New Years is a reminder that time is passing. Like the alarm that wakes us up in the morning or the shock we feel when someone we love looks older than they used to. It’s good to be jolted out of unthinking autopilot and into intentional, deliberate living.
Most don’t set New Year’s Resolutions. Most don’t do year-end reflections or new sets of goals.
The objections to New Year’s resolutions are many.
“You know most people quit in February, right?”
“Don’t set yourself up to fail.”
“I’m doing the best I can right now, and another goal isn’t going to help.”
“I don’t want to feel limited.”
“I can improve without setting goals.”
I get it. For those that have experienced disappointment again and again, setting goals for the future seems like just putting another nail in the coffin.
I won’t tell you what you need to do. Maybe none of this works for you. But I’ll tell you what has consistently worked for me: reflection, dreaming, and goal-setting.
Reflection involves looking back. Not just at the last year and its accomplishments and special moments, but back on your life in general. What’s worked and what hasn’t. What help have you received, and what stumbling blocks do you keep running into.
Goal setting without reflection will lead to making the same mistakes year after year, It will lead to goals that don’t take into account your strengths and weaknesses. Goals that ignore your habits, routines and default patterns that you find yourself in.
Learn from your experiences. Digest the knowledge you’ve gained in the past year and turn it into actionable wisdom for the future.
Personally, when I set goals without reflection it leads to a constant pining for that which doesn’t exist yet, and a lack of appreciation for how far I’ve come. It can be a process of unfair self-criticism, which is a problem that doesn’t get solved through achievement or checking all your boxes.
Reflecting on the ways that the ball has moved forward can give you hope and encouragement for what’s to come.
Dreaming is the second key process I walk through at the end of the year. What could be? How could life change for the better next year? What special moments could be made? What worthwhile endeavors could be taken on? How could we look back on 2023 and be glad at what we spend out time and attention on?
I love Zig Ziglar’s “wheel of life” for this step. Split life into 7 segments, and dream big for each one. In one, five and fifty years, what could your spiritual life look like? How could you deepen your social relationships? How could you boost your health, and what would that mean for your life in general? What’s possible in your family? What do you actually want to be doing in your career? What sort of financial situation do you want to be in?
All of these require habit changes, sacrifice and deliberate action to actually improve. As we dream, we’re thinking about the cost of attaining them. Not to discourage us, but to put each in to perspective. We all would love to have 500 million dollars in the bank and to have a flawless physique that almost never gets sick. But the amount of focus and dedication it takes to accomplish those things are likely not what we are willing to put in, and would probably cause all the other segments of our life to shrivel up.
Practically, what could your situation look like if you really put things in order and invested dedicated effort?
And then when you’ve spent time reflecting and dreaming, you can actually begin to write goals that guide your growth.
Without those two steps, you’ll end up making impulsive goals based on your momentary frustrations, or letting other people make your goals for you.
And then what sort of goals do you make? You make S.M.A.R.T. goals. Goals that are specific enough to inform your life decisions. Measurable enough to know if you’re actually hitting them or not. Attainable because they’re the right size, and you’ve got all the tools, plans, and resources to make them happen. They’re relevant to your own life because they match the dreams that motivate you and the responsibilities you’ve adopted. And lastly, they’re time-bound with a deadline, and require regular action, whether that’s daily, weekly or monthly.
I’ve got a series of goals for 2023. Most of them are the sort that aren’t helpful to share publicly, but I’ll tell you three of them.
I want to read through the New Testament three times. These past two years I’ve read through the Good Book cover to cover each year, but this year I’d like to really focus on the life and ministry of Jesus, and the growth and instruction to the church. If you’re a Christian and haven’t read through the Bible all the way through, I would encourage you to put this on your list. It’s about 70 hours on Audible, and you can get the audio and text for free with the YouVersion app on your phone. It should take you about 13 minutes a day if you stretch it out through the whole year, but I’d suggest just going for it and reading it through in a month or two.
Double my exercise totals from this year. This will be my third year keeping track of my exercise totals. Miles walked/runned, pushups, pullups, jumping jacks, etc. I doubled most of the totals from last year (and certainly doubled the total effort I put in.) I’d like to double it again this coming year. I’m not setting any benchmark goals when it comes to my health. No target body weight or amount I can lift. I’d like to just get the effort in and trust that regular execution will have an effect even if I can’t see it.
And lastly, I want to write 300 posts on this blog. They won’t all be masterpieces. But I hope that with regular practice I’ll get better at thinking through and expressing what’s most important. I’ll get better at carefully saying true things, and going through the exercise of fully thinking through a topic, instead of leaving it as a vague mess in the corner of the mind.
What if I don’t reach these goals? What if I fail? The benefit of setting these goals for me is that they target my efforts. If I don’t read through the New Testament twice, and I only exercise just as much as I did last year, and I only make it to 176 blog posts, I’ll still have done far more than I would have just waking up each day and asking myself, “what do you want to do today?”
I’m pretty sure that goals are good. I encourage you to set some this year.
Have a wonderful new year.