6 Steps To Setting Goals (Or Resolutions) That Actually Work

As the New Year is still getting underway, we want to live lives that matter. We want to love God and the people around us better. And, in the process, we want to grow, too. And yet, although half of us will set resolutions or goals, only about 8% will actually achieve them. Ouch.

Last time, I shared about the first two steps in the process I use in setting my own goals for the year. This time, I want to talk about how to actually set goals or resolutions that stick. (Hat tip to Michael Hyatt for his work on this).

001_365_01.01.2013 Paula Naugle via Compfight

Here are some principles that will help us set resolutions and goals that actually work.

Make Them Matter

This might sound obvious, but our goals should be compelling.  We should want to achieve them or we won’t.  So if you’re not excited about ‘running three times a week’ or ‘making sure my kids bathe at least once a week’, that’s OK. (Personal disclaimer: all of my 4 children do bathe at least once/week.  Except when they don’t).   Set other goals that do excite you.

Use The S.M.A.R.T.E.R. Format

Experts vary on what each letter stands for, but the overall idea is the same.

  • (S)pecific – It’s important to know what you’re shooting for.  ‘Exercise more’, for example, might become ‘train for, and run, a 10K’.
  • (M)easurable – This makes your goals even more specific.  So, ‘reading my bible more’ might become ‘read my bible for 15 minutes Monday through Saturday’.
  • (A)ctionable – Assigning an action verb to your goal creates a sense of momentum.  As an example, one of my goals is ‘write at least two blog posts per week’ instead of ‘be a more consistent blogger’.
  • (R)ealistic – If you know exactly how you’re going to accomplish your goals, they might bore you to… inaction.  On the other hand, you can aim so high you’re functionally hallucinating and then get discouraged.  As a rough guideline, I love what Dan Miller suggests – shoot for goals you feel you have about a 50% chance of accomplishing.
  • (T)ime-specific – Giving yourself a deadline creates a sense of urgency.  So ‘lose 20 pounds’ becomes ‘lose 20 pounds by June 1st’.
  • (E)valuate – It’s so easy to set – and then forget – our goals.  There’s lots of freedom here, but we need some kind of process that helps us see how we’re doing.  I’m still working this out, but I think we need to check in at least weekly for a few minutes.  Others also glance over their goals daily and, more deeply, on a quarterly basis.
  • (R)evise – Sometimes we discover our goals need adjustments.  That’s entirely fine.  I like Michael Hyatt’s framework of re-committing (when we have the right goal, but are struggling), revising (if our original goal was too easy or difficult), or, removing (due to changing circumstances or priorities).

Write Them Down, Keep Them Visible

One study shows that writing your goals down gives you a 42%(!) better chance of accomplishing them.  This is an obvious prerequisite to keeping them somewhere you’ll see them, another huge key for success.

Strive For Balance

Think about the different areas God has called you to and try to set a goal in most of these areas, especially if they’re ones you tend to overlook.  Personally, I tend to focus on my work and family, but need to give more attention to developing friendships and doing things I enjoy.  What about you?

Don’t Go Overboard

When you get beyond 7-10 goals at any given time, it gets overwhelming pretty fast.  Better to keep it in this range, then add more as you start ticking some of your goals off.

Above All, Remember God

Not sure about you, but I need to hear the encouragement of Psalm 127:1 again and again: ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.  Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.’  God invites us to plan (to ‘build’ and ‘watch’), but his work always needs to undergird our own.  

You don’t need to get all this perfect.  But if we do most of this with most of our goals, we’ll make tremendous progress.

Which of the above suggestions would most impact your goal-setting for the coming year?