Reviewing My 2011 Resolutions

At the end of each year, I try to set a few goals for the coming year, with varying degrees of success. Let’s look at the three goals I set for 2011 and see if there are any lessons learned that I can apply to my goals for the coming year.

Get Fit
My biggest opponent in this regard was two unexpected injuries that were unrelated to my fitness.

For the first month of the year, everything was quite successful.

In February, I slipped and fell on a patch of ice and caused some severe internal bruising and tearing. I was in pain doing much of anything for about three weeks, during which my fitness schedule completely fell apart.

I started from scratch again at this point and by early summer I felt good about the state of things. Then, in July, I went on a trip to Seattle with my family. On the last few days of the trip, we stayed in a cabin with a really low ceiling where the only way I could get around inside the cabin was to severely stoop. On the last morning of our cabin stay, my back popped, leaving me in almost constant pain for about a month. The worst part was that while I was recovering, walking for more than a minute or so left my right leg numb.

After that, I never really got my fitness plan back on track.

What went wrong? I don’t think my fitness plan accounted for the possibility of such things going wrong. When I was unable to do certain types of exercise, I would simply give up on the idea entirely.

What can I improve on? Flexibility. When I set a goal, it needs to have a path leading to that goal that’s as flexible as possible.

Play Music
For the first few months of this year, this goal went really well. I took weekly piano lessons and practiced when I could.

My biggest challenge was that I couldn’t practice at home. We did not have a conducive keyboard setup for practicing. My wife largely felt that this was a frivolous endeavor and we constantly struggled with discussions about whether we should invest the money into a piano or a good keyboard setup.

Later in the year, this problem was made worse by a string of childhood illnesses that required me to miss a series of lessons, leaving me feeling lost and not making much progress on my playing.

Eventually, these two issues came to a head and I chose to end my piano lessons.

What went wrong? Lack of a proper environment. I didn’t have a place to practice that didn’t involve going somewhere else. On top of that, I began to realize that my children took priority over my piano playing.

What can I improve on? I shouldn’t choose a goal that’s significantly incompatible with my home environment or requires a significant purchase to make possible.

Read 100 Unread Books
This is the goal I hit out of the park. I read 100 new books this year – 103 at last count, to be exact. My list didn’t quite match the list from this post, but I read a little more than half of the books listed in that post.

What went right? I simply attacked this goal with relish. One of the big advantages was getting a Kindle as a gift, to which I was able to add electronic versions of about twenty books on the list for free that were very convenient to take with me anywhere.

Final Thoughts
Life is unpredictable. The goals that you think have a clear path to success sometimes have obstacles that you don’t see at first glance, and sometimes those obstacles prove insurmountable.

The best thing you can do with any goal is to give it some careful thought in advance. Think about your plan carefully and look for potential problems – and solutions to those problems. The more care you put in up front, the more likely you are to see success as things unfold.

I hope that principle is reflected as I discuss my 2012 goals throughout this week.

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  1. Jude says:

    I used to divide my life into four parts–self, others, money, and house. Since then I’ve sub-divided self, making music a separate part; doing things for the community is a division of others; and so on. I split out music from my self time because I never got around to it. I never got around to exercising regularly either. Now I do both. Exercise (run/walking 3 miles daily) is the first thing I do each morning, even before I eat. I seldom miss a day. Music is iffier, but I have it scheduled for 3 days a week. I concentrate on my best instrument and my newest instrument (the guitar–the one I was afraid to learn). Setting up a conducive practice environment is important, and I’m always refining mine. But since you have kids, it seems that investing in a decent instrument is a worthwhile goal for the near future. I’ve rented many an instrument for my kids, and ended up purchasing a few. One son is studying music in college; music is what got him through high school. You need to give your kids as many opportunities to develop strong interests as possible, and music is a good one (I can send you plenty of information about how music is beneficial for kids’ brains).

  2. NMPatricia says:

    When I read posts like this, I try them on for size. I don’t judge you. I put myself in your place. And for me, the key sentence is ” I simply attacked this goal with relish.” Switching around scenarios, do you think that if you liked to exercise as much as you like to read and had an interruption in your goal of reading, don’t you think you would have gotten back on track? This is what stumps me about my goals. I know lots of things I should be doing or wish I would do. But don’t have the passion to follow through. So when something comes up, even small, I find an excuse to do anything but toward my goal. And have a darn good excuse in my mind!!! So I think passion is what it is all about.

    What Jude said is good. However, I had the flip experience with my kids. Both their dad and myself played the piano and we went to great lengths to encourage them with either that or another instrument. Nothing took hold. Wish it had. I still play around on my piano. No great player, but I enjoy it. And that is what is most important in my life right now. Pleasure, not perfection!

    Thanks for all you write. And I hope the new arrangements for the blog relieve you of the tedium that you dislike. Happy New Year, Trent.

  3. Johanna says:

    You could, if you wanted to, incorporate some flexibility into your music goal. If the goal is just to play music, that’s not specific to the piano. There are lots of instruments out there that are a lot cheaper to buy than a piano, and easier to learn, too.

    But from the way you talked about your musical pursuits throughout the year, it sounds like what you discovered is that you don’t actually value music that much. That’s fine. But it would be great if you’d just come out and say that, rather than trying to make excuses and blame your wife.

  4. lurker carl says:

    1. Excuses do not measure progress. Where did you start and where are you right now in relation to those goals? Perhaps those fitness goals are not in tune with your physique.

    2. I’m a mature adult with severe bilateral hearing loss. Just as drawing would be difficult for the blind, musical accomplishment of any nature is nearly impossible for me even with hearing aids. The problem is not your wife’s attitude and a beginners keyboard and sick children, it is refusal to accept your progress will be slow and cumbersome.

    3. Congratulations on reaching the reading goal.

  5. krantcents says:

    How we approach and set goals is very interesting. I keep going trying to accomplish my goal rather than dwelling on the mistakes, delays or obstacles. Others tend to makes excuses and delay accomplishing the goal. Which are you?

  6. philo says:

    Trent, I am so sorry about the piano-playing goal. Perhaps you might re-consider at some future date. Also,an acoustic piano is the best way to teach your children the principles of music. Think of family musical sessions as they grow up. They will never regret it.

  7. Valleycat1 says:

    I’ve found that I’m more likely to stick with more specific, thought-out goals. So instead of getting fit, I might start with following a plan to be able to finish a 5k walk within x months. Instead of learning to play the piano , which can take years, I might consult a teacher to select one piece I can work toward playing well, knowing that includes basic piano exercises and more basic pieces before I tackle it. And I set interim checkpoints where I regroup or modify when realistic, so I am less likely to get into the all or nothing mindset.

  8. Aaron says:

    Wow – 103 books in a year is no small feat! I commend you for that and think I will add something similar to my 2012 goals (though not as ambitious!)

  9. deRuiter says:

    “What can I improve on?” How about a goal of using correct grammar and not ending at least two sentences in the above article with prepositions for 2012? That’s a useful goal for a professional writer. Think of the negative, bitter, judgmental comments which could be avoided in the comments section with use of proper grammar and spell check in the article!

  10. kc says:

    “The best thing you can do with any goal is to give it some careful thought in advance. Think about your plan carefully and look for potential problems – and solutions to those problems. The more care you put in up front, the more likely you are to see success as things unfold.”

    Pablum.

  11. Michael says:

    I’m glad you tried to learn with a teacher this time. I’m surprised you didn’t obtain a free or cheap piano in the area.

  12. Elizabeth says:

    Trent, thanks for sharing your goals and success with them. It’s helpful for someone relatively new to the idea of setting realistic annual goals to see a real-life example of how someone goes about re-assessing them.

    PS – I was taught by an editor that the grammatical rule about ending sentences with a preoposition was imposed on English by 18th century academicians trying to mimic Latin. She said it’s about relevent to modern English as the correct usage of ‘you’ vs ‘thee.’ Please, don’t let the ill-informed, ill-mannered trolls get you down.

  13. Jennifer says:

    Could you elaborate on how to get free content for a Kindle? I’m thinking about buying one but not if it locks me into always having to buy from Amazon. Love your blog!!

  14. SwingCheese says:

    @12, Elizabeth: Your editor is correct in that this structure is meant to mimic Latin, but there is a reason for this particular rule. The problem with ending an English sentence in a preposition is that it either leaves the object of the preposition isolated before the sentence (as is the case with “What can I improve on?”, or implied (as is the case with “I’m going to the store, want to come with?”). Either one of these sentences is usually understood in colloquial English, but for the purposes of clarification in professional writing, the rule of not ending a sentence in a preposition still ought to be observed. Latin, as a language, has a structure that is far more precise than English, which is rather dependent upon word order and punctuation to discern meaning, and colloquial English depends quite a bit on its listener/reader having a generalized understanding of the context to discern meaning. The grammar rule about not ending a sentence with a preposition is an example of this.

  15. SwingCheese says:

    Also, I say that not as a troll, per se, but as a former Latin teacher and lover of the Latin language. Trent’s meaning in the “What can I improve on?” question was perfectly clear to me. I just wanted to explain the reason behind that particular rule. :)

  16. valleycat1 says:

    #13 Jennifer: If you don’t want to be buying from Amazon, look at the Sony ereader instead, as it supports many different formats.

    To answer your specific question, Amazon has a lot of free books available, mostly those out of copyright (think classic literature) but the occasional teaser offer on the first book in a series and freebies offered by independent/new writers. You can look at the free available Kindle books in that section on their site – there’s usually a listing on the right hand side of the Kindle page plus you can search the site, and they provide links to other sites with compatible books. You can also get a program called Calibre that will convert books to Kindle format, and Kindles will support PDFs. Libraries are just now beginning to add Kindle ebooks to their collections as well.

  17. Pamela says:

    Under your goal regarding the piano, you wrote the following:
    “I shouldn’t choose a goal that’s significantly incompatible with my home environment or requires a significant purchase to make possible.”

    I don’t necessarily agree. Some goals may require a significant purchase. If it is a goal that is very important to you and you will get a good amount of use and/or enjoyment out of it (and you have the money) the purchase may be worthwhile. Same goes for the home environment comment – changing the environment a bit, where possible, may be worth it. With kids, you can’t really change that they are around (nor am I suggesting anyone should change that) but there are times when the home environment can be changed to accommodate the want/need.

    @Jennifer, #13 – Amazon has many free books for the Kindle. You can also “check out” Kindle books from a library. There are multiple websites with free books to download for your Kindle.

  18. AnnJo says:

    Of all Trent’s bad grammar habits, ending a sentence like “What can I improve on?” with a preposition is the least annoying. Swingcheese’s explanation for it makes sense, but following the rule too closely leads to formulations that are awkward to our ears. As Winston Churchill sarcastically said (from memory), “That is the kind of language up with which I will not put.”

  19. Johanna says:

    For the grammar sticklers: If any of you have the motivational spark to improve your situation to that of advanced grammar sticklerism, may I suggest learning about misplaced modifiers (including but not limited to dangling participles) and ambiguous antecedents? Unlike sentences ending with prepositions, MMs and AAs really do obscure writing’s meaning. It takes more work to pick them out, though.

  20. Jonathan says:

    The way Trent’s description of his failure of his piano playing goal is being perceived by some is interesting to me. Trent seems, to me, to be taking responsibility for choosing a goal that is not a good fit for his current situation. I didn’t think he was blaming his wife for his failure, rather he was taking responsibility for choosing a goal that required an investment that he and his wife had different views on.

    Seeing the way different people view these types of situations helps me to better understand the differences between how I view taking responsibility and others view casting blame.

  21. Johanna says:

    @Jonathan: To me, taking responsibility would mean acknowledging that Sarah was right, or at least that she had a point, when she argued against buying a piano. There is a world of difference between “My wife helped me understand that our other financial goals mean that we can’t afford a piano right now” and “I failed at my music goal because my wife wouldn’t let me buy a piano.” Maybe he took responsibility in private, but here, in public, he’s definitely casting blame.

    Reading between the lines, I suspect that Sarah (who, from what we know about her, is no dummy) perceived that Trent wasn’t taking his piano playing seriously enough to justify spending the money on a piano. I doubt that her “feeling that this was a frivolous endeavor” came wholly out of nowhere.

  22. Georgia says:

    #13 Jennifer – Amazon has over 14,000 free items for Kindle.

  23. Evita says:

    Few people realize that learning a musical instrument is a DAILY endeavour, the same as high level athletics. If you don’t practice evey day, your body quickly unlearns. Then you wonder why you are not making progress and quit.
    If you cannot commit to daily practice because of other responsibilities, it is better to know begin at all. This is of course the case for most adults.
    Just my opinion (I am a musician myself).

  24. Tom says:

    I read the “What can I improve On? Flexibility.” as Trent should work on being more flexible to prevent injury to his body. Then I reread. I think that you should work on it literally as well as figuratively, Trent! Good luck.

  25. Elaine says:

    Trent, if you really want to play the piano, find a way to do it. A lot of music schools sell pianos periodically at reduced rates. Even if you set aside 1/2 an hour a day to practice you’ll make progress. Keyboards can also be bought on Craigs list. If you really want to do it don’t let anything stop you. Making music is important, not just for you, but for your children.(And children who play the piano usually do better at math)Besides, it’s good for them to see you work hard to master something you have a passion for-it gives them a good example to follow.

  26. Monique Rio says:

    Reading 100 books takes time away from you kids too and is even less of a participatory activity than music.

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