New Year’s resolutions. Insert joke here. More often than not, New Year’s resolutions past the first of January are spoken of in a negative context regarding failure. “I didn’t keep my resolution for…” and you can fill in the blank. So what do I do if I have already failed at keeping the goals that I set for myself in this new year?
Perhaps the goals you set for yourself were not achievable. Perhaps the root cause of your failure was in the goal itself and not in the execution. Those of us privileged to live in the wealthy sectors of our globe live in an instant gratification society where delays are bad and companies like Amazon spend millions to set up capacious warehouses while tracking your spending habits in a given region to get products to you faster. While I find this last part to be a net good, the resulting expectations in other areas of life can be a net bad.
We gain weight over years and want to get fit and healthy at the gym in a week. We put off setting schedules for our day for a lifetime and then set a nebulous goal of “more productivity” and wonder why we fail. We say we want to watch less TV while paying for 6 subscriptions to streaming platforms and are surprised or saddened when Apple sends a screentime report that is 32% up from last week. The very fact that the makers of these products include these reports should warn you about our unhealthy habits.
So if the goals you set are unachievable and sabotaging your progress, what should you do? Well, you could start by setting SMART goals. Smart goals were developed by George Doran, Arthur Miller, and James Cunningham in a 1981 article and provide a simple, yet elegant way to prioritize what you should set as a goal. This acronym includes some modern adaptations to their original but is very helpful in setting achievable resolutions.
Specificity leads to accountability either from yourself or from peers. Do you want to draw closer to God this year? Set specific, achievable prayer time goals and goals for reading Scripture. For several years now I have gone through the audio Bible once a year by listening to a plan in the mornings on my way to work. My commute time became a time to achieve a spiritual goal.
Meaningful goals require emotional investment on your part. Are you setting this goal because of pressure from a friend, TikTok, or Instagram influencer or does this goal really mean something to you? Find the why for your goal before committing to it. This will increase your likelihood of following through.
Attainable goals involve calculated parameters. If you gained 60 lbs in a period of ten years, perhaps it isn’t realistic to set 10 pounds a month for a weight loss goal. Last year I listened to James Clear’s book, “Atomic Habits” and he advocates for creating goals with bookends. Have minimum and maximum sides to your goal. If you want to start going to the gym, set a minimum of 2 times a day, but no more than 4. This will help you to achieve your goals without burnout.
Realistic goals and New Year resolutions are often not the same things. We so very rarely analyze our lives and direction that when we do, the shock of what we see could cause an overreaction in the opposite direction. This does not help with realistic goal setting. Don’t commit to suddenly spending an hour for prayer in the morning if you haven’t spent 5 minutes a day in your life up until now. Social scientists will tell you that meeting these realistic goals is crucial for mental health overall. Setting micro goals that you can track and cross off. This feeling of success will create a “snowball effect” of momentum and increase your likelihood of success in the larger goals.
Trackable goals are easier for business-minded people who are used to casting a vision and tracking their success in achieving that vision. Your progress towards your goal must be something that can be measured. This is why “lose some weight” “be more productive” or be more “helpful to strangers” are poor goals that will likely not be achieved. Swap those out instead with, “lose 10 lbs by March 1st” “Do laundry three times a week” (or with our four boys, three times a day) and “take food to the shut-in at the end of your road once a month.” By making your goals specific, you also make them trackable and you can see if you are living up to your resolutions.
Though culture often glorifies spontaneity, planning builds the future. Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit”, said. “If you’re building a habit, you’re planning for the next decade, not the next couple of months.”
Prayerfully consider if the goals you are setting fit within a SMART framework and in the context of Biblical life, look at your goals for the coming year and remember that you are planning for the next decades, and give yourself some room for smaller, realistic goals that plan towards the future.