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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Reclaiming 2020

2020 has been an absolute nightmare of a year.

Between the pandemic, massive loss of life, natural disasters, widespread social unrest, police brutality, political corruption, economic distress, massive civil injustices, and the so easily overlooked Murder Hornets… saying it’s been a rough year is a bit of an understatement.

I know it can seem like a lifetime ago, but it really was only 9 months ago when we were making resolutions for a new year and a new decade with bright shiny eyes and so much hope. The dreams and aspirations we had at the dawning of this new decade, the visions of cultural and social revolution, backed by the gay prosperity of the roaring ’20’s celebrations soon twisted in a way we could not possibly have predicted.

2020 meant a lot of things to a lot of people.

But here we are. Nearing the end of our first year in this new decade. A year that held the ambitions of future generations and the hopes of so many. Whatever 2020 meant you all those long months ago may seem a lifetime away… but it doesn’t have to.

I for one am not ready to let this year become a stain in history and I am tired of letting this year take things, people, and opportunities from us.

I’m taking back my year, my decade, and my future.

I’m Reclaiming 2020.


Fall is a magical time of year. There is a reason why cultures all over the world recognize this transition as days become shorter, the leaves change color, and the very air around us shifts.

For thousands of years fall holidays celebrated around the world have long marked fall as a time of power, change, and even fortune-telling (discussed more here). It’s a concept I believe still has a place today. Setting Fall Intentions is a powerful act of self-care that can re-ground you, reprioritize, rejuvenate, and remind us of what is most important even under normal circumstances. And this year has been anything but normal.

If you are feeling run down, frustrated, and just overall sick of the events of the last 9 months, let’s take a breath, take a moment, and take our 2020 back.

There are 3 months of this year left to try and make up for the last 9 … and I intend to use every minute of it.

How to Take Back 2020

VOTE

I know you will probably be sick of hearing this by now, but you will hear it again. Voting is the ONE chance we have as US citizens to make our voices heard. So many do not have this opportunity, either as a matter of citizenship, because their rights to vote have been taken from them, or for a variety of other reasons. Choosing to be silent when so many are voiceless is the ultimate act os disrespect to them, to the electorate, and to yourself.

Make sure you are registered to vote by clicking HERE. Confirm your address, know your polling location, and how to get there. Read up on the issues, know what you are going to be voting for, and know where you stand. If you are able, consider volunteering at the polls, or organizing ride shares to polling locations. Whatever you are able to do, in your area, SAFELY, do it. We can scream and shout into the void the whole rest of the year, but if we do not cast our ballots the one time when those in power are actively listening, it will all be for nothing.

Revisit your Resolutions

The dreams and goals you had for yourself in January may seem a million lifetimes ago, but they were once important to you. Are they still? Those things mattered once, and if they still do, then keep them.

We’ll go after them together.

If, however, those goals are not as important to you anymore, then what is? This year has forced a lot of us to put things into perspective. Jobs that once defined us have all but disappeared. Goals that were once the center of our world, no longer seem quite so important. Things that we never gave much thought to, are now the most important things in our world.

Whatever matters to you, write it down. Be specific and give your words power by putting them to paper. As a writer, I firmly believe that bringing words into this world will never NOT be an act of power, but that is a discussion for another day.

For now it is enough to have this piece of paper, written in your own hand, to remind you of what is important and of the promises you made to yourself.

Heal Yourself

It’s been a long road these last 9 months. Some have suffered worse than others, and some are no longer with us at all. But if you are still here with us please do not minimize whatever you have had to deal with this year by saying ‘well, it could have been worse.’ It can almost always have been worse, but that does not make your personal hardships disappear. Taking the time to yourself to recover and get yourself in a better place is not selfish, even if you are doing just ‘fine’. It is vital if you expect to be able to keep going and necessary to help sustain yourself.

The essential tenants of self-care are worthy of an entire thesis dissertation- see Maslow’s Hierarchy if you don’t believe me. But for now, the basics;

Heal your Body; take a walk, get your heart rate up, eat something healthy and delicious, drink two tall glasses of water, get 8 hours of sleep.

Heal your Mind; put your screens away. Play chess, read something, a new find, or an old favorite, it doesn’t matter. Think about things in a way you’ve never considered before.

Heal your Environment; clean off your desk, take the trash out, put your laundry in the basket, do the dishes, make your home a place of sanctuary.

Heal your Spirit; listen to music, enjoy art, maybe even doodle or play a little yourself. Smile. Spend time by yourself for a spell and just be.

Heal your Relationships; talk to that friend that you’ve lost contact with. Admit when someone did something that hurt you. Tell someone how grateful you are to have them in your life.

Taking care of ourselves is a full time job, and it is one that we are most likely to push aside in favor of getting things done. But you can only keep going so long as you have something to give.

Get Involved

Again, this is one that you’ve likely heard before. And it is likely one that you will hear again, and that is because it is important.

So many things happen in this world without our permission, but that does not mean they happen without our influence. You have the power to make a difference, right now, in some small way, in the world around you.

Get involved. In your community. In your goals. In your passions. Find a way to volunteer, safely, with an organization that you care about. Offer to help out at an animal shelter, or help organize relief for at-risk students. Have a skill? USE IT. Do a zoom story time, create flyers, raise awareness, or contribute in any other way you can to some of the incredible efforts that are being made to make this world a better place.

Reach for your Goals

You remember that list? The one from step 2 about your goals and resolutions? I told you we’d come back to that.

I want you to look at that. Right now. I want you to look at that list of generalized goals and for each one, make specific, itemized steps of what you need to do in order to take you from where you are now to where you want to be. You don’t need to have the whole road map laid out in front of you, but you should know your first step.

Do you want to leave your 9-5 and work for yourself? Look through your Facebook feed and reach out to potential clients (offer to work for free or reduced rates while you are setting up in exchange for reviews). Do you want to help others make a lasting change? Reach out, connect with others, find organizations in your area that need support. Do you want to live a happier/healthier life? Find accessible mental health support or a fitness routine or food goals that work for you.

Create identifiable, easy to follow steps, one after another, that will get you from where you are now to where you want to be. Then… take a step. It doesn’t matter if it is three steps forward and two steps back, as long as you Just. Keep. Moving.


2020 was meant to be the dawn of a new age. Unfortunately, there is no return policy on defective years, but there is always a new beginning.

We have 3 months left.

Make. Them. Count.

Let’s get started, shall we?


Please feel free to reach out through email, Facebook, or Instagram. Tell me your goals, tell me what you are working towards and we can keep each other moving.

We can’t undo the last 9 months, but we can make the next 3 matter.