Healing my skin without prescriptions + my vegan, low-waste skincare routine

Like many people, I struggled with acne starting in my early teens. I went to the dermatologist for the first time when I was thirteen, and thus began almost a decade of cycling through prescription creams, and eventually taking daily antibiotics, to try to cure my acne. The creams sometimes helped, but sometimes they also bleached my clothes and my pillowcases, and sometimes I felt like I was part of some extended clinical trial, as we tried the newest product on the market every six months or so. The antibiotics helped as long as I was taking them, but when I went off them for a few months every year to let my body reset, my face would be back to square one. Taking the antibiotics was also a major factor in the acid reflux I developed during college, which I took another drug to treat… Perhaps not surprisingly, I became disillusioned with them as a long term solution.*

So several years ago, I started looking for ways to heal my skin more holistically (i.e. actually fixing the underlying problems instead of just putting a bandaid on the visible symptom). These days, my face is still not “perfect” (I do have real pores), but I’m happier with it now than ever. Breakouts are rare and small, and my skin just feels good to be in. I credit several things with that, and today I’m sharing the top three, including my simple, low-maintenance, and low-waste skincare routine.

So how did I heal my skin without prescription drugs?

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Anniversary thrifting + an entryway makeover!

At the end of May, Matt and I celebrated 2 years of marriage! Our anniversary fell the day after Memorial Day this year, so we took off Thursday through Monday and had a staycation! Staying home saved us a ton of money because MDW + hotels = EXPENSIVE, and we still had a lot of fun eating at our favorite vegan-friendly restaurants and visiting with friends.

We also spent some time working on our thrifty anniversary presents: furniture! I know, year two is supposed to be for cotton, but Matt has been jealous of my “reading chair” for some time, so we finally made time to go hunting for one. I wanted to try secondhand first, and our search took us to a consignment shop in Greensboro that I frequented in college. A great thing about consignment shops is that many of them will drop the price after an item has been sitting for a while, so check to see if they have a color-coding system or dates on the tags and you might find a great steal. We ended up in a room past the main showroom, where a bunch of chairs were packed in against a wall, and found this chair all the way in the back.

Our cats have actually been getting more use out of it than we have…

It had been there for long enough that the price had dropped twice, and we took it home for around $50! Our cats have really taken a liking to it, and I can’t blame them because it’s so comfortable! I also found another little something I’m hoping to write about soon.

Pardon the mess and other projects in progress.

My present was technically already sitting on our back porch. Several months ago, Matt found this little desk laying on the side of the road, and brought it home. I’ve had plans to sand and paint it ever since, but our weekends are usually packed to the brim, and I just hadn’t found the time. So Matt helped me pick out the paint, did most of the sanding, filled the holes in the top where it used to have partitions (which were too damaged to salvage), and then we painted it together.

I’m pretty pleased with the final product:

That green 😍

Once it was done, I used the opportunity to completely reorganize our entryway area (not technically our “real” entryway, as the front door comes into the kitchen, but this wall serves as our landing pad). We have been using a white bookshelf in this space for a while, and the multiple shelves were honestly just begging to be filled up with junk. The “new” table only has one small drawer, so I had to be more careful in deciding what to put on and in it. This area is now really well organized to help us get in and out of the house quickly, and to handle our incoming mail.

Before – and this was on a good day.

Overall, the change only cost us about $4 for the two baskets, and the price of a quart of paint. Everything else was already in our house. To give you an idea of how everything came together, I’ve broken down the different items, where I got them, and why I put them there.

  • Two baskets – both from Goodwill. I shared photos of what the white basket looked like when I brought it home, and how it cleaned up, on Instagram. The small basket is for incoming mail, and the white one is for paper recycling. I’m hoping to get more into our new mail system in another post (the shredder is also involved).
  • Books – inherited from my grad school advisor’s collection. I like using pretty books to create height when I’m arranging decorative items, and I also enjoy that they highlight our interests (these are all old science books).
  • Faux rose vase – a hand-me-down from my grandmother’s house after she passed away. I love thinking of her whenever I see it.
  • Clay vase – bought at a small shop in Costa Rica back in 2008. I’ve since seen similar vases from Nicaragua go for 5 times as much here! I love having that memory of my first international trip close at hand, but it’s secretly also a place for us to drop our loose change 😉
  • “J” coffee mug – a gift. It keeps pens handy.
  • Dish – thrifted. It may be Depression glass, but I’m honestly not sure (in any case, I like it because it’s pretty). It makes a perfect spot for holding Matt’s wallet, keys, and work badge.
  • Paper tray – Matt actually brought this home from one of his deployments with the Army. A previous tenant of his office had left it behind. He was pleased to see that I didn’t take any of the labels off; I actually like that it has a bit of character to it. It holds important pieces of mail and documents that need further attention.
  • Step stool – bought from a friend who decided it didn’t suit her needs after she bought it from Ikea. It keeps my laptop bag at an accessible height. I keep my keys, sunglasses, wallet, etc., in my bag instead of on the table so I can’t ever forget them, and that keeps the space looking tidy. The stool is also still accessible if I need it for its intended purpose.
  • Mirror – thrifted. For last minute hair checks before walking out the door.
  • Cross – bought new when I moved into my first apartment (eight years ago!)

You might notice that all but a few of these items are functional in some way, but they’re also things that I like and I enjoy the way they look together. As I have worked to figure out my personal home decor style, it has become a guiding principle that things which are functional should also be decorative where possible.  That idea has helped me choose items which I have loved for a long time, and which I’ve been able to use in several different apartments. I’ve also learned in my thrifting adventures to be patient and wait until I find exactly what I want, which has kept me from bringing home things that ended up in the donate pile six months later (although I have sometimes learned that lesson the hard way). Minimalism as a decor style is not my thing, but I do think having less turnover in the things that we own is a good thing. Creating a home I enjoy spending time in is important to me, especially because I’m an introvert and a homebody, but I don’t want to use that an excuse for carelessness in my purchasing habits. I love that I was able to create this new space without compromising on my values.

So that was our Memorial Day/Anniversary weekend : ) Moral of the story: Secondhand shopping can be an adventure, and you can find some great deals while not contributing to the demand for the production of new materials. And sometimes “trash” furniture just needs a little TLC to bring it back to life!

Do the next thing

“We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once.”

– Calvin Coolidge

When I tell people that I’m vegan, a common response I hear is “That’s great, but, I could never do that.” They might agree with the tenants of veganism, they just don’t think they’re up for living that way. This can be a frustrating thing for me to hear, because I honestly feel like if I can do it, anyone can. But recently, I found myself on the other side of the metaphorical table.

Around Earth Day in April, I started seeing a huge number of posts about the zero waste movement.* I had heard of this idea before, and had even watched one of Lauren Singer’s videos. But I was highly intimidated by the idea of producing less than a pint worth of trash in two years, and decided I was not up for that sort of thing. I thought, “Oh, I could never do that.”

Where have I heard that before?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that my attitude toward zero waste was similar to the attitude I’ve encountered toward veganism. I also came to feel that at the heart of this attitude is a comparison problem. It’s looking at someone else’s lifestyle and saying “that’s too different from how I live; I’ll never be able to get to that point.” For someone who eats meat or animal products every day, the difference between their diet and mine is enough to feel overwhelming. That’s understandable. Likewise, I was looking at my trash can and deciding that I was “too far gone” to make a change for the better.

The reality is that most people who live differently from how they used to didn’t make those changes overnight. Granted, some people do. I’ve read many stories of people who were meat-eaters one day, and vegans the very next. If that’s you, I admire your resolve. But when I looked back at my own vegan transition, I realized that it was really a series of small changes that added up over years to where I am now.

My (slow) vegan transition

My transition to vegetarianism in early 2010 was accidentally very quick. I originally gave up meat for 40 days as part of a fast. I decided the morning the fast started that I wouldn’t eat meat for this period, so I didn’t have time to work my way into it. Over the course of the 40 days, as I was doing research to make sure I was eating well, the resources that I found convinced me that I never wanted to eat meat again.

The transition to veganism was much slower. I knew early on that it was a direction I wanted to go, but living with roommates and sharing groceries made it difficult. I started with the “easy” things: I started buying my own non-dairy milk and butter. I experimented with vegan baking (my first attempt, brownies, were disastrous, but things improved from there).  I chose vegan meat alternatives when I bought them. I started shopping for vegan-friendly toiletries and cosmetics, and cut leather out of my wardrobe.

When I moved into a studio apartment in 2011, I decided to go “at home vegan,” meaning that I never bought anything at the grocery store that wasn’t vegan. I was less strict at restaurants or when others were cooking. The hardest part of the full vegan transition for me was getting comfortable with asking questions of servers to make sure I wasn’t going to be served eggs or dairy, and requesting that friends and family serve not just a vegetarian option, but a vegan option, or turning down food someone had made. So in the meantime, I ate vegan 90% of the time, and slowly got more comfortable and knowledgeable about vegan options when eating out. I finally went “fully vegan” in January of 2012.

Since then, there have been many micro-transitions, especially to a healthier, more whole-foods veganism. I don’t eat as many faux meats or cheeses as I used to. I can and will eat tofu straight from the package, especially in place of cheese on pasta or pizza (which I recognize is absolutely bizarre to the average person). I find avocado to be a perfectly acceptable alternative to sour cream and sometimes mayo. I love the darkest of dark chocolate, and will drink my coffee black if I have to (although my stomach doesn’t prefer it). I couldn’t have said any of these things five or even three years ago. Veganism is still a continuous journey for me.

So why should I expect that something like zero waste would be any different?

Small steps, over and over

The reality is that almost any serious, sustainable life change is probably going to happen in stages, not overnight. Healthier eating, ethical purchasing practices, living on a budget, working out, etc. all seem to work better for me if I make small changes over and over, rather than trying to do everything at once.

I realized that I was letting the enormity of my current waste output keep me from doing anything about it, and that’s a little crazy if you actually think about it.

So instead, I’m choosing to take those small steps. I’m identifying some areas where I can make small, fairly convenient changes and have an impact. I have recommitted to always, always using my reusable shopping bags (an area where I had gotten slack), and have started making an effort to carry other reusables such as to-go containers and mugs. I’m in the process of evaluating my shopping list, and seeing what fits within our budget to buy from bulk bins or buy in the most recyclable packaging (i.e. glass or cardboard over plastic). As I move forward, I’m sure other areas will become obvious to me, and I’ll find new ways to reduce our waste.

I don’t say this to pat myself on the back, especially because I feel like I’ve only started, but to make the point that baby steps are better than no steps. If you’re looking into a life change like veganism or zero waste, it can be easy to be overwhelmed by other people’s progress. But, take a deep breath, step back, and think, “What is one small step I can take to move in that direction?” Do it. And then?

Do the next thing.


*For those not familiar, the idea behind a zero waste lifestyle is to reduce the amount of trash you send to landfill (ideally to zero – hence the name). This is accomplished by refusing single-use items such as to-go containers and grocery bags in favor of reusable items, by buying primarily un-packaged items or items in recyclable packaging, making items instead of buying them pre-packaged where possible, and by intentional reusing and recycling. The movement generally also prioritizes the reduction of plastic use altogether, even when items can be recycled, because plastics cannot be recycled indefinitely (as can glass and metal) and take a great deal of time to break down in landfills.

4 guidelines for eating vegan on $4/day

It’s a common misconception that eating vegan has to be expensive, but that’s definitely not the case. Today I thought I’d give you a glimpse into how Matt and I manage to keep our food budget low (without couponing or having unlimited time for meal prep) and still eat lots of healthy, plant-based food.

While we are paying down some student debt, our budget is pretty small. Right now, we average about $4 per person per day for groceries, or just around $240 per month for the two of us (I aim for $50/week, and sometimes make a mid-week run for something we ran out of or decided we wanted). According to a 2012 Gallup poll, that means we spend less than about 75-90% of the U.S., so I think that’s pretty reasonable!

4 principles I use to eat vegan on $4 per day:

1. Shop smart.

I go to the grocery stores that are going to give me the most food for my dollar! This is probably the most obvious suggestion, but one I didn’t do for a while because of convenience. But with just 10 extra minutes, I can drive to Aldi and get most of my staples for much less than other stores. There’s really no reason to pay more when I don’t have to. I go there for things like canned goods, fresh veggies, and tortilla chips (my husband’s snack of choice). I’ve also been pleasantly surprised at their selection of vegan products like almond milk and even veggie burgers! They have a decent number of organic products, if that’s a priority for you; at this point it’s not for us.

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#PlannerAddict: Daily Planner Conversion and my 2017 Planner

We’re three weeks into 2017, which means if you’re a planner person, you probably already have a planner for the year. But if not, today I’ll tell you why you might want to try a daily planner layout, and which planner I’m loving this year.

I switched to a daily planner about six months ago. I had tried some daily printables in the past, and had a sneaking suspicion that I would love a daily planner. I wasn’t quite ready to pay $50 to try one, so when I found the Day Designer + Blue Sky planners for $10 at Target, I thought it was the perfect opportunity for a test drive.

My suspicion was right. I’m officially a daily planner convert.

If a weekly planner works for you, I say go for it, but a daily planner has turned out to work so much better for me. A couple reasons why:

  • Seeing a spatial representation of my daily schedule gives me a better grasp on my time, which helps me use it more efficiently.
  • I’m less likely to overestimate what I can get done  when I am making a to-do list on a daily basis rather than weekly.
  • I keep my planner open on my desk each day, and I love that I can see everything I need to for today (no flipping around to find a meal plan somewhere else), without getting distracted by yesterday or tomorrow.

I did really love the Day Designer layout. Their planners are great if you want a sleek and minimalist daily planner, and I had planned to buy one of their regular Mini Editions when my Blue Sky version was done.

However, before I got to that point, I learned about the Anchored Press Devotional Planner. Like the name implies, it has the features of a regular planner, plus daily devotionals. It comes in a daily and weekly edition.

I admit, when I first looked at the planners online, I wasn’t totally sold. Each devotional is pretty minimalist, with one or two verses and a short commentary (in the daily edition). My approach to Bible study in recent years has focused on the Biblical narrative as a whole, and what each book says within that narrative. I get concerned when we pick out just a few “encouraging” verses and use them as our only or primary exposure to scripture.

But as I read on the Anchored Press website and Instagram, I realized that Deana (the owner of Anchored Press) is on the same page with me. I don’t think it was her intention that her planner be someone’s only access to God’s word. In fact, her company also makes a quiet time journal for more expanded time studying the Bible. She also understands how crazy life is for many women, and wanted to create a planner that would help us focus on what is most important.*

I ended up buying my planner on the last day for December 31st delivery, and I’m glad I did! The way I’ve been using the devotionals is as an addition to my regular Bible study. The verse is on my desk all day long, so it helps me meditate on scripture, and the devotionals often prompt more personal reflection and prayer. The Wednesday devotions in particular ask you to pray over a specific attribute for yourself (this week was “kindness”). I find this helpful because I often have a hard time knowing how to pray for my own spiritual growth. I then typically write in the journaling space each night as I plan for the next day. I appreciate that on Saturdays, there is a place to write ways in which God has blessed you this week; this helps me maintain a thankful attitude, and I look forward to being able to flip through my planner at the end of the year to see how God has been at work.

If I have any complaints about the planner, it’s only that the to-do space is a little small, with only 8 lines. I like to write down everything I have to do, and I mean everything, like responding to emails and sub-tasks for projects. I’ve gotten around that somewhat by writing reminders in the schedule space, which usually has plenty of room. But, no planner is perfect (I’ve tried so many!), and it’s not enough of a problem to keep me from using it. Overall, I’m so looking forward to filling my planner with schedules and reflections all year long!

If you want to get your own Anchored Press planner, you’re in luck! The pink daily planner (like mine) is still in stock (I actually wanted aqua but just missed them!), along with both versions of the weekly planner.

Do you have a favorite planner you stick to? Or are you trying something new this year? How do you stay focused on God throughout the week?

*At least, this is the impression I get from her. I don’t claim to speak for or on behalf of someone else.

“Unless the Lord builds the house…” {New Year’s thoughts}

Happy New Year!!

So many of my friends and folks I follow have been sharing their resolutions, plans, and goals for 2017. I’ve spent this week working through my own goal-setting game plan, and I now have 8 specific goals that I’m excited to work on this year.

And I finally decided to take the plunge and order an Anchored Press planner for 2017. I might write a more detailed post about that in the future, but so far I am loving it! The short version: In addition to the usual schedule and to-dos, it has a daily devotional and other tools to help nurture your spiritual life.

One of those tools is a goal setting page in the front. There’s a spot at the top of the page to write a Bible verse for the year. Honestly, I’m not usually the sort of person to choose a single word or verse to define my year, but I am the sort of person who hates to leave things blank (haha). I decided to choose something that would help me have the right frame of mind when I come back to reflect on the goals below it.

After a few days, I finally settled on Psalm 127:1a:

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.

You’re probably more familiar with verses 3-5 of this Psalm, which talks about how children are a blessing from the Lord. But when I read Psalm 127 for the first time a few years ago, I was most struck by the first two verses. Altogether they read:

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.

[Psalm 127:1-2]

The reason these verses struck me the way they did was because of how they contrast with Proverbs 31. At that time, I was either engaged or newly married, and like many Christian women looking for advice on being a good wife, I kept coming across articles about the Proverbs 31 woman. They were either talking about how to be the perfect Proverbs 31 wife, or how we shouldn’t feel pressured to be the perfect Proverbs 31 wife. I tended to agree with this second assessment, but still felt that the woman described in this passage was a good ideal to aspire to. I wrote some of the verses on note cards, put them in my planner, or made them a phone background. Some of my favorites were:

She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens.

[Proverbs 31:15]


She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.

[Proverbs 31:27]

These verses encouraged me to be intentional with my time, careful not to waste it. It’s a reminder I still sometimes need.

But I am prone to begin believing that my worth or salvation are dependent on my ability to keep these tenants. In some seasons of life, I have felt that every evening I wasted away on the internet or morning I slept past my alarm was some permanent black mark on my record. I have judged myself on how many to-do list items I had checked off at the end of each day.

So, in one of these seasons, the words of Psalm 127 spoke straight to my heart. “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil.” In my fear of the “bread of idleness,” I had been stuffing myself with a different bread, and not realizing the toll it was taking on my soul.

I know I’m not the only one. In our culture, Christian and otherwise, we pride ourselves on productivity and business and will power. Anxiety disorders are becoming more common as we place more stress on ourselves than we’re designed to handle long-term.

But God’s word teaches a different way.

The Bible tells us this: That we are indeed held to a high standard, higher even than what we could come up with for ourselves. That we are not capable of meeting this benchmark. BUT, that God himself came and fulfilled those requirements on our behalf so that we can walk in freedom. It is not by our own works, but by the work of Christ in us, that we are saved.

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

[Matthew 19:26b]


For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

[Ephesians 2:8-9]

I’m so glad that it’s not all up to me, because I am not as “good” as I wish I were!

Today during our worship service, our pastor preached on Hosea 6. In verses 1-3, the Israelites speak of returning to God, but God knows that they cannot keep a promise to remain faithful. He even says that their love is like the morning dew: here one moment, gone the next (verse 4).

The truth is, we are like the Israelites too, making promises to ourselves and to God, but failing often to keep even the most simple ones.

The good news is, God is faithful. If you skip ahead in Hosea, after God’s promises to punish Israel for their unfaithfulness, in the last chapter (14) God promises to eventually call them to repentance and forgive their sins. Not because of anything they do, but because of who he is.

I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them.

[Hosea 14:4]


It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress; from me comes your fruit.

[Hosea 14:8b]

How good is it that our fruit comes from the Lord!? When I can remember that, it fills me with so much peace. I’m able to work on my goals and aspirations, but without the weight of the world (or my own salvation) on my shoulders.

Which brings me back to Psalm 127. The reason I chose this first verse to help shape my 2017 is because I constantly need this reminder.

There is definitely wisdom in avoiding the “bread of idleness” (it is in the book of wisdom, after all), but I don’t want to trade it for the “bread of anxious toil.” Christ came to give us himself, the bread of life, and letting him “build the house” of my life and goals is far more important to me than any other specifics.

That’s good news I want to reflect on all year long.

With hope because of Christ,


*All verses are from the ESV

My goal-setting game plan for 2017

Now that the Christmas frenzy is over, I’m thankful to have this week to live at a slower pace. The lab I work in is currently all packed up to move to a new location next month, so I literally can’t do any lab work this week! I’m still doing some writing and other computer projects, but I can do them from home and spend some time catching up on things around the house. I’m also using some of this time to think about my goals for 2017.

It’s really only in the last couple years that I started setting goals for myself. Initially, my desire to self-improve came out of frustration with the lack of progress I was making in certain areas of my life. I am learning to have a little more grace for myself, but that doesn’t mean I want to become stagnant. Setting goals and working toward them help me know I’m being intentional with my life.

But if you’re like me, you’ve probably failed at more goals than you’ve accomplished. I’ve realized that the act of setting good goals and achieving them is itself a skill, and one that I’ve been pretty bad at in the past.

I’ve tried annual goals… and quarterly goals… and weekly goals.

I’ve tried setting one goal at a time and setting twenty goals at a time.

I’ve tried writing goals down and telling my friends my goals.

And I still ended up feeling like I was spinning my wheels.

This year, I’m doing something a little different. I’ve been listening to Michael Hyatt’s podcast, This Is Your Life. He’s a Christ-follower and a successful entrepreneur, and his advice on goal-setting from his last 3 episodes is based on research and experience. I’ve taken the thoughts from those episodes, plus some of my other previous experience, and come up with my own game-plan for goal setting. However, I can’t and wouldn’t want to replicate all of his advice here, so if you want to get the context for my game plan, I’d recommend listening to those three episodes.

I usually start brainstorming about my next year’s goals in the weeks leading up to Christmas. I never really do that intentionally, but with all the blogs and posts about goals, it’s hard not to get thinking. This week I am taking some time each day to work through the process below and formalize my goals. However, you could probably do something similar in a much shorter time span. In the past, I have taken a few hours to go sit in a coffee shop by myself to do this sort of planning. My process this year:


1. Pray

Where there is no vision [no revelation of God and His word], the people are unrestrained; But happy and blessed is he who keeps the law [of God].

Proverbs 29:18 (AMP)

In my mind, there is no point in setting a goal that is not in line with God’s will. I want to ensure that I am approaching my yearly goals with an eternal perspective and purpose. I don’t need every goal to come to me carved in stone and delivered by angels, but I do want to test my goals against God’s commands to love Him and love others.

I’ll spend some time before each of my planning sessions praying that God would help me set and pursue goals that would be glorifying to Him, and not only for my own selfish purposes. This is something I know I have to continue to pray throughout the year, because I have a tendency to take plans and intentions which are good (e.g. eating well and working out because it helps me have the energy to better serve others) and turn them inward (worrying about my diet and exercise habits for reasons of vanity). That’s also when I tend to stop having grace for myself, so it’s bad all around, and I definitely want to start on the right foot.


2. Brainstorm

Usually by this point, I already have a few goals in mind, but I want to get them all down on paper and come up with some more.

To help me with this process, I like to use a concept from the book The Miracle Morning. I haven’t read the book; honestly I found this list on Pinterest! The concept is called “Level 10 Life,” and it’s based on evaluating and goal-setting in 10 areas of your life. For me, they basically serve as reminders of different areas in which I might want to set goals for myself. They are (in no particular order):

  1. Personal Growth & Development
  2. Spirituality
  3. Family & Friends
  4. Significant other/romance (Marriage)
  5. Finances
  6. Career/Business (or School for perpetual students like me)
  7. Health/Fitness
  8. Physical Environment (Home/Office)
  9. Contribution/Giving
  10. Fun & Recreation

Most people (myself included) tend to focus on a few specific areas like Health/Fitness, Finances, or Spirituality. Using this list helps me remember to be more well-rounded. What good would it be to have my health and finances in order if I’ve let all my personal relationships fall to the wayside? I will try to end this step with at least 2-3 possible goals per category.


3. Narrow and Hone

In previous years, I have tried to work on several goals from each category (i.e. the list I made above) at one time. That turned out to be way too many. According to Michael Hyatt, having around 7-8 goals per year is much more reasonable. So, my plan is to pick 1 goal from each of 8 categories. These will be the things which I think would have the most positive impact on my life if I accomplished them next year. After doing that, I am going to ask if they pass the SMART goals test, and modify them until they do.

If you’re not familiar with SMART goals, it’s a list of characteristics that make goals more effective. Note that there are some variations on this list, but in general goals should be specific, measurable, ambitious but attainable, relevant, and time-bound.


Unspecific goals are not motivating, or measurable (see below). Rather than saying that you want to have a better relationship with your spouse, a specific goal might be to complete a specific “relationship challenge” with or for your spouse, or to go on a vacation for your anniversary. Saying you want to “get healthy” is great, but you’ll likely feel overwhelmed by that idea unless you figure out what getting healthy means to you.


Similarly, you should be able to answer the question, “Have I completed this goal?” If you can’t, then the goal isn’t measurable. It’s difficult to see progress of any kind, which is key to staying motivated, if you don’t know how you are defining “success.”

Ambitious but ATTAINABLE

Michael Hyatt talks in his podcasts about setting goals that are in the “discomfort zone.” That is, they aren’t “comfortable,” and require a bit of a stretch, but they’re not delusional. A good goal should be something you can reasonably do but not so easy that there is no fun in the challenge. If it’s something you’ve already done before, you may want to find something a little more difficult!


A good goal should actually be relevant to what you want/need to accomplish more broadly in life. I think of this the way I described it above: What would have the most positive impact on my life if I accomplished it? Sure it would be fun to take an online photography course, but given that I don’t have the financial resources, time, or inclination to start a photography hobby right now, this goal would probably lead me to a dead end right now. Perhaps it is an idea to revisit in another season of life. However, taking a course on vegan cooking, which I already do but would like to get better at, would be fun and would help me create a wider variety of healthy and inexpensive meals, feeding into other broader goals about health and finances. This characteristic is a filter I will use when choosing my final 8 goals.


I have often heard that goals should have a deadline, but I’ve been really bad about this! I know from experience that projects without deadlines often work their way down the to-do list indefinitely. Even if you don’t meet the deadline exactly, having it there helps create a sense of urgency, and can even help people who are holding you accountable to actually hold you accountable.

Since I have 8 goals for the year, I am going to put the deadline for 2 of them each quarter of the year (so 2 will be “due” March 31, 2 June 30, and so on). I’m going to base this on the time I think it will take to accomplish each goal, also keeping in mind that I’ll work on them most intently in the quarter that they are due (so I’m not juggling the bulk of all 8 goals all year long).


4. Flesh out the details

Again, based on some ideas from Michael Hyatt’s podcast, I have a few questions I want to answer once I have each goal in its final form. They are:

What is my why? What will I gain if I accomplish this goal? What will I lose if I don’t?

This question is all about motivation. As I revisit these goals throughout the year, I want to remember why I made them in the first place.

What is my first step toward achieving this goal?

This question is all about action. A big, ambitious goal can feel overwhelming at first, but you can usually think of one or two action steps that will get you started in the right direction.  That first step is something you can actually put on your to-do list or calendar.


5. Make plans to stay on top of it

One thing I’ve sometimes done well in the past is with checking in on my goals on a regular basis. I usually like to take the first Monday of the month (or last Monday of the previous month, depending on when it falls) to have a “date” with my planner. I’ll buy myself a fancy coffee drink and sit down for an hour or so to review the previous month and make plans for the next month. It helps me to figure out when these days are in advance, so I can have them on my calendar and guard them from other commitments.

This year, I’m making sure 3 things are on my agenda for this time: 1) Review the “why” for each goal to stay motivated, 2) celebrate any progress toward each goal, and 3) identify 1-2 next action steps for each goal.

I’m hoping that this process will help me stay motivated all year long and make progress on the “big stuff.”

Do you usually set goals for the year? What kinds of goals are you setting for 2017?