We all skipped the crowded offline parties last night, or at least we should have. Those of us who had to head back to work in the morning likely skipped the alcohol as well. This year, I’ve decided to continue this new tradition of skipping useless New Year’s Eve/Day traditions and forgo the typical resolutions too. Instead, I am setting goals.
The difference between a resolution and a goal is practicality, focus, and perspective. Resolutions are often unreachable. The whole “new year, new me” thing we all get tired of after the millionth corporation uses it in their advertising is a good example. Unless you’re going to fake your own death, flee to a place you’ve never been before, and create a new identity, you are not likely to be a completely different person at the end of the year than you are today. Resolutions are focused on self praise. They’re all about “Look at me! Hey everybody! Look what great I’m going to do! Be sure to cheer me on!” Goals are typically focused on parts of your life’s mission. Resolutions set us up to beat ourselves up. When we look back, we either “kept our resolution” or we “failed.” Goals allow for progress and changes as we’re led to different things.
If you would like to join me in setting goals instead of making resolutions this year, here is a pattern for creating strong goals.
Set specific goals.
Goals that are too vague become nothing more than a way to sidestep accountability for doing little to nothing. If I say I want “more clients” for my arts writing business, I get to congratulate myself and slack off as soon as one person sponsors a single post for $20 and then disappears. A more specific, stronger goal would be, “I want my freelance writing business to serve at least three clients each month.”
A strong goal requires a result you can measure in some way.
Setting goals you can’t measure is another way of letting yourself off much too easy. Deciding to “learn Italian and Greek” was my goal last year. I cannot speak either of those languages today, because I did not set a specific goal. Technically, I did meet the stated goal, because I did learn a few words in Italian, and I learned a little bit about how to study Greek. But that was not what I meant when I set that goal, and we all know it. A firmer goal is, “Be able to watch an episode of a tv show in Italian and understand most of it by the end of the year and record a video or audio file of myself speaking Italian for ten minutes.” or “Be able to order my food in Greek by the end of the year.” I can measure those. I either understand the tv show, or I have to turn on the English subtitles. I will make it through a ten minute talk or I won’t. I’ll either have a nice chat with the people at the Greek restaurant and get my food, or they’ll have to ask me to switch to English.
Goals that are not attainable set you up for failure.
While the first two measures are designed to prevent us being too easy on ourselves, this one stops us from being too hard on ourselves. It would be perfectly reasonable for me to set a goal of singing in front of an audience again by the end of 2021. I started singing country and pop songs when I was three years old. I wanted to be a professional singer for my entire childhood, and have loved singing ever since. Most people who hear me sing tell me I have a good voice. But my voice is not great, and I haven’t really sung unless it was in a deliberately silly voice for a joke in about five years. Setting a goal of making my own album, having someone hire me to sing for two hours at my own concert, or singing an opera aria when I have a Blues, Country, and Pop voice and no training would only set me up for guaranteed failure.
Make sure you actually want or need to reach the goal.
Setting goals to do things you neither need nor want to do is another way to set yourself up for failure. It may sound good on social media to announce you’re going to gain or lose weight this year, but if you’re healthy and perfectly content with your body the way that it is, you’ll lose focus the minute all the encouraging comments fade away. In years past, I’ve been pressured to learn how to drive. It is something I can’t do that most adults can, but I would have no use for the knowledge of how to drive a car. Eye doctors tell me I have no depth perception, and both eye doctors and a retired police officer have told me this would make driving unsafe for me. There would be no need to learn to do something only to be reminded I’m medically restricted from it when I go to take the driving test. I would wind up with a learner’s permit, driving someone else around empty parking lots.
There should be some sort of time limit.
Putting time limits on goals helps maintain focus and motivation to work toward the goal. “By the end of 2021, I want to be able to record myself speaking Italian and Greek for five minutes,” is a goal with a time limit. I am likely to work toward those goals, knowing I don’t have forever to meet them. “I’d like to be able to speak Italian and Greek for ten minutes,” is a strong goal in terms of being measurable, but adding a time limit prevents me from putting off the work needed to achieve it.
Goals that can be broken down into smaller goals, or steps, are much more likely to be reached.
My goal, “I would like to have three clients per month in 2021,” is specific, measurable, attainable, something I want to do, and limited by time. Business blogs use the acronym SMART for “specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely” to describe these guidelines. But I still run a strong risk of sitting around waiting for those clients to appear each month. My chances of success are much better if I break that down into, “Contact five potential clients each week,” or “complete a side hustle to raise the money to buy advertising by the end of the first week of each month.”
Remember Proverbs 16:3
The verse reads, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans.” (NIV). This does not mean all of your goals have to be directly related to church, and it certainly doesn’t mean you need to make a list of goals that sound like they came out of a bad, preachy movie. It means to pray as you are setting your goals, and to pray throughout the year, to make sure you are setting and going after goals in keeping with God’s plan for you. We all have a different mission here on earth. We are all made unique. A great goal for your friend, or your daughter, or your spouse, or the guy you sit next to on the bus to work may not be a relevant goal for your life. And even those of us who start out with righteous, relevant goals need to remain reminded that no matter what your goal, it is never okay to reach it through cheating, stealing, lying, or causing deliberate harm to other people.