ‘training period’ for 2021. Trying new routines, new habits, training for a fresh start at the beginning of the new year.

So, with 2020 coming to a close, I’m setting SMART goals to try new habits and routines leading into the New Year.

What are SMART Goals?

SMART Goals are something I first learned about in business school, but have recently been used by self improvement and study guru’s to help people create more effective and targeted methods of reaching their goals.

Full Function Rehab | SMART Goal Setting Vaughan
For more on how to create SMART Goals, click HERE

The underlying idea of SMART goals is to find a way to make us accountable. ‘I want to find a job’ or ‘I want to write a book’ or even ‘I want to get an A in Genetics’ are all wonderful goals, but because they are so vague they can often be difficult to track, and therefore difficult to stick with. You can find more on how to create effective SMART goals HERE, but the general idea is in the name; make your coals specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.

Kaizen – The Art of Continuous Improvement

Something else that I have found makes a vast difference for me ties in with the Japanese Concept of Kaizen – or the art of continuous improvement.

Kaizen de-emphasizes perfection, which can be a leading cause of stress and a major contributing factor to giving up or abandoning our goals altogether, and instead focuses on improvement. The idea is not necessarily to get it right the first time around, but instead to do just a little bit better than last time.

In that thread, I focus less on my relation to an ultimate and ever-changing goal, and more on my engagement and performance in the day to day process of it all.

Otherwise called a ‘System’.

Atomic Habits – Systems not Goals

If you have not yet heard of Atomic Habits by James Clear, I really must ask what rock you have been living under. Even if you do not have the time to read the book in full, there are plenty of taking aways and summaries that can be of tremendous insight. But for our purposes, we are going to be focusing on the delineation between goals and systems.

If your goal is to be able to deadlift 200 lbs by the summer, and you spend every day pushing yourself closer to that goal, you may ignore warning signs from your body in favor of adding on just a few more pounds. But if you end up injuring yourself in the process, you could be setting your goal back by months if not years. By shifting focus from your proximity with the end goal to continual growth and consistently showing up, this changes the pressure we put on ourselves and makes our goals, ultimately, more achievable.

My 30 Day End of 2020 Goals

My general goals for 2020 focus more on routine and continuous improvement. They also happen to fall into the four general categories of self-improvement that most of our New Years goals tend to fall into, but perhaps that will make them easier to relate to or use to draw on for examples when making your own goals.

My 2020 – 2021 Goals

My general goals are blocked under four categories but are free to change from day to day. The ultimate takeaway is my ‘participation’ in that given area.

Physical Goals

I want to be more physically active and just generally take better care of myself. Sitting in front of a desk for hours on end is not generally a good thing for either my spine or general level of fitness. It would also be good if I ate less like a gremlin and more like a hippie, but I’ll settle for somewhere in the middle.

Intellectual Goals

I want to learn something new every day. And yes, I’m in grad school, so learning is kind of par for the course. But diving through pages of notes often feels less connected to learning than mastering a singular concept. So even if I’ve been studying ‘phenotypic heritability’ for hours, I’ll only be counting it if I have an ‘Ah-ha!’ or ‘Eureka!’ type moment while doing so, or if I have that moment in a completely different subject.

Creative Goals

The same general principle holds true for creative enterprises. As a children’s author, I spend a lot of time thinking about stories, characters, impact, engaging readers… but that doesn’t result in a finished product. So much my collecting of ‘Ah-ha’ moments above, I want to be able to wield tangible results in my hands for it to be able to count. Whether that is words written, pages drafted, characters sketched, or even scarves knitted… I will be focusing on things that yield tangible results in real time.

Spiritual

Being in Sweden, so far from most of my family, in the middle of lockdown, the short days and long nights are easy to let get to you. It is so much simpler to turn to merge dragons than it is to turn on mentally. But that is neither healthy nor sustainable. I want to do things that feed my soul. I want to reconnect with friends and family (even if it is digitally). I want to consume media that helps me grow. and I want to take the time to check in with myself on a regular basis, rather than just keep on pushing forward.

Trackable SMART Goals Example

The four categories above, while representative of most of what I want to do, are hardly specific. So for a better idea of what those goals will look like in the real world, here are a few of the micro goals I will be setting myself.

Drink Water

And oldy but a goody, and yet I still never do it. I will be attempting to drink 2 liters of water, each and every day, of 2020 and beyond.

Read in Swedish

This is really a 2 for 1 so I should want to do it even more but, again, it often gets pushed to the wayside. I’ve picked up two children’s chapter books in Swedish from the second hand shop and intend to read 5 pages (one sided) before bed at least 4 times a week (70%).

Stay off Social Media

I feel bad leaving this for last as this goal will actually affect those reading my articles here at TNN. I walk more about the why’s behind this on my YouTube channel HERE, but suffice to say I have a busy month coming my way in December. And, as such, for the rest of 2020… this will be the last you see of me. I will be staying off Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, and, yes, even TNN.com for the remainder of this year.


At the end of my free trial run for 2021 (also known as December 2020) I will create SMARTER Goals moving forward. SmartER because I will Evaluate (E) and Review (R) the steps I have taken, the systems I have tried, and see what really works for me and what doesn’t and adjust. Hopefully, I’ll be back and writing away with a clearer head and more time to focus on what is important, but I am trying not to enter into this trial run with any preconceptions. This is an experiment after all, and as any student at the school of Bill Nye will tell you, bias = bad science.

So, until next time, here’s hoping to a better and brighter future in 2021.


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