I started writing this in the second half of January 2023. Really it should have been ready to post on 31 December. But I guess that is why one of my goals for this year is to begin writing more regularly again. Which was also a goal for 2022… and 2021… and 2020… looks like there is a recurring theme here! (Or is it that society is now emerging from two years of living in a state of semi-emergency and stress and I planned a wedding last year?)
Here’s the honest truth about New Year Resolutions: maybe 1 in 100 people manage to keep one of their resolutions for the year. It’s part of the reason why I’ve been picking a Word of the Year for the past eight years (2023 is here). It’s so much easier to do life around a theme than trying to meet resolutions that were probably set at an extreme level.
Sure, you wanted to make it to the gym and eat salad four times a week. But it’s now Blue Monday, it’s cold, you’re on your period, and frankly just want a creamy hot chocolate. And sure, I honestly want to have part of my book out of my brain and on paper, the UK Moot podcast to be in its second season, writing for Finding Chaya weekly, and have a thriving, hospitable marriage. Only I work 30 hours a week, help with a kids club, still need to exercise, and rest. Plus the six books I technically have on the go at the moment. Hmmm… you got any of that hot chocolate left? Think I could do with a cuppa!
New Year, rhythms and rituals
Even though we know it’s going to result in probable failure, January 1 roles round and we can’t resist. We’re there setting ourselves new resolutions. Why torture ourselves like this?
Human beings love rhythm. If you’ve followed Finding Chaya from the beginning you will know that I did a series on the liturgical calendar. It gives a rhythm to my life and my faith in a way that feels tangible. New Year is part of that same rhythm – a way to mark the passage of time.
And how do we mark time? With rituals! Birthday parties and Christmas. Easter and wedding anniversaries. They all have their own rituals attached; New Year resolutions are simply the ritual we have attached to January 1st every year. Something about that being the day we choose to mark another full circumnavigation of the sun means it has become a day to make a fresh start.
Fresh starts require intentions and goals
Now fresh starts require a lot of determination to not return to the old habits we were living in before. However, they also require one of two things: intentions and goals.
Intention: something that you want and plan to doCambridge Dictionary
Goal: an aim or purposeCambridge Dictionary
Typically, New Year resolutions are goals or intentions that meant well but got slightly out of hand. You’re going to run a marathon even though you can’t run 5k. You’re going to learn to speak Ancient Greek when you can’t master French with Duolingo’s help. You want to get back down to the dress size you were 10 years ago. Or even those that seem manageable, like running 5k minimum once a week but you work full-time and have a small child.
Yet, we still all love to have some kind of goal that stretches us. It gives us something to aim for and if it’s too high at least we can say we tried.
Well, what if I told you there was another option? One that would give you goals that were manageable, still stretch you, and give you trackable change!
(Re)introducing Think Days
In 2019, I began a new goal/intention-setting practice. Only instead of big, lofty ideas every year, I chose SMARTER short-term goals every 90 days/three months. Though I have to admit, this wasn’t my idea. As with so many of my better ideas, I learned about Think Days from Tsh Oxenreider.
Tsh’s ‘Think Day’ concept seemed simple enough. Every 90 days, you set a day aside to reflect on the past 90 days, the present right there and then, and the next (future) 90 days. She even came up with a series of questions to guide you through the reflection. Think of them as a guide rope – it is up to you if you hold it tight or just use them to help you find your own way.
Out of this reflection, you come up with one or two goals (no more! We’re keeping things stretching but realistic here!) that are SMARTER: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timebound, Exciting, and Risky. These goals are then what you work towards over the next 90 days.
The first time around, I kept up my quarterly Think Days for over a year… then pandemic-brain and fatigue hit. Everything suffered because, like many others, my brain, heart, body, and soul had all had enough and began to shut down. I stopped doing Think Days because, frankly, it didn’t feel like there was much point in the middle of a pandemic.
But we’ve made it through! So three years later, I’m reintroducing Think Days to my life. It’s been a crazy few years but I’m definitely overdue for some reflecting-on-my-life-time.
Forcing yourself to ask “Why?”
I’ve had my first think day of 2023. I have to confess it wasn’t as wonderful or delightful as I remember them being. Instead, it was hard. Partially, this was because I’m married now so had to do this while taking another human being into consideration – never easy when you have a base nature geared toward selfishness and survival. But it was also hard because I realised how much I want to do.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, one annual practice I do is pick a Word of the Year. This year’s word is ‘balance’. As I worked my way through how I wanted the next 90 days to look, I realised that my life was far from balanced. Instead, it was too busy! Along with a four-day-a-week job, regular household jobs, sharing the planning, shopping, and cooking of meals with Mr. FC, and being part of our church community, I had multiple different projects on the go and desires to fulfill.
You see, that is the beauty of a quarterly think day over an annual resolution. You are able to stop and assess how you are doing more often and therefore can course correct with more ease.
On this occasion, I sat down with Mr. FC to look at the goals I might set. As I talked him through my ideals for the next 90 days, I had to face the discomfort of him bluntly telling me I could not achieve it all. I simply did not have the time with our full calendars to do all the things I wanted. It made me stop and really think through what I wanted out of these next 90 days. Most importantly, it made me ask a key question: WHY? Why did I want to achieve them? Why did I think they would make a difference to my life in 90 days, which isn’t really that long a period of time?
Sitting with the “Why?” of your goals
I had never really sat with the “Why?” of my goals before. To be honest, the last set of goals I made before Covid appeared had about 10 on there and they weren’t exactly SMARTER. (Just between us, one of them was literally “talk to [boy I had a crush on] about what happened at the Christmas party”. Not me at my best.) They had just been goals I made to ensure I got things done that I needed to get done.
Sitting with your “Why?” ensures that at least one thing happens: you pick goals that match up with the direction you want your life to go in. You aren’t creating another job list to do; you are actively directing your life down a specific route.
For me, it forced me off my self-created hamster wheel of “doing all the things”. Instead, with Mr. FC’s help, I came up with two goals that can help shape and direct my life instead.
In 90 days from, now I will: 1) have identified the format and topics to focus on with my writing, 2) have had four different social things locally with friends.
I don’t know that they fulfill the ‘Risky’ of SMARTER but they definitely fit the rest. More importantly, they force me to confront two of the “elephants in the room” of my life: my chosen vocation as a writer and my social circle since moving to Oxford. I could have just continued to pump out whatever words I fancied, whenever I liked. I could have considered my social life full with the friends I already have, spending the majority of my time socialising via video calls and social media.
Instead, sitting with my “Why?” forced me to ask what kind of life I want. And the honest truth is that if I want to be a successful writer, then I need to know my audience and what they would like to read about*. Equally, if I spent all my social time on zoom calls, I would actually become lonelier as every time I hung up I’d be waiting for the next call. I’d be missing out on the incarnational delight of building relationships with the people around me, like my church community.
Doing the ”Why?” (Part 1)
Now comes the tricky part. I have figured out my “Why?”, written goals based around it, and decided how I will celebrate them in April (my favourite part of a Think Day!). Now I just have to do them.
Yes, this ambivert with an encouraging but introverted husband needs to organise social things with friends I don’t necessarily know that well (yet). And no more putting the pro in PROcrastinator – I’ve got to get down to some serious work on my writing.
Do I know how I’m going to manage this? Not really; I don’t have much of a plan beyond asking people for coffee and stealing (with permission) Mr. FC’s work’s product development process (I’m desperate with nowhere to go, okay!)
But here is what I do know. It isn’t finding the “Why?” behind your goal that is the hard bit. Uncomfortable? Yes. Hard? Not nearly as hard as the doing will be. Fortunately, we aren’t going to be doing it alone.
Someone else cares!
With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of His calling, and that by His power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.Paul, Silas and Timothy’s prayer for Christians in 2 Thessalonians 1v11
Long-time (or nosey new) readers will know that Finding Chaya is built on Christian faith and worldview. So what I am about to say should be no surprise:
God, the full Holy Trinity, cares about your goals
Are your goals going to be crucial in the Kingdom of God coming to earth? Fortunately no, because that would be some intense pressure. But does he want you to be part of building that same kingdom? According to the Bible, that would be a definite yes!
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.Jesus Christ’s call to all who call themselves His disciples in Matthew 28v18-20
And has God in His full Trinitarian power (Father, Son, and Spirit) created you as a certain person with specific “whys?” and goals for your life? Yes, He has!
All this means that Holy Spirit, as the person of the Holy Trinity with us now, cares about two things:
- That you become the person God made you to be, “worthy of His calling”.
- That you follow those goals and “whys?” as God intended.
Now, I’m in real danger of spinning off in excitement about how God works in our hearts to bring our desires in line with His. Sounds like another blog post for later. For now, let’s just get really excited about how God, as Holy Spirit, wants to work with us to achieve our goals in a way that aligns with His intention for our lives.
Doing the “Why?” (Part 2)
So you’re not doing this alone. You have God’s Spirit on your side. He is working in your life to align you with God’s plan and to help you be the person He designed you to be.
This means that He will help you achieve those goals on one condition: they will help you be the person He made you to be. So you might need to revisit your “Whys?” and sit with them again before doing them.
For those ready to go and do, go and do. Surround yourself with prayer and spend time with God by listening and reading the Bible. But go and do! Ask that friend out for coffee. Put the trainers on to head out the door. Sign up for that course to gain the skill you want.
There is no magic formula. There is a whole lot of prayer, sitting, thinking, maybe journaling, and then doing. You got to get up off that magnificent backside of yours and do the “Why?”.
Over to you
If you are going to join me in Doing your “Why?”, share your goal in the comments below. Let’s cheer each other on as we commit to not just being the women we want to be but also the women God meant for us to be.
*Because trust me, I could write about a whole host of things but the person wanting to hear about my thoughts on Sabbath or periods in the Bible may not want to hear my thoughts on Disney… or maybe you do and you’re my mental twin? Let me know in the comments ⬇