If you want to make a fresh start, you don't have to wait for the new year. You can start anew with the quarter (or season), the month, the week, or even a day.
by Susan McCarthy
After 2020, even people who don’t do the whole New Year’s Resolution thing were saying that they couldn’t wait for 2021 to make a fresh start. But even though January 1st looks a lot like December 31st, the idea of starting something new is appealing.
So why limit the idea of using a year as your sole marker in time for goal setting? Let’s face it, at some point in those 365 days, the freshness is going to wear off and feel pretty stale.
However, you can use the motivating forces behind the Fresh Start Effect in a variety of ways to start (or restart) a goal. Why not link different goals to different beginnings instead of piling a lifetime of aspirations onto a single start date?
When getting ready to begin something, consider if you’re working with a Finish Line Goal or a Habit-Based (or Forever) Goal. A Finish Line Goal is connected to a deadline whereas a Forever Goal is a habit that (perhaps with some tweaking) you’ll carry on doing forever.
You can use the idea of a fresh start for both Finish Line Goals and Forever Goals.
Start Something New by Creating Physical Changes in Your Environment
The feel of new opportunities can come from physical changes to your life. This could involve moving to a new house or apartment, taking a different job, beginning a relationship, or other shifts in your life. In her book Better than Before, Gretchen Rubin refers to this time as a Clean Slate.
Apparently, a fantastic time to begin a new habit is when you move to a new home since you’re creating so many new routines that this becomes an opportunity to intentionally make changes to your life.
Rearrange your environment. Consider how making some modifications in your environment could change your habits. If you work at home, consider moving where you sit before engaging in a new project. If you want to change your habit of snacking the moment you get home in the evening, try driving home a different way or move the snack food to another cabinet.
Try to tie the habits you want to form to the changes you’re making. Shopping in a different grocery store and getting used to looking at the shelves more carefully could support shopping for healthier foods.
Remember, the goal here isn’t throwing a slew of random modifications throughout your day, but to set yourself up for the changes you want to include in your life. If you want to journal first thing in the morning, then leaving your journal near your coffee maker could be the cue you’re looking for.
If you want to engage with a new hobby, leave the supplies where you’ll use them so when you enter the room, their presence reminds you of what you want to do.
Since these are deliberate, small changes (unlike an intentional, large change like moving or changing your relationship status), if one doesn’t have the desired results, change it back…or change it to something else.
Use the calendar to make a fresh start
Hanging up a new calendar can cue the feeling of new things on the horizon. If you are a fan of creating New Year’s resolutions (or you’re simply fascinated by people who feel that their life can change with the flipping of a calendar page), you know that one of the biggest challenges with resolutions is that they peter out rather quickly.
Business Insider reports that 80 percent of resolutions started on January 1st fail by the second week in February!
I think one thing that makes introducing changes at this time of year such a challenge is that we feel we have a year to complete our goal. Since I can wander from tasks over the course of a day, trying to stay focused for a year on what I expect to accomplish is a bit of a stretch.
So, consider if you really need the year to work toward your goal. I think there’s something distinctly different between considering December 31st as your finish line as January 1st as your starting point.
Treat habits different than finish lines. First, consider if you’re working with a Finish Line Goal or Forever Goal. And if it’s a habit-based, forever, goal, consider that it isn’t necessary to hit the ground running when a gentle, meandering pace would be a friendlier start.
What I mean is – is it necessary to start exercising for an hour a day when you plan on exercising for the rest of your life? If you’re not currently exercising, a five-minute walk is not only more than you’re doing but easier to fit into your schedule and won’t result in muscle aches that leave you hobbling for a few discouraging days.
Starting with less intensity doesn’t mean that’s where you plan on staying, but if you’re making changes for life, slow-and-steady could keep you from becoming overwhelmed.
Give yourself multiple starting points throughout the year
If you’re working on a Finish Line Goal, does it require 52 weeks, or could you work with a shortened timeline? In The 12-Week Year by Brian Moran and Michael Lennington, they suggest that a shorter timeline could add a sense of immediacy that gets lost when working with a more distant deadline.
As I mentioned, in January, December 31st is so far away that it’s easy to think that we’ll manage to play catch up if we fall behind. When does panic kick us into action? When the deadline looms on the horizon.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you can accomplish all goals in a fourth of a year. If the goal involves taking individual steps that move you closer to the goal, then you have a Finish Line Goal that’s a good candidate for a condensed schedule. However, pushing yourself to complete a goal in less time than you think is necessary is called a stretch goal – a goal intentionally designed to be challenging to achieve.
Use stretch goals to stay focused. So, why push yourself? Stretch goals eliminate procrastination, rumination, and doubt. You just don’t have a lot of time to waste. If a decision needs to be made, you’ll make it more quickly, so you don’t fall behind schedule.
Pushing yourself a to achieve a goal in a quarter (starting January, April, July, October) or season (starting with the meteorological or astronomical event) also keeps the activity fresh. Just about the time your energy and enthusiasm for a goal may start flagging is halfway through the quarter year…so you get a new boost of motivation because now the finish line is in sight!
A 12-week goal won’t necessarily work with Habit-based goals because if you are trying to develop a habit, putting a timeline on results could mean that when you attain the results you’re looking for, or you reach your deadline, you could give up the habit because you met the finish goal.
See the end in sight with a 30-day challenge
Everywhere you look you’ll find 30-day challenges and programs intended to help you attain quick results changing your diet, learning a language, decluttering your home, exercising, limiting spending, avoiding alcohol, minimizing time online, and so on.
The mindset is that you can do almost anything for 30-days because you can see the end in sight. The problem here is that you go into a 30-day challenge focusing on being able to stop the behavior on the 31st day. If you’re giving yourself the incentive for sticking with the challenging by promising yourself a decadent and counterproductive reward, then you won’t see results. Instead, the challenge will be all about being able to say that you participated in the challenge.
Is a challenge a bucket list item or a desired change? So, are 30-day challenges worthless? No, but you need to go in with a proper mindset. By that I mean, why are you doing this? What do you hope to learn about yourself or gain (or lose) by participating?
If you want the experience for the sake of having the experience, go for it. However, if you want to see a transformation in your life, do you really need to count 30 days when you’re aiming for a Forever habit?
Are you limiting your spending for a month because you desire a permanent change to the way you spend or because you are saving up for a purchase you want to make in a month? Your goal here is key.
If you want to start off a habit with a 30-day challenge, then plan for how you’ll reintroduce some of your regular habits on day 31. (And if you want to stick with the new behavior for longer than 30-days, don’t count the days and send yourself conflicting information.)
Push yourself with a seven-day quick-start
Seven-day programs intended to start off long-term changes are often viewed as a quick-start. If 30-days seems far too long to practice a behavior, then do it in seven. Again, not to repeat myself (but I want to make this point), if you want to persist in the changes you’re making, don’t confuse matters by adding in a limited time.
If you have a do-it-and-done sort of project that you’re dreading (decluttering your home, updating your resume and putting it online, redecorating your family room), then pushing to complete it in a week could make it challenging and eliminate procrastination or cut out rumination.
Create Time for Your Big Push. Accomplishing a project in a narrow timeframe means eliminating other activities that you might normally plan on engaging in during your average week.
However, if it is important to you to get a project done, then announce you’ll be off Facebook for a week, tell your friends you can get together with them the week after next, and plan for your house to get a bit messier.
To see a project that’s been looming over your head for a while completed, is a boost to your confidence and may give you incentive to work on other projects.
Identify What You’ll Accomplish So You Don’t Get Distracted. First, define what “done” will look like for you. And plan now for what will happen if you can’t complete your goal in seven days. Can you continue working on it or is all your effort lost if you don’t complete your project in seven days?
Remember, a deadline isn’t the same as disappointment. If you miss the deadline to apply for a grant or program, then it’s likely you won’t be able to send in the paperwork later (unless they’ve agreed to grant you an extension).
However, if you wanted to declutter your basement in seven days and convert it into a family room, chances are that you can continue doing the work when the week is over.
Key here, be realistic (I know, how boring). Pushing yourself is one thing but being overly optimistic is its own issue. How much time do you have to devote to a seven-day project? What results to you want to see?
Inserting your own seven-day challenge into your schedule every so often can help you push through tasks. If you tend to overthink and procrastinate, the fresh start mindset of a week-long project could help you get a nagging task of your to-do list.
Treat each day as a new opportunity to work toward your goals
Each day is an opportunity to start anew. This doesn’t have to be limited only to tasks that can be completed in a single day but to your mindset about your goals. Yes, you can plan to power-through your to-do list or give yourself a rejuvenating day of self-care, but the true power of viewing a day as a beginning is that you can decide on your mindset.
Did your boss drop an unexpected project on your desk? Did your adult daughter ask you to babysit, which meant you didn’t make it to your yoga class? Whatever happened yesterday, you can start off today with hope for this day.
Simplify Your Plans for the Day. Don’t fill yourself with the pressure that comes with the saying, “today is the first day of the rest of your life”. Your goal for today can be to get through the day.
Take a moment each day to review and reflect. How did you stay on course? Where did you go off course and get distracted from your tasks? What can you do better tomorrow? How will you address distractions?
Start Over Within the Day. Have you ever found yourself thinking, “well, I blew that, better luck tomorrow”? Maybe you ate something that wasn’t on your diet and the thought that you’d start over the next day gave you permission to go off your diet for the rest of the day. Or you didn’t have time for a 30-minute workout so instead of taking a 20-minute walk later in the day, you decided that you’d have to do better tomorrow.
Habit and happiness writer Gretchen Rubin suggests counteracting the “what the hell” mindset that comes with lapses in habits by breaking up the day and viewing each chunk as an opportunity to start over.
So, you could view your day as four parts: morning, early afternoon, late afternoon, and evening. If you expected to take a walk in the early afternoon, but that plan fell through, then instead of feeling that all is lost until the next day, you could view late afternoon as a fresh opportunity to try again.
Viewing your day as multiple segments available to you as fresh starts seems best for habits and small tasks. Instead of feeling as if you missed a deadline and must wait for the next day to start over, you can give yourself multiple chances to start fresh within the same day.
Yes, some days this won’t work (something urgent pulls your attention away from your routine and plans for the day), but it can be worth the try to treat a lapse as something that can be corrected sooner than later.
Expand your idea of ways to make a fresh start
You probably start multiple projects throughout the year without necessarily thinking of them as opportunities for beginning fresh. However, there’s something exciting about a clean state or a fresh beginning that can boost your motivation.
Take the opportunity to motivated yourself with different timelines, be it a year, quarter year, month, week, day (or part of a day). Focus on what you hope to accomplish and why this timeline will help you stay focused on your goals.
Remember, goals aren’t just about doing more and doing it faster. They are about creating the life you want.
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