It’s almost a new year, which means it’s time for random strangers on the internet to offer you unsolicited advice on setting big goals. Time to join a new gym! Lose weight!
Instead, here’s the low-key approach I take to achieve improvements in my life, calendar turnover be damned. It works for anything, be it financial, physical, or a skill I want to learn like speaking Italian or playing piano.
For me, it breaks down to a simple difference in mindset: daily progress vs. an end goal. That simple trick takes a pressure-laced situation and unfolds it into a pleasurable activity.
Relationships: Not “I want a great marriage,” but “I strive to be kind to my partner in the daily interactions.” (Yes, even when I’m hangry.)
Business: Not “I want to double revenue,” but “I will double the number of potential clients I connect with.”
Writing: Not “I want to write this many blog posts or gain this many new readers” but “I want to write most mornings about things I am enjoying or improve my life.”
Fitness: not “I want to lift this much or achieve this race pace” but “I’ll try to stick to this training plan most days.”
Language: Not “I want to speak at a C1 fluency level by ____ date” but “I’ll study my Anki flashcards consistently and take a weekly lesson.”
Piano: Not “I want to play the (devilishly fast) Liebestraume by Lizst” but “every day, I’ll try get my hands on a piano to practice technique and work on repertoire.”
What I love about this is that it takes away the pressure. Down with arbitrary deadlines to speak this well or play that song or send that rock climbing project or hit that business revenue goal.
As Chuck Close said, ““Inspiration is for amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work.” But screw that, amateurs can tap into the magic as well!
By focusing on what I can control—daily actions—I trust that I’ll make progress. No more gripping the reigns with white knuckles and gritting my teeth, just a daily practice that moves me forward. (It ties neatly into designing your perfect day.)
As a bonus, there is also far less recrimination attached to daily goals. If I miss working out or piano or Spanish study, I do it the next day! Consistency builds resolve, routines become rituals, and progress follows naturally. Journey, not the destination.
In other words, I just sit down and practice my scales. I enjoy it, even REVEL in the knowledge that note by note, pushup by pushup, and word by word, this is how songs are learned, muscles are strengthened, and books are written.
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https://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/592c1044-1e36-4c6f-bd94-a94fe30b19e6_600x450.webp450600Dakotahttps://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Traipsing-About-logo-white-background-450x156.pngDakota2022-12-29 19:34:502023-05-06 14:48:05The less stressful way to accomplish your goals
I’m one of those Type-A people who enjoys filling a 30-day calendar challenge with X’s. Solidly motivating for me, or at least a simple reminder to practice my Italian!
Recently I saw a challenge with a different take: a repeating loop of “do activity, get less awful.” (Paraphrased.)
I found it funny…until Chelsea pointed out how that mindset is essentially bullying myself. Which hadn’t registered at all for me.
In fact, I often beat myself up for falling short of self-prescribed expectations. I want to be GOOD at things. But what does that even mean?
If we think we’re not “good” at something, is there a finish line? There’s always someone more skilled at a hobby, richer, fitter than us.
How freeing would it be to drop all (or at least most) comparisons and be happy with our efforts and current abilities simply for the joy of the activity? Enjoy the journey, not the results. Draw composers because the process entertains me, not for the finished sketch.
Would you trade it all?
Reminding myself how much effort and sacrifice goes into proficiency – much less mastery – of anything helps me gain perspective. As Ryan Holiday writes, would you permanently swap your entire life with someone – negative and positive aspects – to have their talent?
I sure wouldn’t trade all my hours of travel and outdoor adventures for portrait drawing ability or the wizardry to play Beethoven piano sonatas. (Welllll…how many hours are we talking here?)
This felt like a powerful reminder that approaching life’s activities with a negative mindset – “I’m not good enough, so I need to improve myself” is a recipe for life-long disappointment. “I’m bad at piano, so I need to practice” pales for long-term motivation next to “this process is satisfying and I’m excited about learning it no matter the progress.” I want to practice the latter.
What if we talked to ourselves the way we talk to a best friend? Supportive. Inquisitive. Loving us for who we are andcelebrating us as a human being, not a human doing. If we can do that for our closest friends, surely we can do so for ourselves.
I’m still aiming to put the X on the calendar to keep my streaks alive. And also to feel fine if I miss a day or struggle with a piece of music.
Practice–>Enjoyment–>Practice–>Enjoyment. That’s a loop I want to be in!
P.S. Check out this podcast with Jim Loehr from minutes 25-30 for more insight on our inner voice. From the chat: “Would you broadcast what your inner voice is saying on a Jumbotron?”
https://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Beethoven-portrait-sketch-scaled-e1611207099771.jpg12001200Dakotahttps://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Traipsing-About-logo-white-background-450x156.pngDakota2021-01-21 06:00:002021-01-21 10:39:17Ditching a Self-Bullying Mindset
Map out the upcoming calendar year and fill in the big trips and bucket list goals first. The stuff for 2019’s highlights reel! Let’s call them Boulders of Awesomeness
Add a few smaller ideas – the Stones of Excellence. Still fun, just not as committing for time/money/planning.
Keep some flexible, close-to-home options for trips and day-to-day aspirations to pursue. Call these final items the Sand of Daily Happiness.
My favorite part about the Boulders of Awesomeness is that they anchor chunks of the year. Sometimes angst creeps in – “I haven’t done anything fun/exciting lately!” – and looking at the list helps me recenter. I can enjoy normal life without pangs of “time is running out!” hitting.
That leads to me relaxing and enjoying moments at home. I can look at my list and reminisce about recent fun and anticipate upcoming trips, experiences or projects.
This technique avoids the “can’t commit to anything” thing that happens to me occasionally. Especially for people who are flexible (van life!) or self-employed, this method gives structure to the year without getting too rigid.
Create a new document or Evernote file (my preference).
Flip through your bucket list and get stoked. These don’t need to be travel! One of mine for 2018 was “study blues guitar,” which I’ve focused on in December.
If you don’t have a formal bucket list, start one now! Think back on conversations you’ve had, Instagram posts you’ve seen, or online/magazine articles you’ve read (and maybe saved?) to jog your memory.
Since I have both a bucket list and my past year’s list, I go through each of them. What was fun/inspiring/awesome/fulfilling? I want more of that!
From those sources, pick 3-4 focuses, trips, or other ways to focus your energy (“cook more dinners at home” or “one date night per week” or “volunteer for __”). Use a different or bigger font for these.
Put them in the document you created and add potential dates. (Don’t use spring break for cooking at home if you’re going to travel to visit grandma!)
For weather-dependent trips or activities, line it up accordingly. While planning to ride the Oregon Timber Trail this year, I considered snow levels and forest fire trends and BAM, mid-July popped out. I don’t like to focus on January, when so many resolutions start out and then sputter along for a few weeks before fading. (Forget goals; this works better!)
Don’t be afraid to aim high! As Norman Peale said, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” There’s no air in space, so maybe that’s bad advice, but I still like it.
Stones of Excellence: Filling in the Gaps
So there are the large chunks of time to take time off work or block out a time period to dial in or acquire a new skill.
But what about weekends that slip away because you haven’t planned something out?
Same process, just with smaller projects. For example, last fall I listed a 3-day avalanche class, a trip to the Steens Mountains east of Bend, the Cascade Lakes Relay, and a trip to the coast. Listing them got me thinking about logistics and soon prompted me to sign up for the avy class and Cascade Lakes Relay.
Seeing the list frequently helps keep fun weekend escapes or learning projects front and center. I keep it as a shortcut in my Evernote file, but you could print it out and add things just as easily
I think of this list as intentions to fill in the space around the Boulders of Awesome. These can be in support of the Boulders – train for cycle touring, learn First Aid, etc.
The Sands of Happiness: Making Daily Life Fulfilling and Rad
From there, I try to fill in remaining gaps between major trips and weekend excursions. Ya know, the 50% or more that are work days, normal blips that don’t ping loudly on Life’s Radar Screen. How do you make those special?
Intention! Write down those things that make for a quality, engaged, fun daily life. Here’s a few of mine from 2018: weekly date night with Chelsea, playing guitar, leading GarageFit workouts with friends, and a monthly game night.
These can transform into a resolution-like concept (“30 min of guitar per day”), but don’t have to. Revisiting intentions is a powerful way to reset priorities without feeling like you failed on a resolution.
Annnnd that’s it! Hope that helps turn up your Awesomeness Dial for 2019. Happy New Year, everyone!
P.S. I just launched a new weekly newsletter (<–check it out!), which is how most of you found this post. If you are subscribed via WordPress instead of Mailchimp, however, all you get is blog posts and none of the other goodies. If you want it ALL, subscribe below and all will be right. No spam, ever, just more fun!
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A bit quiet on the blog recently! We spent December digging into snow sports in Bend and hanging with family for the holidays. In other news, a podcast interview we did called “Creating a Life of Adventure” was the #1 show for 2016 on The Startup Sessions. If you’re new to Traipsing About, it’s a great way to get to know us.
Ready to dive headfirst into the new year? It’s a time of reflection and goals to better ourselves, to keep growing. So why do many resolutions belly flop off the diving board of good intentions like an ungainly kid at summer camp?
“Goals are for losers. Systems are for winners,” says Scott Adams, creator of the comic Dilbert, in his book. This sounds flippant coming from a guy who draws pointy-haired cubicle workers, so allow me to explain.
Losing weight, that famous New Year’s resolution, is a goal; eating right is a system. “I want to travel” is a goal. A system of saving money or developing work you can perform remotely is a system.
Goals are great, but without a concrete system to underpin and support them, it’s all just talk, aspirations that wither beneath the hot sun of real life. Find a person who is successful – by any definition – and most are focused on systems, not stand-alone goals.
It’s full-on winter around here. Sometimes, you’ve gotta take the AT (alpine touring) skis to pick up take out for dinner!
From Wishful Thinking to a Business System
Early in my business career, I set arbitrary monthly revenue goals based on nice-sounding, random numbers. Turns out there isn’t a fairy depositing money in the Bank of Wishing. As the saying goes, wish in one hand and spit in the other and see which one fills up first. Neither pays the mortgage.
My forecasts only worked when I laid a foundation (system!) beneath my aspirations and took concrete action. How many weekly presentations and meetings could I schedule? From those, how many potential clients would I talk to? Using actionable items, I built a solid understanding of how many people I needed to speak with to make a certain amount. (Yes, there were spreadsheets.)
Revenue increased, and also grew more consistent. As a benefit of implementing a system, I found confidence and peace of mind; if I did the work, success followed. From simple groundwork, I didn’t have to worry about revenue whipsawing like peaks and valleys in the Alps.
Day One alpine skiing at Mt. Bachelor! We almost look like we know what we’re doing…
Hanging with C’s bro on Mt. Bachelor. Goggles and face masks make one look so serious…
One Way to Organize Systems
To be clear, I’m not advocating for scheduling every second of our lives the way Cal Newport prescribes. (I’ve tried that and it wasn’t for me.) Time for the mind to wander and drift is important. My life isn’t a system – borrrrring – but my personal goals are (usually) supported by one.
When I need to crank out projects, I break things down into bite-size pieces using the Secret Weapon. This is simply Evernote coupled with the Getting Things Done method, and it serves as my external brain.
For recent updates to our Sprinter van, I used sub-projects. “Install water system” had components like “order sink” or “find water tank drain plug.” A big, nebulous goal languishes on a to-do list until the zombies attack. (Then we need chainsaws, not planning!)
The same applies to anything we seek to achieve. Be it business, physical ambitions, books we want to read, or a big personal project, systems rock.
Cruising XC ski trails with buddies.
Using Systems for Physical Pursuits
I’m currently focused on three primary physical challenges. Two have specific goals; all require systems.
First, I’m aiming to push my rock climbing abilities to new limits. (Specifically, leading a 5.13 sport route outside.) Can I achieve this by unfocused climbing a few days a week at the gym or Smith Rock? Perhaps…
It’s a hell of a lot more likely to happen if I dig into a periodized training plan that removes overthinking and guess work. It’s not a grind, it’s a plan, and I still have fun. (Except for hangboard workouts. Those are simply hard work.)
A system takes decision making out of the daily actions. Follow a step-by-step plan and find greater success than where we start. Even if I don’t crank out a 5.13 next year, I’ll make considerable gains.
It’s not all snow around here…Smith Rock still has fun to offer in the winter!
I’m also focused on a consistent, balanced strength and mobility system. Since I want to stay active for years to come by investing in my body’s 401(k), I need a system. Focusing on Gymnastics Bodies allows me to bike, climb, run and ski (a new hobby) without injury. With 30 minutes per day, I’m maintaining a strong foundation for the physical challenges I want to pursue.
Lastly, I signed up for a 100-mile mountain bike race in July called High Cascades. That’s more than twice as long as any mountain bike ride I’ve done and will likely take over 10 hours to finish.
This requires a training regimen containing endurance and speed work, plus dialing in my hydration and food plan. It will take work, but if I follow the plans I lay out, I’ll have fun, learn a ton, and have a solid shot at success.
Dawn patrol skate ski session near Bend. Skate skiing is proving to be a) an incredible workout and b) very technique-heavy!
Get Your System On
As you’re reflecting on 2016 and eyeing next year, think about ambitions for 2017 and beyond. Take aspirations and build support lattices around them. Tell friends about your plans (or maybe not); make a bet that you’ll stick to it; allocate a reward for hitting your target.
Enjoy the day-to-day plan, training and focus that’s necessary to slowly build toward success. Think about what your future self would thank you for and start the long-term projects. The days are slow, but the years are fast!
As 2016 wraps up, are there systems you can put in place to build toward ticking projects off the bucket list?
Hiking Pilot Butte with my folks, views of the Cascade Mtns in the background.
Chelsea and fam showing off their ski skills.
Road trippin’ to Portland to for a visit.
Views to the west from Mt. Bachelor.
https://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Ski-Mt-Bachelor.jpg1000711Dakotahttps://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Traipsing-About-logo-white-background-450x156.pngDakota2016-12-29 22:15:362016-12-30 13:19:38Goals Are So Last Year. This Works Better.