Little goals can be better than big New Year’s resolutions

My story

I’m a big-picture planner living in a house with step-by-step thinkers. My two younger children both have trouble with organization and planning, as does my husband, who has ADHD.

What I was doing

When I think, my mind opens up a satellite overview of a map, seeing all the possible routes and detours at once. By contrast, the rest of my family thinks like a list of directions, taking one turn at a time to get where they’re going.

I like to juggle many projects at the same time and to think about multiple solutions to problems all at once. They like to focus on one task before moving to another.

And I love to make big, ambitious New Year’s resolutions.

To my husband, I’d say things like, “OK, so if this year we want to cut our expenses by one-third, we can change our cell phone plan and cancel cable. If we cancel cable, we’ll save this much. But if we cancel cable and change our phone plan, we’ll save this much….”

To my tween, I’d say, “You said you want to get a great part in the musical this year. So, once you figure out whether you want to play a main role or a supporting character, you can choose two days a week to practice singing and two days to work on your choreography. That way, once you have a script, you already have a day set aside to practice your lines.”

They’d stare at me as if I was speaking a different language. I’d get frustrated. It was clear that our different ways of thinking were causing some friction.

What I wish I’d known sooner

One day my husband and my tween said they wanted to talk to me. My husband took a deep breath and said they didn’t want to hurt my feelings, but they needed to speak up. Then he told me that trying to manage big resolutions without breaking them down into smaller pieces made it very hard for us to accomplish anything as a family. My tween nodded in agreement.

That stopped me in my tracks. Well, of course, I realized. We help kids manage big homework assignments by breaking the process into steps. When we create an , we set annual goals that measure progress step-by-step over the year. Why should New Year’s resolutions be any different?

To be manageable for our family, goals need to be small and specific, and take things one step at a time. Instead of “cut our expenses by one-third,” we can start by reducing our cell phone bill. Once that has been accomplished, then we can find another place to cut expenses. My son’s first little goal is simply to go to the organizational meeting for drama club. After that, he can set another easily attainable little goal.

If our New Year’s resolutions are the place we’re going, the turns along the way are little goals that map out our journey. I might be able to see the whole map in my head, but that doesn’t mean everybody else can. How can I expect my family to take a journey with me without showing them the way to get there?

After some thinking, I went to my husband and tween and thanked them for speaking up. I realized it was a difficult conversation to initiate, but it was well worth it. This year, we’re making little goals together, not big New Year’s resolutions. We’re taking the journey one turn at a time. That way we’ll all be together as we move forward, full steam ahead.

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