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At the start of each year, I set lofty resolutions about how I can better myself or make drastic changes in my life. Run one mile every day? Sign me up. Put more money toward my student loans? I got this. Meditate every day when I’ve never actually meditated before? Totally.

But eventually my motivation fades.

In 2017, I decided on a new approach. My boyfriend and I discussed a range of goals we wanted to work on either together or individually, and we settled on 12 goals to translate into monthly challenges.

I’m surprised and proud to say that I completed a different challenge every month, with varying degrees of success. I reevaluated my relationship with alcohol and social media, got to know complete strangers, embraced honesty and slept more.

Here’s a breakdown of how I approached each month in 2017:

Goal: Reevaluate my relationship with alcohol.

Challenge: Abstain from drinking.

Success? Yes. I had two glasses of wine, but I intentionally chose when I had those.

What I learned: I became more aware of how many social situations involve drinking and found new ways to hang out with friends sans alcohol.

Goal: Improve my sleeping habits.

Challenge: Get a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night.

Success? Yes, but I’m still working on doing this consistently.

What I learned: Taking time to read before bed helps me fall asleep earlier.

Goal: Get out of my comfort zone.

Challenge: Talk to one stranger every day.

Success? Mostly yes, although I wasn’t successful every day. I was terrified and anxious about this challenge at first.

What I learned: I became aware of how many people I come into contact with who I don’t talk to.

Goal: Save money.

Challenge: Bring lunch from home every day.

Success? Yes. I spent a lot less money on buying lunch.

What I learned: This required a lot more planning than I’m used to, but overall it made a positive impact on the rest of the year.

Goal: Spend time on a personal project.

Challenge: Create artwork for a friend’s album cover.

Success? Yes. I’ve been wanting to design an album cover for awhile, and now I have one under my belt.

What I learned: I would like to find time to experiment and expand my creative outlets outside of my day job.

Goal: Be more mindful.

Challenge: Limit social media usage.

Success? For the most part, yes. I wanted to completely abstain from personal social media throughout the work week, but I immediately failed at this. I changed the parameters to allow myself social media binges in the evenings.

What I learned: Small steps are key to making a change with social media, especially since I’m on my phone a lot for work. Limiting usage in the morning was a good place to start.

Goal: Give up one thing I love.

Challenge: I gave up watching TV.

Success? Yes. I gave in one day and watched some TV after work.

What I learned: I am so productive when I eliminate TV. I read a lot more, went to bed earlier and found time to work on creative projects.

Goal: Tie up loose ends.

Challenge: I’ve always been intimidated by my finances. I took this month to determine how much to invest in my 401(k), look more closely at my student loans and create a more realistic budget.

Success? Overwhelmingly yes.

What I learned: A lot. You can read all about ithere.

Goal: Work on my physical fitness.

Challenge: Experiment with different workout routines and determine what is realistic for me to incorporate into my daily life.

Success: No. My stress level was particularly high this month, and I was dealing with painful foot issues (plantar fasciitis). This wasn’t a good excuse, but I made it into one. I just didn’t set aside enough time to work out, perhaps deliberately.

What I learned: Working out is an important stress reliever for me, and I want to make this a priority. No matter what is going on, I can — and should — still find a way to be active, even if it’s just stretching in the morning or walking to work.

Goal: Foster intimacy in my relationship.

Challenge: Set aside time to have honest conversations with my boyfriend about our relationship.

Success: Yes. It sounds extreme, but my boyfriend and I carved out two afternoons to talk in-depth about our relationship, once at the beginning of the month and once at the end. Each of these sessions lasted about two hours, and we found them to be extremely valuable. We also chose six couples to interview about their relationships.

What I learned: Two sessions weren’t enough to cover everything relevant to our relationship, but it was a good start. I would like to get into the habit of having these conversations more regularly.

Goal: Collaborate with someone on a creative project.

Challenge: Make candles with my boyfriend as a Christmas gift for friends and family.

Success? No.We dropped the ball on this one.

What I learned: Sometimes, no matter how enthusiastic I am about a project, other priorities win out, like work, holiday commitments and travel plans.

Goal: Reflect on 2017.

Challenge: Evaluate the last 11 months and decide how we want to proceed next year, individually and together.

Success? Yes. For 2018 I’ve decided to do a monthly challenge for the first three months and then transition to tackling a new challenge bimonthly.

What I learned: December is a busy month with work and holiday travel. Not taking on a challenge was the right decision.

Going through this process taught me the importance of setting realistic, attainable goals. Here’s what I kept in mind while mapping out my monthly challenges:

The point of monthly challenges is not to go from 0 to 100. A challenge can be as small or as ambitious as you would like it to be, from reading 10 minutes a day to tackling your finances.

This was crucial to my success. Find someone you can discuss highs and lows with. You could find someone who also wants to be held accountable and work together to complete goals.

Think about what would make each challenge a success and define it ahead of time. The parameters will be different with every challenge.

Be honest about why a challenge may be particularly difficult. Doing this in advance can help you plan accordingly and set yourself up for success.

Sit down at the end of each month and think about how it went. Do you consider it a success? What did you learn from this challenge?

  • Plant a garden
  • Do a new physical activity every week
  • Make a list of people to keep in touch with and spend a month reconnecting
  • Create an intentional morning routine
  • Meditate regularly
  • Try taking a cold shower every morning
  • Stop complaining
  • Make your bed every day
  • Try a month of “clean eating”
  • Find an organization to volunteer with

I learned to be patient this year. Making changes like these takes consistency, creativity and most of all, time.

What goals do you have for 2018? How are you approaching them? I would love to hear your stories. Email me at rachel.orr@washpost.com.

Illustrations by Melissa McFeeters • Art Direction by Rachel Orr


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