Happy New Year, Homesteader! Another year is behind us, a fresh slate is in front of us. Most of us will participate in the time-honored tradition of making resolutions. Statistics say most of us will give them up by mid-February. It doesn’t have to be that way.
A majority of people report making the same tired resolutions their friends and family make, year after year. How can all of our resolutions be the same when we are so different? As homesteaders, we have an advantage, as we have already somewhat bucked the system. But it is still easy to get sucked into the trap of wanting to be, or do, or have what friends and family are, or do, or have. This is why resolutions so often leave people with a sense of failure. Of course we fail! Just because we think we are supposed to want something doesn’t mean we actually want it. And if you don’t want it, you won’t put in the time and effort to get it.
The secret to happiness is to please yourself in everything you do. No one can define the “good life” except the person living it. To make lasting changes, real resolutions, you need to first be clear on what the “good life” means to you.
Research has shown that there are four main areas that contribute to or detract from our happiness. We all seem to need happy relationships, interesting and challenging work, financial independence, and good health. By setting clear and specific goals in each of these areas we are able to make continuous improvements in our lives.
As you begin to think about the things you want to accomplish this year, I encourage you to keep a notebook where you will record the things you have accomplished, as you accomplish them. For each of the four areas above, assess where you are now and where you would like to be in a year from now. Ask yourself, “What changes do I want to make this year? What things do I want to do? What new skills do I want to learn?”
For each area, make one long-term goal. This is where you want to be in one year. For each of your long-term goals, create up to six milestones that will help you achieve your long-term goal. These milestones are to be accomplished in two to four months. Finally, for each milestone, create specific, short-term action steps that you can accomplish within a month. As the year progresses, record any wins or forward movement on your projects and goals.
Happy relationships are important to our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Although we have been given multiple opportunities to practice healthy relationships, they can still be tricky for us mere mortals. Some common relationship barriers include the need to be right, the need to control others, the perceived need to protect others, and the need to please others at the expense of our own happiness.
As you begin to think about what you want for yourself in the coming year, examine the relationships you have. What can you do to create a happier and more harmonious home? Remember, you can’t change anyone else; you can only change your behavior. Spend some time observing the dynamics at work in your home. What is happening on a consistent basis that brings you and your family joy? How can you create more of those moments? What is happening on a consistent basis that doesn’t feel so great? What is your part in that? What behavior can you change to make it better? The changes you are looking for don’t need to be huge. Sometimes all it takes to create a happier home is to commit to giving a compliment before you say good morning. The anxiety of hectic mornings may be solved by waking up just 20 minutes earlier. One thing that has a proven positive effect on relationships is to pursue something—a hobby, career, or long-term project—that you are passionate about, and allow others in your life to do the same.
Our homes are ground zero for relationships but they are not the only place we interact with people. Is there a group you would like to join this year? Would you like to get more involved in your community of faith or begin a volunteer project? Are you interested in taking or giving a class? Is there a neighbor you have been meaning to get to know better? There are unlimited opportunities to meet new people and to improve the relationships you already have. Relationships are the cornerstone of homesteading communities. How can you strengthen the bonds of family, friends, and community in the upcoming year?
Whether or not you work outside of the home, interesting and challenging work that aligns with the values you hold is imperative to a happy and fulfilling life. By committing yourself to the development of your natural talents and by pursuing a path that truly interests you, your work life will become more enjoyable and more successful.
In order to become a success in any field, you must put forth the effort required to gain more experience than others in the same field. Because it is often difficult to step out of your comfort zone in order to gain the experience you need, calculated risks are something you can purposefully work into your plan in the form of milestones and action steps. By taking small steps towards a large goal you put yourself in the position to continually assess your level of mastery before moving on to another step. There is nothing that can replace experience. Don’t be so afraid of failing at a new skill that you don’t even try.
What large, work-related project are you interested in pursuing this year? What does success in this area look like to you? This is your long-term goal. What do you need to do to get from where you are now to your vision of success? These are your milestones. Brainstorm as many ways as possible for you to gain experience. These are the action steps that will help you achieve your big goal.
Continuous learning is another important part of a rewarding work life. It is impossible to know everything about anything. There is always something to learn. Continuous learning not only positions you as an expert or leader, but keeps you feeling passionate about the work you are doing.
Let me emphasize an important point regarding work and education: interesting and challenging work is anything that is interesting and challenging to you. This can be a traditional job, obviously, but it can also be a small farmer, a goat-herder, cheese-maker, beer-brewer, artist, parent, student… the list is infinite. What holds value to you is valuable.
Continuing education can cost as much as you want to spend, but as you consider the skills you would like to master, also consider the free and low-cost educational resources available. The internet is a good place to start your research. It may not give you all the answers, but it always gives interesting questions. Local libraries—both public and university—have always been the self-learner’s best resource. Don’t forget to check out community-sponsored programs and your local extension office.
Financial independence is another vitally important area of life that can usually benefit from some strategic, long-term goals. Becoming financially independent is truly the road to freedom. It allows you to depend on yourself rather than on others for your livelihood.
The first step towards achieving financial independence is to become clear about what financial independence looks like to you. Review your finances. This includes income, expenses, debt, and savings. How much money would give you a sense of financial independence? What is the difference between your goal and the amount you have now? In how many years would you (realistically) like to achieve this goal? How much money do you need to save each year to meet this goal? This is your long-term goal.
The first, and most important, milestone toward this goal often involves getting out of debt. When you set your financial goals the year, consider how to pay down any debt you may have incurred. Are there any adjustments you can make to your budget (whether that involves increasing your income or decreasing your expenses) that will allow you to become even more aggressive in your debt repayment?
A second milestone toward financial independence is to master money-management skills. The good news is that money management is a skill. That means it can be learned. Churches, universities, community centers, and extension offices often offer beginning to advanced money-management classes. There are also books on money management at the library. Honestly assess your money-management skill set. What would you like to learn? Remember, small goals will help you reach your long-term goal. It’s going to be difficult to trade on Wall Street if you don’t know how to make a household budget. Don’t set yourself up for failure by skipping over important milestones.
Another thing to consider for the upcoming year is how to increase your income. The best way to do this is to examine ways to expand on something you are currently doing now. As you think about increasing next year’s income, ask yourself what are you doing on your property now that is already enjoying some success. Is there a way for you to expand on that market, whether by simply increasing the gross amount of the product or finding a way to add value to that product? Some quick research, either online or in grocery stores, will not only give you some terrific product ideas, but also guide you in what you can charge. By adding one new product to your inventory you can increase your financial mobility and/or level of savings. How can you diversify a product you already have to make it more profitable in your local market?
Finally, the key to saving money is simply to save money. After reviewing your budget, how much money can you set aside in savings each month? Start with any amount of money that you can save today. It isn’t true that you need to save a monumental amount of money every month. Fortunes are amassed with consistent and incremental savings. Start where you are today and look for opportunities to save more.
The last area of life to be addressed is the need for good health. Without it, it is close to impossible to thoroughly enjoy any of the other areas of life. Good health can include the absence of pain and disease, practical management of chronic illnesses, a flow of stamina and energy, and an overall feeling of well-being.
Maintaining health is much easier than curing disease. We all know the things we are supposed to do for our health, mainly address our diet and include exercise in our daily routine. Don’t think about an overarching change in your lifestyle. This dooms you to almost certain failure. Pick one change you want to make to your diet. This can be anything from learning how to make a healthy smoothie that you want to drink once a day, eating a vegetarian diet one day a week, or drinking six glasses of water a day. Next, how can you add exercise to your day? This doesn’t mean you need to join a gym! Start with something you are comfortable with and build on it. Think about any other areas of health care you are interested in. Would you like to learn more about traditional herbal medicine? Chronic pain can be relieved with reflexology, acupressure, and massage. You can find instructional charts and videos online, and books on natural health care at the library. You can also sign up for classes at your local community college.
It has been said that a goal is a dream with a timeline. Goals are easier to make than they are to reach, but if you make goals that are meaningful to you, your road to success is much easier. The final, and perhaps most important, key to success is to limit the number of goals you set and make both the goals and the action steps clear and specific.
Good luck to you in the new year with all of your dreams and goals!