Several months ago I read something that stuck with me.  I read it in a book about weight loss, but the idea  applies to many areas of my life.  Basically, the author of this book said that so many of us that struggle with weight loss have stopped believing in our word.  By that he meant that we tell ourselves we are going to do things, and then we don’t follow through for one reason or another.  Over time, this pattern effects the way we approach changes in our lives, and inhibits our ability to stick with our plans or goals because we don’t believe in ourselves anymore and we don’t have the mentality that our word is unbreakable.  He had a simple recommendation to help reestablish that link between making plans and goals and following through with them: make a daily to do list and then force yourself do every item on that list before you go to bed.  He recommended starting small and just putting one to two things you KNOW you can accomplish on the list.  I initially scoffed at the idea, thinking, “How would something that simple really make any kind of meaningful, lasting change to my lifestyle?”  The to do list was obviously not a new concept to me – I relished making these lists in graduate school and then gradually crossing off each item before the end of the term.

The idea of using them to reestablish my trust in my word was intriguing to me though, so I began making daily to do lists, sometimes with only one to two items.  Each day I made sure to cross those items off of my list before I went to bed.  After a couple of weeks, I began to feel an increased sense of accomplishment after completing my list each day.  I began adding more items, and then I had the idea to structure my to do lists (of course I did…can’t keep it simple, can I??).   I brainstormed areas that I wanted to work on, and initially came up with six categories.  I knew I would never remember all six without some mnemonic device, and after a few minutes of arranging the letters of my categories I came up with CHERPA, which stands for:

C – Cleanliness

H – Healthy Living (examples: tracking my food, meal planning/shopping for the week, eating more fruits/veggies, drinking enough water)

E – Exercise

R – Relationships (examples: writing an old friend, calling friends/family, spending quality time with Matthew)

P – Personal Development (examples: reading, web design, developing a hobby, exploring a new interest, blogging)

A – Activities of Daily Living (examples: paying bills, taking dogs to dog park, completing a project I have been putting off)

In October and November, I tried to do one item in each category every day. I was unsuccessful since there are only so many hours in a day outside of work!  I decided to try again starting in January, but this time, I only make myself do at least one “hard” item and one “easy” item from my CHERPA list each day, and to hold myself accountable, I send my CHERPA spreadsheet to my MIL, SIL and mom each Sunday.  My MIL and SIL are doing their own CHERPA as well. Most days I do more than two items, but by making myself do at least one hard item each day, I avoid putting off important things like exercise and I also ensure that I feel successful.  I also added an S for spirituality (which for an atheist like me includes things like meditation, journaling, and reading about topics that make me ponder my existence).

For as long as I can remember, each January I set goals for myself and then check-in on them at the end of the year – some years I do better than others at following through with these.  Last year the only goal I actually fully accomplished was reading fifty books, and I cut that one down to the wire.  This year, I made my goals SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-sensitive – we use this acronym in IEP goal-writing) and coordinated my CHERPAS with the weekly, monthly, and yearly goals that I have for myself.   Specifically, I set a goal (or goals) in each category and then made a spreadsheet to track my progress toward each goal.  To give an example, my “cleanliness” goal for the year was to keep the upper level of my townhouse consistently clean (with ‘consistently’ defined as 5/7 days of the week).  Each day, I track whether or not it is clean and then make a check on my spreadsheet if it is.   Or in the area of exercise, I set a goal to work out five times each week, so I make a check each time I work out.  At the end of the year, I will be able to look back and see whether or not I accomplished these goals.  For most of the areas, I have my spreadsheet broken down by month so that I can see progress over time and can set goals for improvement if I fall short of my goal.  Areas like “activities of daily living” and “personal development” are more difficult areas for goal-setting, but I have certain things I want to do like volunteering, songwriting, and journaling regularly, so I set a goal for how many times I want to do those in the year, and I am just making sure to tie those into my daily goals somehow. A copy of a week from my “to do list” sheet:

C H E R P A
S: 1/4 Put away clothes and items from trip Plan meals for the week sign up for SparkPeople respond to FB messages emails Read from Zealot for 20 minutes; finish writing up my goals and summary for 2013/2014 Paid important bill and did balance transfer
S: 1/5 go shopping with list I created yesterday; get meals organized for Monday Emily & Michael – dinner Organized fridge and cupboards
M: 1/6 Track Food & Get food ready for the week; make chicken pot pie Lift 2B Fit: 60 minutes of strength training Pay bills; set up Mint.com so that it is functioning with current accounts and budget
T: 1/7 Track Food Yoga: 75 minutes of moderate intensity yoga drinks with Emily and Lindsay
W: 1/8 Clean upstairs office and bedroom Track Food Cardio Pump: 60 minutes of combo of strength training and cardio Deposit checks into Wells Fargo
R: 1/9 Track Food; make cilantro lime chicken Skype with Lila and Ben
F Track Food Get drinks with Teresa; talk to mom
S Clean upstairs bathroom and sink Track Food, make grocery list Yoga (20 minutes) Talk to Jessica Read from Zealot for 30 minutes + read from Cuckoo’s calling for 30 minutes Install Mint and WF on Matthew’s phone

I know that none of this is revolutionary, but I feel that this mindset and system has already given my life a very different sense of direction and focus.  Each day I come home with something to accomplish, and completing the items energizes me and makes me feel like I am living the life I want to live each day.  I think my next step will be to tie my yearly goals in with my vision for my life in a more long-term way.

Do you have a system that helps you stay on track with your goals?  I would love to hear about it!