I spent time reflecting on my days as an athlete and a coach during the Olympics last August. I realized that I was pretty good at setting and accomplishing goals related to sports. I was a swimmer and always had goal times to reach. As a coach, I helped my swimmers set goals to achieve each season. I’ve even finished two marathons and definitely needed training goals along the way!
But I rarely set life goals. No short-term goals or long-term goals. No budget or income goals. No net worth goals or even goals to FIRE.
And although I’ve accomplished many things in life, watching the Olympics and reading personal finance blogs last summer pushed me to want to set measurable goals. They may not have been true “SMART” goals, but they were closer to real goals than I had ever set in the past. The personal goals were designed to help me stay focused and continue growing in my (first attempt at) early retirement.
It just so happened that August 8th (8/8) was exactly 8 months before my 50th birthday. So I set eight goals on 8/8 and planned to monitor them carefully until my birthday last week. The goals focused on strength training, trying new recipes, donating/volunteering, improving routines, reading, and traveling to new locations.
But when I went back to work full-time, my focus on goals fell apart. I pretty much predicted that would happen in my original post when I wrote – “What if I go back to work – will I just fall into the “old grind” again and just ignore my goals?” (It’s interesting when you write how you can go back and pick up on things like that.) By December, I had only made slight progress on three of the eight goals I had set. So I gave up on my goals.
But I didn’t quit. It would have been easy to do that and blame it on a lack of time. Or motivation. Or whatever. There are plenty of excuses.
Instead, I shifted my thinking to focus on my strengths – rather than my flaws. I wanted to use solution-focused thinking since I wasn’t reaching my goals. It was time to shift and focus on building habits. Less focus on day to day, more focus on the long haul – the marathon, not the sprint.
The habits I chose to focus on were keep moving, eat real food, help others, simplify, keep learning, explore, choose happiness and have fun.
So what’s stuck in the last four months? Which habits have I made progress on and what does that look like?
Keep moving – I am on the move most of the day at work. I don’t have an office job – yet I work in an office. As an educator, you are always on the move with students, parents, teachers, and activities! Moving will probably resemble a more typical “exercise” focus when my job is over in June. We are on vacation giving “retirement” a trial run this week. We biked 10 miles, walked 5 miles and swam for an hour – today. Yes, I think keep moving has stuck and what we did today didn’t cost anything!
Eat real food – As a family, we have made a lot of progress with limiting processed foods in our diet. And it’s certainly easier when everyone is on board! We buy a lot more produce now and when we do buy something packaged, we choose products based on the quality (and quantity) of ingredients. We look forward to trying new recipes as our free time increases in the next few months too. Has this habit stuck? Yes, but we definitely have more work to do too! One other thing we’ve noticed is that we buy less and have less to recycle. A win in more than one way!
Help others – We are just beginning to clean out parts of our house as we get ready to downsize into one of our rental properties. Other than donating clothes, we haven’t done that much to help others. As far as the blog goes, I have tried to help others by writing twelve Saturday Share Day posts in 2017! A sticky habit? Not yet, but some progress has been made.
Simplify – We haven’t made too much progress in terms of simplifying things. As I mentioned, we had to wait until we knew our tenant of 22 years was going to really move before we started simplifying in terms of possessions. I wasn’t able to make any progress on simplifying our rental property paperwork and my new phone hasn’t helped me simplify life either! The last two points are totally based on a lack of time. With a full-time job and three side jobs, simplifying my schedule is the best I can do. This is a habit that will have need much more attention when I leave my job this summer.
Keep learning – I learn new things from what I read every day. I also learn from my colleagues and the little ones I work with at school. My website hack a few weeks back taught me all kinds of new things too! I’ll write about that soon. The hack was a huge hassle, but a great learning experience (especially for someone who has few technical skills!) This habit has definitely stuck! And I hope to branch out into some new areas of learning later this year.
Explore – We’ve been on some college visits that took us to Washington, D.C. and West Virginia in the last few months. They were short visits but we did some exploring in each area. We’ve also visited our vacation condo in Sarasota, Florida and we are searching out new places to visit here too. We haven’t done much exploring in our local area because we’ve been pretty buried with work! As far as habits go – this is a work in progress. Less hours at work should lead to more adventures in the near future!
Choose happiness and Have fun – We’ve worked really hard on our mindset over the last few months. Building this habit is something that is a real challenge if we let things we can’t control get to us. But it is also the habit that my husband and I think is the most important. We’ll need to keep working this habit and we’ll try to track the changes as I join him in early retirement this summer.
What I’ve learned is that a lack of time can wreak havoc on meeting your goals or building your habits. And until I’m done with work, I will definitely have a lack of time. The more stress I put on myself to meet specific goals, the less it happened. The more I focused on my broader habits, the more they seemed to stick.
I’m not totally giving up on goal setting. I think developing some specific measurable goals down the road might be a great way to “jump start” movement toward new building new habits. Or maybe not. Time (and having more of it) will tell. But I’ll stick with my habits for now.
Goals or Habits? Find what works for you, no matter what others say. And if it’s not working, change it. Just don’t quit.
Photo credit: https://pixabay.com/en/users/TeroVesalainen-809550/