Goals – not resolutions


Over the last few years I’ve noticed something about the first two weeks of January: I dread going to the gym.

It’s not because I am unmotivated to get there or that I am trying to lose a few pounds. No, going to the gym is a normal part of my routine. I dread going because the gym is always packed and crowded for these two weeks and it takes me forever do my workouts. Other regulars at the gym joke that they can’t wait until people’s resolutions are broken by mid-January so they can use the workout equipment again without a wait time. Maybe that is selfish or cynical of me to think this way. Truthfully, I applaud the effort on these well-meaning people with their resolutions. It’s just that they rarely ever stick. It always strikes me as a little funny and a little more than awkward.

Several years ago I resolved to never set New Year’s resolutions again. I’m growing more and more convinced that resolutions are made to be broken. Goals, however, are made to be accomplished.

Most Americans know the track record for New Year’s resolutions. (I recently read a survey showing that most Americans can’t remember their New Year’s Resolutions by March 1, so we shouldn’t be too surprised that we fail at them).

Oftentimes, we set ourselves up to fail with resolutions.

I want to lose weight.

I want to go to the gym.

I want to find a special someone.

I want to travel.

I want to be closer to God and have more faith.

No doubt, these are good and admirable, but how will you measure them? How will you break that down in accomplishable pieces? How will I know what you meant by ‘go to the gym’? (Do you mean go 2 times in the month of January and never again the remaining 11 months or do you mean three times a week consistently for the entire year?) We fail because we have no plan. 

A few years ago I heard this great nugget of wisdom: if you are going to set goals, make them SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely). SMART goals have accountability to them. Did you accomplish your goals? If they are SMART, the answer is either a simple yes or no. I try to make my goals SMART ones.

In addition, I email them to a few close friends and give them permission to ask me about them during the year. It is a grace-filled form of accountability that I need along the way. Sometimes the goals change, but most of the time they remain in tact for 12 months. Some are silly and trivial. Some have massive implications on my spiritual, emotional or relational life. Some are challenges for the particular year. Others are habits I am trying to establish in order to remain with me for the rest of my life. Some are small tweaks. Other goals are massive lifestyle overhauls. It’s fun. And demanding. And it can be draining. But I find the discipline to be important and the tasks to be thrilling. It keeps life from being dull. 

I get quite reflective and contemplative around January. In Greek mythology, Janus was a god with two faces – one facing forward and once facing backwards. It’s where we get our word January. Last night I sat down and spent time reflecting on 2011 and considering 2012. I spent considerable time reviewing my 10 goals for 2011, which I had typed out and taped on the inside of my Moleskine journal last year at this time. With some of my goals, I did well. I’m grateful  and excited to see most of them accomplished. Other goals, however, I failed miserably. I’m still processing why I succeeded at some and failed at others.

For the past three weeks I’ve pondered and prayed as to what goals I should set for 2012. I’m both excited and nervous about the them, knowing that I will be pushed and that discipline will be required from me if I have any shot of achieving them.

Last week I heard two questions that a pastor-friend of mine asks himself at the end of each year:

  1. What am I thankful to Jesus for in the year past? 
  2. What am I trusting Jesus for in the year ahead? 

Great, great questions. These questions help me to solidify my goals for 2012. Let me encourage you: set goals, not resolutions. You might surprise yourself this year.

Oh, one final thought. I heard a great piece of practical wisdom a while ago, poignant especially for this first week of January when resolutions, goals, dreams, to-do lists, tasks and expectations have a tendency to be sky high:

Don’t try to boil the ocean. Just get a few things done by Thursday.