January 2nd, or “the death of goals day”. You spend the first day of the year thinking about all the things you want to achieve and by this day you’ve broken your promises to yourself, forgotten about the things you want to get done, and wondered at what point in your life one day hangovers turned into two day hangovers.

Don’t worry. We have all done this.

I have an ambivalent relationship with goals. On the one hand, goals add value and, if chosen well, meaning to your life. On the other hand, goals can be stifling, endless wells of disappointment and failure.

If you’ve ever done any kind of personal development course you’ve probably been told to make goals SMARTER (the personal development industry loves an acronym). And for some things, SMARTER really is better. If you want to pay off your credit card debt then being specific about when you’re going to do it and making sure it’s an achievable thing is good idea.

But not everything you want to do in life is SMARTER. And the peril with trying to apply the same framework to everything you want to do is that you end up feeling bad when you start something only to find out you don’t care enough about it to actually keep going.

Sometimes, you need to start small and just find out if something is right or possible for you. For example, I’m interested in photography, and – as I don’t have any hobbies and know I need something other than work in my life – I want to see if it’s something I enjoy. I could set myself a SMARTER goal on this: “By the end of January I will have found and enrolled in a photography course”, say. But suppose I look around, read some course descriptions, and find that actually it all sounds dreadful and I can’t get excited about it? Have I FAILED in my goal?

The best advice I’ve seen about goals is Ryder Carroll’s in The Bullet Journal Method, where he talks about splitting goals into sprints, little two week chunks which achieve something in themselves – each sprint is complete in that sense – but achieve something within that overall goal. And importantly, if after a sprint you find you want to head off in a different direction from where your goal was leading, that’s fine.

Sometimes, all a goal is is an opportunity to learn about something and maybe take it further. So start small, and be forgiving. Never forget that it’s fine to decide that something which looked important to you before you started is not something you want to pursue.

Everything you do is a chance to learn.  The only time you learn nothing is if you do nothing.

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