Sustainable Goal-Setting: Rhythm Integration
- The Story Behind Pace and Pattern
- Step 1: Vision + Intents (+ free worksheet)
- Step 2: Brainstorm and Choose Goals
Rhythms are special. Sometimes they are the mini-traditions that memories are made of, sometimes they are the routines we need to bring order out of chaos, either way rhythms are remarkable.
The purpose of a rhythm is to set aside a window of time in the month or week to focus on a value. Many times rhythms are things we actually enjoy and want to do, but somehow the busyness of life bulldozes over them. The hard part about keeping rhythms isn’t so much about a lack of willpower (like habits) or too much procrastination (like projects); it’s making sure other parts of your life don’t squeeze out your rhythm.
Rhythms are tricky. It seems like the same rules that apply to habits might apply to rhythms – what makes a weekly meal planning that different from a daily run? – but the “irregular” nature of rhythms actually makes them completely different.
Difference 1: Rhythms don’t stick easily
Habits can become established in a few weeks or a few months, to where they become second nature. Eventually, you can count on making the bed as soon as you roll, however groggily, out of it.
Because rhythms happen more rarely, it can take months or even years (if it ever happens) before we carve out time for a rhythm naturally. They remain fragile, in a sense, and require intentionality and forethought for the long haul.
Difference 2: Rhythms require planning
Habits do require a little forethought – a decision to act before it’s time. Rhythms, though, usually require serious planning to make happen.
You may have to plan the activity itself: a date night means choosing a restaurant, maybe hiring a babysitter. Tracking your finances means pulling all the right information together.
But more than that, rhythms take planning because they mean making room in your schedule. If I go running on Saturday mornings, that means I CAN’T buy groceries or clean house or have a spontaneous brunch with a friend. If I want to make Sundays homework-free, I have to finish that assignment by Saturday night instead. The hands-down biggest obstacle to rhythms is the constant temptation to reschedule, cancel, or just not prepare in time to make it happen.
With that in mind, here are three tips for incorporating rhythms into your weekly or monthly schedule:
Step 1: Plan ahead
Put your rhythm – every occurrence of it – in your calendar, with the most indelible ink you can get your hands on. This is the first step toward making it real.
Then, ask yourself first, What is this displacing? That is, what do you typically do in that time? Some things are easy to cut, like a Netflix series or a loafing session. But if you’re trying to put a rhythm where something significant usually happens, write down the time where you’re going to move that other thing: if you can do this a week out or more, you’ll have a better chance of succeeding!
And second, think about what steps the rhythm requires and when you need to accomplish those steps. For example:
Bi-Monthly Potluck Dinner party with friends:
- Email chain organizing who will host & when two weeks out
- Create meal sign-up list 1 week out
- Shop for groceries 1 day before
Have a Date Night
- Get a babysitter 1 or 2 weeks out
- Plan date a few days beforehand
Step 2: Protect it
Most of the rhythms I want to integrate into my life don’t feel urgent. Talking with other people, I get the same impression: whether it’s a book club, a yoga class, or a homework-free night, we’re usually willing to let a given instance of our rhythm be displaced or even canceled.
This is a death sentence.
Of course, a genuine crisis or maybe a holiday should displace a rhythm. But way, way more often, we give these times up when we don’t really have to. I could get coffee with the friend who texted me; but I bet we could get coffee some other afternoon as well. I could answer a phone call during the one hour I have to write while my kids are napping, but I can just as easily call them back later on. We could do housework instead of a game night; but the housework could probably move up or back a night, too.
We probably feel like we can move or cancel rhythms because they’re usually want-to things rather than have-to; As Stephen Covey would say, it is the important but non-urgent tasks are usually the first to get pushed out of our schedule. If our rhythms are in line with our priorities, we should feel okay protecting them against all of those seemingly urgent, but ultimately not that important tasks that are bound to come up.
And if you feel uncomfortable explaining the reason for why you’re protecting that time, you can just say something like “I can’t do that, but what about ___?”
If you ever hope to have a rhythm become second-nature, don’t cancel it and don’t reschedule it: do whatever is in your control to protect it.
And as a last note here, protect your rhythm from the inside as well, remember the main intent you are protecting. Don’t let a painting session turn into scrolling Instagram; don’t let a ladies night devolve into complaining about your kids. Whatever it is you want to do in that time, do it and nothing else.
Step 3: Commit to it
Like we saw already, the ultimate temptation to abandon a rhythm will come not from someone else, but from ourselves. We’ll try it for a month and then get tired of planning ahead; we’ll say “no” to a few people and then feel guilty; or we’ll stop feeling like it’s fun.
But if you want to get the most of a rhythm – to have it bear fruit, to have it stick – commit to planning for it and making it happen whether you feel like it or not. Make it a nonnegotiable, even if you’re the only one involved in it.
Forever is daunting. This is one big reason why I like making my rhythms on a seasonal basis. If I want to test something out, I can test it for three months and then see if I want to keep going with it or not. Or, I may have a rhythm that’s great in one season – grilling out in summer – that’s not so fun in others. Holding that “finish line” in front of you can help you make the commitment you need to plan for and protect a rhythm that’s worth accomplishing.
I hope this helps you as you form your new mini-traditions! I am writing this as someone who wants to do a better job of committing to and maintaining my own rhythms, not as an expert who has it all figured out, so if you have any other helpful ideas on this I'd love to hear them!