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How to Set Goals that Stick

As we enter not only a new year but a new decade, naturally we start thinking about setting resolutions and goals for leveling up. When asked about your New Year’s resolution, the typical response usually involves one of two things:

  1. A vow to accomplish something far off in the future with little or no actionable steps of how to actually get there

  2. Or, a promise to refrain from something all year long, seemingly without end

You know how it is. The clock strikes midnight on January 1, and you set your intentions and immediately start working towards them with 365 days dauntingly spread out before you. Personally, I don’t like New Year’s resolutions. They have a tendency to make me too obsessive about a particular end goal to the point where I wind up boxing myself in, missing out on other opportunities for growth that come across my path. In other words, they leave you feeling trapped and overly committed to an idea of what is good for you versus letting yourself adjust to what might actually be good for you along the way.

And, this is besides the fact that resolutions rarely result in actual accomplishments. This traditional approach often results in burnout and boredom from the monotony of constantly driving towards a specific end, rendering your goals ineffective and often unattainable. Without the necessary (but almost always overlooked and undervalued) mental and physical downshifts, progress and positive changes become nearly impossible.

When you incessantly drive yourself towards a particular goal, burnout becomes a real nemesis to your progress. Dancers are terrible at the recovery phase. We like to pretend it doesn’t exist…that we don’t need it…because we’re "hardcore." But, if you don’t intentionally rest and give your body a break, your body will inevitably force you to take one anyway (hello injury & illness). Not only does it leave you susceptible to getting hurt, but the hormonal symptoms associated with burnout can further prevent you from achieving your goals especially if they have anything to do with fitness, health, fat loss, or dancing (and I’m willing to bet your resolutions almost always include at least one, if not all, of these goals!).

That’s why I like to use a periodization approach to goal setting where you chunk out smaller goals inside the larger theme of bettering yourself throughout the year. This has two benefits:

  1. It keeps things fresh for you mentally, preventing you from losing motivation and willpower as you shift your focus to slightly different goals every few months.
  2. It allows for the necessary downshifts physically, ensuring your body stays vibrant and primed for physical improvements.

In the fitness and sports industries, periodization is used quite frequently. This involves incorporating smaller goals, called micro and mesocycles, within a larger overall goal. These smaller, more specific goals usually coordinate with major events like competitions and sporting events. As a dancer, you would want to coordinate your cycles with performances, auditions, photo shoots, vacations, etc. The benefit of this cycling is that it allows you to peak for specific events in life while incorporating downshifts to avoid burnout.

It is physically impossible to be at your best all the time. Let me say that again - IT IS PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO BE AT YOUR BEST ALL THE TIME. This is the danger zone for most dancers. We hold ourselves to such high standards that we make it impossible to win and be happy with ourselves. Setting smaller goals and cycles teaches us that progress is not linear. We have to allow for ups and downs along the path. It's just like driving a car down a straight can't keep the steering wheel absolutely still. You have to allow for tons of micro-adjustments back and forth to stay in your lane. These micro and mesocycles allow you to work towards the same general theme of self-improvement for the year while giving your body and mind the necessary leeway for ups and downs.

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So, what does this periodization look like? Without breaking things down too specifically as things should be adapted to your unique life and needs, there are typically 3 phases:

1) Macrocycle: This is your overall focus for the year…your overriding goal or goals. To set this, try to visualize what an ideal day looks like 12 months from now. How do you want to feel, be, live? This will help you determine what is really important without being distracted by all the trivial busyness of day-to-day life.

(Example: I want to feel confident in my body and dancing without feeling stressed out while juggling too many commitments. I need to manage my stress and work/life balance so I can enjoy my life and all I work hard to accomplish.)

2) Mesocycle: This cycle can last anywhere from 1 to 3 or 4 months. These are the goals that are super useful for planning around major events. If you have an audition coming up, you can build your goals around refining your technique. If you have a photoshoot in a few months, you can focus on fat loss. If you have a layoff period or vacation, you can focus on…wait for it…recovery. Downshift and let your body rest and recuperate so you can come back with your full power when you start dancing again.

(Example: From June through August while my companies are off, I will focus on building strength and muscle, sculpting my body. Then, from September through December, I will start whittling down to my “fighting” weight, my ideal size to performance ratio for my dance season. And of course, this is all under the framework of my macrocycle goal of de-stressing and reaping pleasure out of life.)

3) Microcycle: This is typically a week long, but you can also break it down to daily goals. This is where the actual implementation of your goals occurs. Sure, you can have good intentions, but if you never actually do the work to take yourself from point A to point B, life is going to suck (a.k.a. your goals won't be accomplished). Microcycles are the baby steps you take every day that lead you a little closer to a better version of yourself.

(Example: If I am in a fat loss mesocycle where I am cutting for a photoshoot, my daily goals might revolve around prepping my meals for the day as well as ensuring I get as much sleep as possible at night.)

Hopefully this periodization approach gives you a different perspective on your New Year’s resolutions. By not putting yourself in a box with blinders on where you are tied to a specific outcome, an outcome that feels so far away when you don’t address the real, actionable steps to get start to feel the power you have in creating your life on a daily, monthly, yearly basis. This is where we get into lifestyle design versus basic goal setting. This is next level living.

Remember, there are no rules when it comes to your life. So, take this information and create what you will with it. It’s your life after all…and you are 100% totally, completely in control of it.

So, how do you want to live in 2020?

Photo credit: Marc DeGeorge