I made a single goal for 2015 and to be honest, it felt like a stretch. I had no idea how I would accomplish it or if it was even possible. In January I set out to travel somewhere at least once per month for the year and in December I completed the task. It was an incredibly rewarding adventure, but I’m looking for something more in 2016 – and you should too.
Ah yes, I remember when I would make traditional New Year’s resolutions. I’d pull out my Moleskine notebook and write goals and aspirations for the upcoming year.
I’d inevitably finish with a laundry list that I wanted to accomplish. There were recurring themes through the years: paying off debt, eating better, starting a business, and exercising more. But, there was no follow-up, action steps or specific plans as to how I’d be accomplishing these things. The real problem? I’d write down all my resolutions, move on to the next page, and never look back.
Aspirations tend to evaporate when left alone.
Flipping through the old notebook pages makes for entertaining reading material.
By making a singular goal in 2015, I viewed life through a simple filter and constantly looked for opportunities to make it happen. I didn’t lay out a particular plan, schedule, or budget but always watched for good travel deals. Having that consistent lens made it possible to accomplish.
I’m not interested in traveling every month again (for various reasons I’ll talk about in a future post) but I do have some specific ideas of what I’d like to do. For 2016 I have decided to focus on working towards my vision for my ideal day.
A New Approach
As a minimalist I typically focus on removing the excess, the bad, and the heavy. Removing the things that weigh me down so there is room for good to enter. With this particular endeavor, I’m taking an opposite approach. This year, I’ll slowly build a foundation of good daily habits and worry less about the removing the bad habits.
Why not just focus on eliminating bad habits? Well…
In the past, I experimented with disabling my Facebook account for 60 days as a way to eliminate one of my twitches. In reality, I only ended up spending more time on other equally unproductive activities. It helped me realize if I focused exclusively on eliminating twitches and bad habits, there wouldn’t be a solid foundation of good habits to backfill the empty space that was created. The void simply becomes filled with another bad habit.
To eliminate a bad habit, we first need to establish a good habit to take its place.
I also experienced this during our home decluttering process. Once the purging slowed down and we weren’t actively removing items from our home, the excitement wore off and I was left with a void. I shared my experience in this guest post on becoming minimalist.
This is the same reason that many personal finance bloggers suggest putting money in a savings account even while paying off debt. It establishes the positive habit while paying off the negative (the debt). That way, when the debt is gone, a savings routine is already in place and can be amplified.
Overall Life Vision
So, what would my ideal day look like? Here it is in brief:
- Earn my living from Break the Twitch and other projects
- Have money to donate to causes I care about
- Wake up without an alarm and have relative control over my time
- Get enough sleep to stay healthy and perform consistently
- Have location flexibility and travel whether it be to volunteer or visit a friend
- Spend quality time with my family and friends
- Play great blues piano
- Maintain personal growth and learning to be a better human
In order to get closer to that vision, there are several things that need to happen on the execution level. Below, I’ve broken down what I can focus on to start getting there.
Specific Goals for 2016
Ship first book. By completing and shipping my first book I, in theory, should be able to earn money selling them. It’s taking months longer than I thought it would, but I suppose that should be expected.
Ship online course. Doing this will help me earn a living doing what I love while not having to wake up to an alarm and provide relative location flexibility, all while helping other people. Seems like a win/win/win to me.
Stay focused. There’s a lot to do this year so I need to find a way to stay focused and keep a clear mind. There are many ways to do this, but I picked a particular method below.
Read books. This will be the engine for my personal growth and development. Reading books will give me plenty of material to build upon and many things to consider writing about. I enjoy compiling information and giving my take on it.
Practice piano. In order to be a great piano player, I have to practice regularly. The more often I practice, the easier I get bored with the music I already know which pushes me to learn more material.
Express gratitude. Last year, I failed at expressing my gratitude as much as I wanted to. This year, it’s a daily focus to let the people in my life know that I care about them.
Execute consistently. None of this matters if I don’t do it all consistently. It is small daily actions that will compound into a big result at the end of the year. This is by far the most important aspect of the entire plan.
Designing My Daily Strategy
Now that I have the specific focus areas to lead me in the direction of my vision, I break it down further. I often refer to this quote from Annie Dillard when thinking about how to structure these specific actions:
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
The hours of our days become the weeks of our months and so on. If I want to accomplish these goals, I have to do things that will get me closer to them every single day. To create these daily actions, here are the qualifications:
Stupid-easy. Each daily action needs to be stupid-easy, as in, so easy for me that I would feel absolutely ridiculous not doing it. Essentially, take a desired action and breaking it down to the no-possible-resistance level.
Focus on action, not the outcome. I focus on celebrating the successful completion of each daily task, not the outcome that it created. Some days, the outcome is great — other days, it’s crap. That’s why I’m focusing on the habit itself, so that I don’t get discouraged. If I complete it, I am #winning.
Establish early success. The two points above contribute to early success – establishing a habit of succeeding immediately. Quickly creating a successful chain of daily actions from the very start.
Start immediately. From there, I’d start immediately and refuse to wait for a new year or a certain day to get started. If I failed on any particular day I would not wait until a specific day of the week or turn of a year to start again.
Finally, the Daily Actions
Below you’ll find the things I decided to start out with by doing every single day. Some of these actions are a bit aggressive. If you haven’t ever written regularly, 500 words per day is probably a bit much. Regardless, this is what I felt that I could accomplish every day from now on.
What I love is that these are not resolutions to get me to a goal – this is actually just how I want to be spending my time on a daily basis. They’re how I’d be spending my time once I reached my ideal day, I’m just starting now.
Write 500 words. I’ll write over 182,000 words in 2016 which is more than enough to write my own posts, guest posts, my course, and my book by the end of the year. Those daily words add up.
Read 20 pages. On average I’ll read more than 30 books in 2016, which is many times more than I read in 2015. This will be the engine that drives my personal growth, education, and how I continue to bring new material to you, my lovely reader.
Make the bed. A keystone habit, it is what I’ll do first thing in the morning and it helps kick the day off with success . Again, by doing these things every day, I simply become someone who does these things, not someone who tries to.
Play 20 min piano. This will push me to try new music and more challenging songs. I used to play irregularly and not want to play songs I didn’t know well. It was more of a relaxation practice for me, so pushing myself wasn’t appealing. By playing every day, I get completely bored and intrinsically want to try new, better things.
Express gratitude. Write thank you letters, and consistently follow-up with people who I care about. I’ve been pretty bad at sending out thank you letters in the past and it’s something I’ve always been a bit ashamed about. Doing this every day and finding a specific way to express real gratitude to someone everyday will help this out big time.
Meditate 2 minutes. I’m only starting with two minutes of meditation, because I tried ten minutes and ended up not doing it because I felt too much resistance to it. I lowered it until it felt so stupid-easy that I would feel silly not sitting quietly for two minutes. As I build a successful streak of daily meditation, three, then four, then five minutes will seem easy. Eventually, I’ll get up to my original goal of 20 minutes per day.
I decided to start with those six things, and that’s it. I want to make sure that I can complete my tasks every single day. As of this writing, I’m on a 16-day streak of completing all six actions successfully. It would be wonderful if I was able to complete the entirety of 2016’s 366 days as one consistent streak. I know that the odds of not having access to a piano every day are pretty high. I hope this big picture look at my 2016 planning has been helpful for you in creating your own plans.
Remember, start with vision, break it down into specific goals that will help accomplish that vision, then build the daily habits that will accomplish those goals. Small yet consistent action makes for big results.
I need accountability — what resources do you have?
Funny you should ask. As it turns out, the Break the Twitch Member Community includes a private member-only forum where you can participate in monthly challenges and get accountability from other members. In addition, members get access to courses on minimalism, habits and creativity. One of the habit courses is step-by-step guide on establishing a vision and creating a plan to achieve it.
What happens if you miss a day?
Ideally, I won’t. With that in mind, I will be sad, but I will just pick right up and keep going the next day. If you fall off, don’t let the guilt of doing so prevent you from continuing. The worst thing you can do is just give up.
What are some other examples of stupid-easy daily actions?
You can do one push-up, meditate for one minute, do one air squat, read one page of a book, put on your shoes and step outside, write one sentence in a journal, draw one picture, play an instrument for two minutes, etc. You get the idea. Start small, build up.
What happens when you reach your goal?
Some things I hope to do forever because there is no tangible goal. With piano, I’ll never be perfect – ideally I can do that for the rest of my life. With things like finishing a book by writing 500 words per day, I think that I’ll immediately want to start on the next one or perhaps write longer blog posts. I don’t think the underlying habit will ever change. The idea is that I start the daily actions that reflect what an ideal day would look like for me. If that ideal changes, I can shift my daily habits to reflect that. If not, keep going.