At the beginning of 2017, I decided I wanted to work on building two habits. I didn’t want to call them “resolutions” (too much pressure), and I definitely didn’t want to announce them publicly (even more pressure). Now that the year is over, though, I’m happy to report that 2017 was actually my best resolution-keeping year yet! Here’s how I did.
I took my first forays into meditation in 2016 and flirted with the practice on and off throughout the year. In 2017, I wanted to make it a more consistent presence in my life. I decided that I would start by meditating for 10 minutes a day in January (a duration that felt long at the time) and increase that time by 30 seconds each month.
I successfully kept up with this routine through travel to China (by meditating in my seat during the long haul flights), wedding planning, and even my wedding day itself, but after a long overnight journey, I collapsed exhausted into bed on the first day of our honeymoon and was asleep before I had meditated. After that, I decided to take the honeymoon off from meditating.
It was a choice that made sense given our pace of travel. It also had the unexpected side effect of reinforcing the benefit of this daily practice in my life. I found myself missing the ritual of sitting quietly in a dark room, listening to the ambient sounds playing on my meditation app, and letting my mind be still or at least free. After our honeymoon was over, I decided to start back up at 15 minutes a day, with no more duration increases. I’ve been doing that ever since: New Year’s Eve marked day 70.
While I didn’t follow my original prescription exactly, I still consider my meditation practice in 2017 a success. It’s a habit I’ve integrated into my life, and I experience its benefits every day.
I’ve been using a Fitbit to log my daily step count since 2011, but long gone were the days when I’d bounce around the living room at ten to midnight, racing the clock to hit 10000 steps. Toward the end of 2016, I noticed myself growing increasingly sedentary, and I wanted to change that in 2017.
I decided to do this by setting a daily step minimum: not a goal, which I might hit one day but miss the next, but a firm bar beneath which I would not allow myself to cross. I started in January with the extremely modest threshold of 1000 steps a day and increased this number by 1000 steps a month. I’m happy to report that I didn’t miss a single day all year. I paced the lengths of airport terminals, jogged in place in front of YouTube videos, arranged social gatherings that took the format of group walks, sometimes ran errands very inefficiently, and walked from the subway to my own wedding, but I did it.
I’ve taken at least 10000 steps a day every day since the beginning of October, without exception, and I took at least 12000 steps every single day in December. It’s also the first year since 2012 that my total step count for the year exceeded 3 million. I’m pretty proud of that.
Goodreads Reading Challenge
I deliberately set only two goals at the beginning of the year because I wanted it to be easy to keep my goals in mind every single day. It took me a while to realize that I was actually working toward a third goal as well. For the second year running, I participated in the Goodreads Reading Challenge with a target of 26 books, one book every two weeks. It’s a pace that feels good for me: not so many that reading becomes stressful, but not so few that the goal feels trivial. In 2017, I managed to hit my target exactly, finishing book number 26 (the one I started on Christmas Eve) on December 29.
Reading Books By Women
This last goal wasn’t one I planned for the year but one that found me along the way. At the end of 2016, when Lawrence and I were looking over the lists of books we had read that year, I observed that the vast majority of my books had been written by women, while the vast majority of his had been written by men. This was not deliberate — neither of us had given the slightest thought to the genders of the authors we read — but nevertheless this pattern emerged. I was intrigued but set that thought aside as I embarked on my reading for 2017.
When I was five or six books into the year, I noticed that all of the books I had read so far had been written by women and wondered if I could keep that up all year long. The answer, it turned out, was yes: all 26 new books I read in 2017 (plus the one that I reread and didn’t include in the count) were written by women. Was it hard? Not particularly, since (to paraphrase The Lion King) there’s more to read than can ever be read, but I do wonder if my 2018 reading will end up skewing more toward male authors as a result.
Lessons for the Future
In 2017, I gained two habits (and kept one old one) that enhance my daily life, but possibly more importantly, I learned about the process of working toward goals. I think these insights will help me to set myself up for more successes in the future, and I hope they’ll be able to do the same for you.
Inputs Over Outcomes
Many of us, myself included, use the terms “goal” and “resolution” interchangeably, but in 2017, I learned that there is an important difference between the two. A goal is an outcome you want to achieve, but a resolution should focus on the concrete steps you take to get there. It’s the difference between “I want to lose weight” and “I will exercise at least 5 days a week for at least 30 minutes each time,” between “I want to be published” and “I will submit my work.” A goal can be your motivation, but the best resolutions are plans of action.
The Things I Can Control
The reason why it helps to focus on inputs over outcomes when choosing resolutions is because inputs are within our control. If you pick a resolution that is entirely and exclusively in your hands, then you make yourself the key determinant of your success. Other factors might affect the outcome of a situation, but you can put in the work and celebrate your efforts for their own sakes.
A Habit of Success
I started off my daily steps habit by pledging to take at least 1000 steps per day in January. Now, I’m not saying it’s impossible to take fewer than 1000 steps in a day (I’ve done it before!), but it’s a pretty trivial target for most people. What’s the point of setting such a low bar to start? I wanted to make my target so easy that it would be hard to fail. I wanted to make sure my resolution felt approachable while I was getting used to it. I wanted to get myself in the habit of succeeding.
Once I was in the habit of succeeding, I then incrementally increased my target. Every month, I raised my target step count by 1000 steps, which was a small enough difference to feel achievable but a large enough difference to feel like I was continuing to push myself. A month turned out to be the perfect amount of time for the new increment to move from challenging to manageable without quite hitting easy. Just as I was about to get acclimated to each target, it would be time to move on to the next one and start the process again. These regular increments helped me to make and measure my progress.
What will I be working on in 2018? With a year of success under my belt, I feel less shy about sharing this time around: I plan to incrementally raise the duration of my daily meditation sessions from 15 minutes to 20, maintain an average step count above 10000 per day for the year by continuing to shoot for 12000 most days so that I can take the occasional rest day, and keep a daily gratitude log. For the third year in a row, I’ve set a goal of 26 books in the Goodreads Reading Challenge. I want to visit at least one new state and at least two new countries. And every month, I intend to savor one British-style afternoon tea at home, lead one walk in our monthly walk series, and write at least five posts for this blog. Starting with this one.