The New Year’s conflict: motivation v. disappointment
Every New Year I experience great conflict within myself: I feel utterly motivated to become the person I want to be and completely dejected about not having become the person I wanted to be last year. I tend to think in black and white, all or nothing, and it sets me up for nothing but disappointment. It’s hard for me to see the accomplishments I made in the last year because they add up to so much less than the entirety of my hopes and dreams. Incremental goal setting and objective measurement of those hopes and dreams are foreign to me, although I see how positively they work for others.
A third option: Incremental accomplishment
This year I think I’d like to try my own version of incremental goal setting, something that seems like a good fit for me, i.e. something that’s easy to implement.
I always have many things that I’m trying to work on, so I don’t love the over-simplistic version of habit-making that states you can only focus on one thing at a time and you have to work on it daily for 6 weeks to 3 months before you have formed a habit around it. Only then can you move on to the next thing. I certainly see the logic in this, but I’m much too impatient to work in that way. One of my downfalls is my shortsightedness. I can’t even see into the next six months much less the next 5 years. The thought that I could only tackle four small things a year makes me want to throw in the towel right now.
Doing it my way
So I’ve come up with my own version of getting (some) things done that I’ve been putting off or at the very least been inconsistent about. My problem tends to be inconsistency fueled by loss of motivation and exacerbated by days that vary greatly. When lots of your time is your own there is lots of room for being unproductive. So here it is:
Jen’s New Year recipe for forward momentum
pick 3 things you want to work on
these could be anything from doing some work you’ve been putting off to reading fiction
every day set aside 30 minutes just for this
every day. no exceptions. no matter how tired or how jam-packed your day is (okay, if you’re sick you can make an exception)
break your 30 minutes into 10 minute increments and do each of your 3 picks for only 10 minutes
time yourself and don’t go over even if you want to. if you are motivated to do more after your 30 minute session has ended then feel free to do so. the point is to make this truly do-able. if you are overwhelmed with the original commitment or its possibilities then you won’t do it at all.
do this 30 minute ritual until you feel like you can’t go a single day without it, then pick 3 more and start over
this way you’ve gotten hooked on doing those first three things and are ready to get hooked on more
The power of momentum
We forget just how powerful a slight nudge in the right direction can be to create forward momentum. 10 minutes a day of any one thing is 70 minutes a week, is roughly 315 minutes a month, is 3650 minutes a year. Now that adds up to something!
The Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, holder of the Shambhala lineage of Buddhism says that it is much more effective to meditate for 10 minutes a day, consistently, than it is to meditate for an entire hour only once a week.
In employing this incremental method you are building a muscle that will retain its memory long after you have stopped working it. The effects that accrue over time add up to much more than what you would gain from erratic, but longer practice. This really is true for anything.
Make it personal
My personal plan for this year is to:
- start my 30 minutes with 10 minutes of yoga: 3 – 4 sun salutations and 1 – 2 deep stretches in whatever area of my body needs it most
- follow with 10 minutes of shamatha meditation (just following the breath)
- end with 10 minutes of work that I’ve been putting off (writing, research, marketing, organizing, whatever)
Each of these 3 things will benefit me deeply in their own right and help me to create a sense of accomplishment daily.
The order of my sequence has benefit as well, for yoga postures help to settle the body making sitting meditation more fruitful (and comfortable) and sitting meditation helps to calm and focus my mind so that I may accomplish more in my 10 minutes of work. Ending my sequence with my work allows me to continue working if I have the time or pack it in and do something else (like sleep).
I look forward to feeling the positive effects of this incremental forward momentum and keeping up the motivation to accomplish whatever mind desires in this New Year. And I hope you do as well.