I read this quote today from a business expert and while I was staggered, I was not surprised:
25 percent of people abandon their New Year’s resolutions after one week—60 percent do so within six months. The average person makes the same New Year’s resolution ten separate times without success.
I wasn’t really surprised because I’ve done this. Whether it is my reading plan or weight-lifting regimen (you know the one from 2002 when I was going to drive the ladies crazy by July), I’ve set lofty goals that are in the rear-view mirror by February, abandoned until, well, the next time I set it as a lofty goal to be abandoned about a week into a new year.
And I don’t know the answer why most of us are terrible at goal-setting or goal-accomplishing (I can set them all day!). But I do have some ideas based on what has worked for me in the past and what hasn’t. Here are some simple suggestions of how you may get on the road to achieving some goals.
1. Write your goals down. This simple practice forms a sort of contract so that your goal of a 100 push-ups a day is etched in pen, and therefore unable to become a 100 push-ups a week, and then a 100 push-ups a month, and then a 100 push-ups this year . . . what happens when you begin to fudge on your goals and move the line around is that the entire goal becomes some floaty thing, movable in its entirety, like a Frisbee drifting majestically through the air and into the middle of the lake. (I’d swim out there and fetch that Frisbee, but I just did about a 100 push-ups.)
2. Write clear goals. If you are going to write it down, write it down clearly and directly. 100 push-ups a day. There. It is clear. It is direct. Don’t write, I will do about a hundred push-ups a day when I can . . . and when I am not sore . . . or out of town (I have my special push-up area at home and all) . . . oh, and when it is not a holiday. That goal is goofy and long-snapped for a punt, not a play.
3. Consider your goal before writing. I once had the goal of reading the Bible in a year. But then I thought, Man, a year seems like a long time. I bet I could do it in six months. Well, I figured how much reading that would be for me each day, when I would be able to knock that time allotment out, decided I could make it work, and then I went for it . . . And it worked! Great, right? Well, then, at the end of six months, I decided to do it again. But this time I decided to do it in three months. I didn’t consider how much reading that would be or how hard it had been to complete the six-month goal. I just decided to Nike this thing! It lasted about three days. The problem was that I hadn’t considered that in the six-month plan it was still possible to fall behind and catch back up on a Saturday morning . . . an extra hour or so of reading could make up for a haphazard week. Well with the new plan, miss a couple days and you were in BIG trouble. Hadn’t thought of this up front, so I didn’t guard from falling behind, and, lo and behold, I had quit the plan before I was even out of Genesis; I mean, I didn’t even make Exodus in my own personal exodus! Weak. The problem, though, wasn’t in me, it was in my unrealistic goal that was made without thinking.
4. Just because you can chew it, doesn’t mean you should take the bite. I could run a mile a day, sure. But I also don’t run a mile a month currently. So maybe I should start more modestly until, you know, I get in the groove? Run a mile a weekend. Now that is a goal that has enough flexibility to it that I could do it, but it also has enough realism to it that it is doable. Sure, I could bodily accomplish more, but in good goal-setting it isn’t just physical or mental or emotional or spiritual. All of these components must be wedded together in accomplishing the goal or the goal will fall by the wayside–how many times have I punted on a spiritual goal of praying each night because of a physical limitation (I’m tired!).
5. Get accountability. Social media is not accountability. Social media is a place to get positive affirmation in the form of “Likes” upfront, and then doubts in the form of neglect later on, and then sad attention-mongering at the end that shouts: REMEMBER ME, EVERYONE! REMEMBER MY GOALS! HELP ME! LIKE ME! That way is madness. Post it, sure. But don’t rely on that for accountability. It will ruin your goal and make your goal about the approval of others and not the betterment of self–and, by bettering self, the ability to enhance the lives of others. Get someone you trust. Explain your goal to them. Get their buy-in. Come up with a plan with them to check in on your goal, and empower them to take action should you need a stern reminder or the frequent reward of encouragement. Without this person, you will probably quit your goal.
6. Consider the “Why” of the goal. If the “why” is based on insecurity, fix the insecurity don’t drown swimming after it. For example, I want to be healthy by the summer . . . in a lot of ways this can be a great (albeit too vague) goal: I can play with my kids longer; engage with my spouse better; have a better quality of life, and hence be a better person for others. The list of pros on this one could go on and on. But if your reason goes more like this: “I want to look good.” You might have some issues. This goal is rooted in what other people will think of you. It is drenched therefore in a hollow sort of selfishness that isn’t ultimately good for anyone. Accomplish your goal and pride follows. Don’t accomplish it and your identity is destroyed. Lose-lose. Goals need to have you in the center regarding activity but not taking your self-made, delusional place at the center of the world.
7. Don’t overdo it. Maybe write one great goal this year to work on. Maybe write three. Don’t make a list like this:
1. Become a better person
2. Cure something
3. Run a marathon this year
4. Learn Russian
5. Read 100 books
6. Be less fat (like way less)
7. Beach body
8. Save enough money for a boat, and then buy a boat and learn to ski, while saving $1000 a month. Also, invest in some stuff
9. Enhance my faith
10. Make some friends
You get the idea. Many of us do this. We want to gain relationships and lose weight, all while saving money, playing with kids more, taking more trips, and getting promoted. We make goals of all of them, and, to paraphrase Tolkien, we become like too little butter spread across a piece of bread. We just can’t cover it all. And then comes the guilt, the shame, the stress, and the feeling of failure that is untrue and unfair. (Plus, come on, sucky bread, right?)
What if we just picked one thing to really knock out? One important goal? Of course, said goal might trickle into other areas . . . great! But we have one goal. I know a guy who had the goal last year of “Becoming a better man.” His major area to do this was in the area of his faith. He was going to begin living for God, exploring his beliefs, and investing himself more fully to what his faith called him to. Of course, in doing this he had his best year ever at work (because he was more patient with clients), at home (because he loved his wife better by sacrificing for her more often), and with some other habits he’d been battling (his faith began to challenge his worldview in a couple health/mind issues). The good, simple goal (“Be a better man through exploring and adhering to my faith.”) had the trickle effect into many areas of his life.
And it is this way with any well-set goal. If my goal is to get in shape, and I flesh out how that will look for me, and define it clearly, it will probably help me have more energy with which to do house projects, it may affect how my wife looks at me, it will likely have me craving more water and better food . . . shoot, I may even live a bit longer! I don’t need a hundred goals. I need a few good ones, and they’ll raise up other unexpected good changes.
So there are some simple goal-setting ideas. Have some to add? Do so in the comment section or feel free to share your simple, clear goal with others. I hope this is a great year for me and my family, but there is also plenty I can do (by God’s grace) to see it become one. So the question I’m left with is, “What am I going to do in 2015?”