New Years is great because it's the one time of the year when goal-setting is universally on the table for debate. Everyone has their opinions or their ideas. And sharing them isn't weird.
You know the trouble, though. With New Years comes new resolutions. And too many. Our eyes are big and our hearts are open.
And by February, most are gone.
It's not that we're not ambitious or full of good intentions. We're just scared to change our habits and commit. It's a New Year but it feels like the same old life after awhile.
Some chalk it up to the fear of missing out.
Futurist filmmaker Jason Silva explains it like this: "The minute you choose one thing, you’ve effectively said no to everything else and there is a gnawing anxiety in realizing that you can’t possibly have it all. You can’t possibly mainline space and time through the optic nerve and have it swallow it whole."
What you swallow instead is the hard truth. There is only so much space and time for you to take on something.
And so how can we possibly decide?
Often our answer is passion. We're searching for that one thing that can define our life beyond any other, the one magical thing that will destroy our fear of missing out and keep us locked in to creating something great.
But Cal Newport has a problem with this. Actually, he has two, and he wrote a whole book based on overcoming the passion mindset called So Good They Can't Ignore You.
Newport's problem with the passion mindset is two-fold, as he says:
"First, when you focus only on what your work offers you, it makes you hyperaware of what you don’t like about it, leading to chronic unhappiness" and "Second, and more serious, the deep questions driving the passion mindset - 'Who am I?' and 'What do I truly love?' - are essentially impossible to confirm. 'Is this who I really am?' and 'Do I love this?' rarely reduce to clear yes-or-no responses."
What Newport suggests instead is the craftsman mindset - the philosophy and practice of working hard at becoming great at something, anything, pushing yourself to an unimaginable end, and coming out the other side happy because you're able to offer something rare and valuable to the world.
In other words, Newport writes, "Whereas the craftsman mindset focuses on what you can offer the world, the passion mindset focuses instead on what the world can offer you."
And since you can't always control or predict what the world can offer you, the best course of action for everyone just might be to adopt the craftsman badge.
Host of This American Life, Ira Glass sheds some light when he explains the craftsman mindset as a "gap":
"Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.
A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.
Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through."
Glass is talking about creative work but the idea applies to everything you want to achieve. You can see that beautiful version of the future where you've achieve your new goals and you're a new person for it. You just need to continue pulling that vision toward you by doing the work.
You need to achieve more than just enough, or what Newport calls the "performance plateau". What normally happens when it comes to New Years resolutions (or other goals for that matter) is you get to work and when the going gets tough, you settle for an average status. You respond to emails instead of sending them off to proactively fix problems. You lift weights or go running only when you have a buddy to join you, or your entire night free of plans. You sit content with your uninspiring job because they pay you just enough to afford your own place. This is when you should be closing the gap.
And it's simple to see why we don't do that, because fighting to be better is hard work. It's not easy. It requires you to build up all the courage you can to go beyond the excitement of doing something new, and hush the little voice inside your head that says, "I know I'm missing things."
Gazillionaire investor Warren Buffet has been said to do something similar. Buffet recommends prioritizing 25 things you want to do right now, choosing your top five and then abandoning the rest.
Yes. Choose five and abandon the rest.
Cal Newport reinforced this on his blog when he said, "spending time on lower priority goals, even though they’re helpful and generate value, can leave you worse off than if you had avoided them all together."
You might be able to spin plates all day long but you'll get the best bang for your buck attacking the big ideas only.
Did your heart skip a beat? Does this make you nervous?
It does for me.
I'm willing to experiment, though. Are you?
Start January with three goals. Yes, three. Extra Madness made it simple.
What else can you ask for? More wishes? Not this time.
You don't want to be average, so don't set average goals. That's what everyone else is doing, and, as Mark Twain said, "Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect."
Force yourself into a new mold. Three goals to a new you.
If you're afraid of missing out, try this: Make a monthly reminder in Google Calendar. Set an alert to remind you that you should be making progress on your body, your money, and your creativity. Every month that passes you can feel the pride of achievement or the slap of failure.
Set your sights. This is going to be a New Year.
And if you want to share your goals, I'd love to hear them! You can write in the comments below or subscribe in the sidebar there and you can reply to the emails directly.