Katherine Plumhoff
January 03, 2020 8:47 am
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Twelve years ago, I started writing my goals down every January in a blue-spiraled Joe Jonas notebook, and they always covered a range of topics. “Clean room at least one time a week,” “save $2,000 by the end of the year,” “tour three new colleges,” and “run 6+ miles regularly” would show up on different goals lists from eighth grade through college.

I’d check in every quarter and use different-colored markers to note my progress. I’d leave myself congratulatory notes when I’d hit a goal early and write encouraging notes when I was falling behind. But year after year, I would always find big Xs marked next to anything running-related, and the notes would go from encouraging to bitter: “HAHA, not happening.”

Last year, after hammering out the most well-organized and motivating annual goals I’d ever set, I finally realized the first commandment of writing resolutions: Trying to rewrite your personality never works.

Goals or resolutions should be about leaning into the parts of yourself that you like and creating habits to better support your values instead of trying to force-reboot your life.

I don’t like long-distance running. I never have. I don’t like the way it makes my knees feel, like I’m somewhere in my mid-to-late 80s, with swollen joints. I don’t like how every minute after the first three minutes feels like a week. I hate the heavy-duty sports bras it necessitates, and I especially hate feeling like I’m fighting my way out of a sweaty straitjacket when I have to take them off afterward. I know some people find it calming, meditative, deeply enjoyable, and even a major part of their identity. But for me, running has always felt like punishment. The truth is, no amount of couch-to-10k training plans or color-coordinated athleisure item or well-meaning New-Year’s-resolution-setting has ever made it feel any different.

So this year, I’m not committing to any running resolutions. None. While this year’s goals include health and wellness resolutions, I’m finally accepting that I hate running and I can and should take care of my body in ways it likes better. Like walking, dancing, doing pilates, hiking, or any other engaging activities that simply aren’t running.

It took me over a decade to figure out that my goals-writing process wasn’t me sitting down with Joe (we’re on a first-name basis) and writing down who I wanted to become over the course of the following 12 months. It was me writing down who I thought I should be.

For years, I wrote down goal weights, races to run, and life milestones I thought I should reach (i.e. “get a boyfriend!!”) alongside goals about my family, friends, finances, and career.

For years, when I’d failed to bring those first set of goals to fruition, I got frustrated, and my frustration at those failures overshadowed my other successes.

What did it matter if I’d saved more money than I’d set out to if I couldn’t regularly fit into a size six? Sure, I’d led an organization to its best year yet, but if I hadn’t run the half-marathon I’d said I would, did that matter? I recognize how silly that sounds. Of course, those other achievements mattered. But I think my discomfort with those failures stemmed from a big dose of cognitive dissonance, and that feeling overshadowed all others.

For example, I knew financial independence was important to me, and I wrote a goal about it. I regularly made decisions—every day, every week—that were in line with that value of mine. Whether I met or didn’t meet the literal goal itself didn’t really matter; I was moving in a direction that felt right—and that was all that mattered.

But when I decided I’d become a runner or lose 10 pounds, there was no personal value behind those goals. Only the most superficial parts of me wanted those things to come true. And because no values drove me to make decisions that would lead to achieving those goals, when the end of the year came, I was no closer to them. The gulf between what I said I’d do and what I’d actually done felt uncomfortably large.

If you see a big gap between what you value, what you’d like to be doing, and what you’re actually doing, by all means, vow to change. What about yourself do you adore? Is it your generous spirit, or your willingness to try anything once? When do you feel the most fulfilled? Is it when you’re protesting injustice or breaking down pop culture? And what are the things you’d be most excited to achieve? Improving at a sport or visiting a new place? And then ask yourself why those qualities, why those activities, and why those achievements? Because the whys are your values, and the specific things that make you proud, fulfilled, or excited should find their way into your goals of ways to best live by them.

But don’t start from the assumption that you need to change to have accomplished something. Figuring out who you are and living within that is accomplishment enough.

I didn’t set out to change the way I set resolutions to weed out that dissonance. It just happened. Last year, I looked down at the goals I’d set—many of which focused on traveling and writing, since I’d left my job that year to backpack South America and write about it—and realized that they felt right, like the emotional equivalent of pulling on pajamas fresh from the dryer. I worked backward from that feeling and tried to diagnose why I hadn’t felt that click in previous years. That’s when I noticed that my past goals hadn’t always been well-aligned with things I believed in and valued.

I am not a runner. My bum knee and my distaste for mindless cardio are a part of me. And you know what? They are not parts to change or train away. I love them, and I’m going to let them exist. This year, I am purposefully committing to goals that I actually value: Taking care of my body so I can keep traveling and exploring, improving my Spanish so I can build deeper relationships, publishing in new outlets and working with new editors to widen my reach and improve my voice. New year, old me—just with improved support systems.