Every new year, I hear a lot about people setting new year’s resolutions. I think it’s an admirable thing to take a step back and evaluate yourself, recognizing that there is still room for improvement. What I’m not so keen on is the vicious cycle that seems to follow those resolutions. Tell me if this sounds familiar:
- In late December, you know that the new year is coming, so you start thinking about how you want this year to be different than the last one.
- In early January, you make some decisions that things are, in fact, going to be different. So you make a handful of resolutions. You’re going to eat less, work out more, start running, read more, take up a hobby, etc.
- You spend most of January feverishly changing your habits to accommodate those resolutions, working tirelessly to make sure you don’t drop the ball (again).
- By late January, you’ve started slacking on your admirable resolutions and you start to worry that you’re not going to be able to keep it up.
- By February, you’ve pretty much messed up on every one of your resolutions. You realize that there is no way you’ll be able to catch up. So you hang your head in shame, broken by your failure once again.
Sound familiar? If you’ve ever set a new year’s resolution, you’ve probably walked through that script or one very similar. That’s why I’ve decided to give up new year’s resolutions.
New year’s resolutions seem to always set us up for failure. When we don’t stick to our resolutions, we feel like we’ve seriously dropped the ball once again. And that feeling can be debilitating.
I’ve decided, instead, to set some goals for the new year. What’s the difference? I’m glad you asked.
Resolutions are decisions you’ve made. They’re your final verdict, concluded by your mind and your will, that things are going to be different. But because they are so resolute (see what I did there?), they leave no room for missing the mark, even by just a little. If you don’t achieve your resolution, it sends a clear message: your will wasn’t strong enough to fulfill what your mind decided. Failure.
Goals, on the other hand, give you a little wiggle room. Think of goals like shooting at a target. In the center of the target, there is a small red circle. But around that red circle, there are numerous other circles. If you are aiming for a goal, chances are that you aren’t going to hit a bullseye your first shot. If your only goal was to hit the bullseye dead on, then you would have failed. But if you’re shooting at a target for the purpose of eventual improvement and hit just outside of the center, even though you are a little off your mark, that’s still a win. And there you find the difference.
Goals allow for failure on the road to improvement. Sure, you didn’t hit exactly on your mark. But your first shot gave you a good foundation upon which you can improve with future shots. Goals allow you to see your failures as steps in the learning process. Then your failures transform from debilitating quicksand into trampolines from which you can soar to greater heights.
Let’s look at this practically. Maybe you have decided each year for the past few years to read your entire Bible in a year. You resolve that by year’s end, you will have read the whole thing. If that’s your resolution and you get behind, you eventually decide that there’s no way to accomplish your resolution, so you quit.
But if you look at reading the Bible in a year as a goal, then even if you get behind, you still press on and see just how close to the target you can get. That way, next year you’ll know what you need to do to improve.
There is an axiom that I have often repeated that I believe to be very true:
If you aim for nothing, you’ll hit it every time.
If you set no goals for growth, then chances are you’ll look back on 2014 and see pretty much the same thing you saw in 2013. Without a clear destination, there is little chance you’ll know how to get there. So chances are, you’ll go nowhere.
That’s why goals are so important. They move us forward toward our ultimate goals. They are incremental steps toward distant destinations. We know that even the longest journey begins with a single step (thanks Lao-tzu!), but we get so petrified by looking at the length of the journey that we decide to do nothing. But it’s the small steps that move us along our journey, closer to our long term goals.
Want to read more? Make a reading list. Your goal may be 25 books and you only read 20, but I’m guessing that will be more than last year. That’s a huge win.
Want to be in better shape? Set a goal to work out or run three days a week. Maybe you’ll only find time for two, but that’s way better than sitting on your rear end in defeat from your failure.
Want to be a better Christ follower? Set a goal to read your Bible and pray every day. Maybe you’ll settle into a groove of three or four days a week. I guarantee that you’ll be better for it.
Resolutions lead you only to shame and defeat. Goals give you hope even in the failures. So jettison those resolutions, and set some goals this year.