New Year and Expectations, Know Thyself

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The idea of starting over is one that fascinates us all. Whatever happened this year, the next one we will get stronger, smarter and we won’t do the same mistakes.

It is only natural to believe that change is something within our grasp and most of us consider New Year a time to start as good any other.

From bucket lists to resolution ideas, the internet is now bursting with articles on how to choose the right career paths, change your training habits and finally let go of your favourite vice. Good news is that all of this is possible. The slightly bad one is that we need to be realistic about it.

Since I’ve had awareness of time flowing I perceived the days right after Christmas and before the end of the year as a race to set new goals. When I was younger I would scribble ideas in a notebook, fill up my room with yellow post-it notes, and announce my resolutions to my family at lunch or dinner, always with a sparkle of inextinguishable energy in my eyes.

Today my bucket list ideas can be found on my PC, my notice board and still on the never-ageing post-it notes I used to use when I was little, but the principles that compelled me to write them are still the same, unchanged despite the years passed by.

What has changed, however, is the way I perceive these goals and how I relate to them. You see, I clearly remember every one of those years I would start marvellously with all of those lists and ideas but then gradually lose pieces of them along the way.

Of course, I would not think to become Batman now, or a Roman Gladiator as when I was seven (don’t even ask why I would want to become one). But also, as I grew older and started having more rational goals, the running schedule I would set for myself, for example, would be too hard to achieve without previous preparation, or the things I would want to learn too many or too difficult to memorise in a given time.

And yet, every year the beginning of January was a time of great fulfilment. With my winter holidays not yet finished – both from school/university and later from work – I had a lot of time to dedicate to all of my plans, and it simply felt good. Focusing all my energies on those goals I would manage to achieve a lot, I was really absorbed in the task at hand and genuinely believed I could keep going like this for the whole year.

As previously mentioned, however, despite those were achievable goals, they were not in the amount of time I’d given myself. Soon, as school first and then work started, I would lose sight of some of them, and eventually abandon many, with the understandable disappointment that would come with it.

I felt like I was letting myself down, and more than once I doubted my abilities and questioned my intelligence and physical prowess. I thought it was just a matter of focusing more, and I was blaming myself for not managing to achieve the full capabilities of my being. Why was I able to start so nicely but couldn’t keep going? I could not understand this.

I tried harder then. In a vicious cycle of stubbornness, I did not want to accept that those goals were simply too hard to achieve in my current state. At times I grew very irritable, and I genuinely thought I could not keep going like this.

Defeated, I therefore tried to lower the bar substantially, thinking that if I couldn’t do as much, I should probably stop asking myself to do that and just acknowledge my limitations. But even then I did not feel satisfied. At first, it was great to achieve every goal before the deadlines I had set, but I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I was cheating, tricking myself. I knew that I could do more and I owed myself the courtesy to seriously get back on track.

It was then that I asked myself one question: how can I try and improve without asking too much of myself?

The striving desire for change that we all feel needs to be nurtured and embraced, but it also needs to represent a challenge for us. A goal too easy to achieve would bring boredom with it, while one too hard will hinder our growth and fill us with disappointment. It’s the same principle that also applies when trying to enter a flow state of mind.

It was like this that I realised a successful goal can only be achieved by balancing the desire for personal change with the one of setting reasonable goals. It was really about knowing yourself.

I remember writing down lists of my strengths and weaknesses then. My abilities’ level and “reasonable” goals. Was one week too little to beat that time record when running? Could I read that book in four days? Was I able to save enough to visit two countries in that year?

As we age, our physical and mental abilities change, increasing and decreasing according to multiple factors. When trying to establish reasonable goals we need to keep that into consideration as well. You physique might be getting stronger but your memory won’t be as quick as when you were a teenager. It is a process of trial and error, one that took years for me to understand and one that potentially will last for a long time still.

However, thanks to the understanding of these principles, in time I have adjusted my habits greatly and – year by year – I managed to retain more commitments and set more achievable goals in a process of self-development and growth.

Will I manage to cross out of my bucket list all of the items in 2018? I am not sure, but certainly I will cross out more than I did last year.

Happy New Year everybody!

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