It’s that time of the year…

Brasov, January 2015

What time, you ask? Well, now this depends on how you see things. What get’s you more thrilled:

  • that it’s Christmas with it’s religious significance, Christmas trees, presents, carols and more time for family and friends?;
  • that it’s a holiday, so there’s more time to sleep, to relax, to watch some movies,to eat a little bit more than normal and to not need to go to the gym as it’s closed [you say]?;
  • that it’s the New Year Eve party and the possibility for a new beginning seems to be rising in the horizon?

You can choose one or two or them all. I know I do, as I really like this time of the year. I like it better if it snows, but I may do with the cold just fine. I am a fan of seasons and thankfully I manage to find my joy in each of them. Winter [like them all] has a special meaning to me. Much more than all the others, it revolves around home. But for some reason, as the years went by, the opportunities laid out by a new beginning are what thrills me.

Me in Cismigiu park, Bucharest, in the winter of 2010

I love Christmas, hanging out with my family and friends, being off from [part of my] work [let’s be real, I am always doing something worky], eating the traditional food and giving and receiving presents. But as the years go by I realize that during this period I am more interested in reflecting on the current year and planning my activities for the one to come.

I am a believer in setting goals. Not just on New Years, but this seems such a great time for this, as so many other people are doing it that it creates a good vibe around preparing for a new beginning.

I’ve started my goal setting programme in 2017, after what I call a breakdown. I was completely negative for months, ranging from sad to angry at the smallest change. At some point I couldn’t take it any more. I remember I was alone at work in autumn and I was upset. It wasn’t a revelation or anything, but something told me I just need to get out of my state because so many things need to get done and this angry Anca is not who I want to be. My first thought was to search for help online, so I got on Youtube and searched for motivational speakers. From that point on I started a new phase of my self development. Which implied setting boundaries and protecting my schedule.

I always had goals, but there was no process to back it up. I basically thought/felt I want something and got out to get it. Which is too unpredictable and unfortunately for me, it got me to finish lines I never wanted to cross.

Brasov, December 2016

But this time, I learned how to work on my goals systematically and to track my progress. I started by analyzing my life at that moment, what I liked and what I disliked. From there on I thought about how I’d like my life to be and made a list. Then I changed generic items into measurable ones: I want to be healthier changed into I will do one form of exercise for one hour every day [walking is included]. I will eat healthy foods more transformed into I will be sugar-free for 3 days in a week.

With time, I realized my paper list wasn’t the best, so I proceeded to opening my excel and to list my goals on the first column. Then I listed the days of the respective month, each in another column. So, there was a cell at the intersection of all my goals with each day on the month.

I then moved on the rows with my actionable goals; for each goal I colored the cells representing the days when I needed to do the respective activity. For instance, every day that I needed to exercise was pink. Then, for tracking, the days I actually exercised have a 1 in the respective cell. The days I didn’t have a 0.

I added this information for each goal at the end of each day. Each month has it’s own sheet. There is a master-sheet tracking overall progress for the year. This is to be moved into a new excel for 2020, which will contain some of the existing goals while others are to be replaced.

I know this doesn’t work for everybody. For one thing, not everybody likes to have their days so structured; when you turn objectives into daily activities, there’s much to be done every day, especially when the objectives are supplementary to current daily responsibilities. At the same time, tracking requires consistency, which is not without it’s efforts.

But it works for me. It makes me maintain focus on myself and my progress. I judge less and, for that matter, compare myself less [if at all] to others. It makes me feel more comfortable in situations where people try to push their values and life choices on me; knowing I live the life I want makes it comfortable to smile and say it sounds great. Because it does, even if it’s not for me. Also, I know when I make no [or insufficient] progress on some goals, so I have the option to think about the problem and fix it.

Rasnov, January 2016

Amy Landino mentioned in her new book launched in December 2019, Good morning, good life: “Remember the old saying “what gets measured, gets done.” Measure it. Don’t do this to guild trip yourself or feel bad. Do it to get real.” [Unfortunately, I read it on kindle and there is no page to reference it appropriately, but it’s at loc 2518, in chapter five].

I couldn’t agree more with this statement. It’s not to measure how many times you go to the gym to make yourself feel bad when you don’t go, but to actually see how many times you do go and how this works for you. Truth be told, feeling bad when you see you didn’t go enough may be just the little push you need to go more and feel better. As long as it’s not reducing your motivation for keeping up with monitoring it. If you don’t monitor it, you don’t know so you don’t feel bad, right? Wrong. On the long term, it catches up with you!

I am at the beginning with this process as 2020 is the third year when I implement a system. So there are still things I need to do better. Such as mid-year or quarterly reviews, for one thing. Or three.

However, 2019 has been extremely good to me. I have finished my thesis and got to defend it. I had three amazing trips this year, one of which was in the USA; this gave me the chance to visit one of my best friends and her family and to finally, finally visit New York City [of which I now think about every single day]. I managed to stay in a job up to its natural end, I got a scholarship which includes learning about entrepreneurship [which has always interested me greatly] and plan my next working adventure as I write these lines. Given that things I wished to happen for years have finally happened have made me consider 2019 to have been extraordinary!

Brasov, December 2019

Now, I will not say everything went smoothly, as failure happened as well: in the last part of the year, starting with September, I’ve been filling in my progress sheets with much less regularity. I let taking a long vacation in August and then focusing on my book [in course of publishing] by mid September disrupt my monitoring process. But I am getting back on track as I love my excels [yes, there are more, but this is a discussion for another time].

Other things I didn’t do were to write more articles, get my drivers’ licence, take professional photos for social media, work on blogs/websites with more regularity or deliver on deadlines. But all in all, I must say I made progress in all the areas I planned to make progress.

To me, goals setting and implementing has become a major focus. It may fade away if certain activities become routines, but I pretty much want to keep it alive, in order to allow me to check in with myself and make sure I am doing things because I want them in my life and not out of habit, especially if they don’t serve me anymore.

I am asked about my interest for self improvement and I don’t always know how to answer. I suspect it’s connected to mental health though. I am working on myself to keep myself happy with my life and to make sure I am making the decisions I want to be making. I know from experience how easy it is to lose track of what you actually want to do. The problem with this is that if you don’t know what you want, others will know what you should do and some will not be shy away from pressuring you into doing it! But I want to make sure I make my decisions based on my judgement and my wants. Because that is the only power we human truly have. Over ourselves.

And sure, some things I do don’t make me happy. I am not happy when I work out. But I am happy when I finished. I am not happy when I postpone eating something sweet. But I am sure I will be happier on the long term. I am not happy when I clean my house. But I love to experience it all nice and arranged. Thus, I am controlling my behavior in order to make sure I am reaching my long term goals and am being the human I believe I want to be. This doesn’t mean, however, that all I do is planned and controlled. There is time for fun and unplanned things. But I definitely don’t let myself go for a long period of time. Yes, I have high standards for myself. But it’s why I can be kind and understanding to others.

I truly want to know myself better and to understand human nature. I hope my knowledge of it all will help me make things better. To be a better teacher. To be a better writer. To be a better human. Hoping this would all translate in making things better for those around me and those I manage to reach. And truthfully, I don’t see how going with the flow would allow me to do that. I am a thinker. I am a planner. I am a decision-maker.

My life is just too important for me to leave it to chance. Besides, I am way too deep into science [though is still a lot for me to explore] to know the role chance and luck [or their absence] play. I read enough to know that the successful have worked and persevered. Which requires self-awareness and the availability to do the hard things.

Bucharest in January of 2017

What I try to say with all this is that I hope you will take the time to reflect on your values and how you could live by them in the year to come. Do what’s important for you and try not to hurt others on the long term by doing this. If setting goals is too much, maybe having a word-of-the-year could do the trick.

My word[s] for the next year is professionalism. This year I focused on self-care, as mentioned before in a post written in Romanian. And I believe I’ve successfully focused on myself and gave myself breaks. It’s how I made it past the huge investments [financially and time-related] implied by a trip to the USA. It’s how I survived internal judgement related to my thesis [I am my biggest critic. And supporter, so here I go]. It’s how I replaced gym with a nice walk when felt tired and how I made space for a non-black coffee in my diet every once in a while. It’s how I said yes to more expensive cosmetics. It’s how I basically stopped listening to what people said and focused on what they do. It’s how I read all the literature I wanted. It’s how I stayed away from over-consumption of social media.

But I’ve noticed all this self-care has interfered with my work ethic and unfortunately I missed some deadlines. Which means I didn’t act on my commitments. And it doesn’t feel good. In fact, it feels so bad that I want to change it. Which is why my focus in 2020 is on professionalism: What makes a good professional? How can I be a good professional? How can I help others be professional? And, more importantly: What course of action should I take to be a good professional right now? All of this will be centered around meeting deadlines.

If we are lucky, we will live to see the end of 2020. Twelve months or 53 weeks. We’ll get there. But wouldn’t it feel great to know we achieved something we intended? Give it a thought. It’s just your life.

Make today count!

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