New Year’s Day is upon us, and with it, a flood of New Year’s resolutions. Gym memberships and workout DVDs will be purchased. Yoga pants will be worn (once). Classic works of literature will be opened. Journal entries will be written. Healthy recipes will be googled, and wheat grass juice will be guzzled. Scales will be dusted off. Credit cards will be cut up. File folders and closet organizers will be purchased. Hopes will be high. This year, I’m gonna do it! No, really!
And by Valentine’s Day, all will be forgotten. Because New Year’s resolutions, like Christmas trees, Jack-o-lanterns and fireworks, are a seasonal thing. You would no more keep a New Year’s resolution in May than you would carve a pumpkin in July. It’s the American way.
That said, the end of a year and the beginning of another is a natural time to stop and evaluate. For a few years now, I’ve had a practice of setting annual goals. Here are my rules:
- Standard goal-setting wisdom applies. Goals should be realistic, measurable, etc. Metrics can be totally subjective, but they need to be meaningful. (e.g., if the goal is to exercise enough to feel better, then me feeling better is the measure. If the goal is to be more tender toward my wife, my subjective evaluation is not worth much — but hers is.)
- Cover the range. Hitting my goals for the year should mean a fairly balanced life. This means, at minimum, goals that will challenge me physically, mentally, relationally, and spiritually.
- Review goals constantly. I write my goals out and keep that piece of paper on my desk where I can see it all the time. I consciously review the list at least once a month, and evaluate how I’m doing. How I’m doing has to boil down to a simple statement, with no shilly-shallying about: “I am on track.” “I am lagging.” “I am ahead of schedule.” “I am failing.”
- I am free to fail. If something that seemed worth doing in January just turns out not to be worth doing in the cold light of March, then I won’t feel obligated to do it. This is not a contract with myself. That said, it stays on the list through the end of the year. I will have to face it no less than once a month and say, “I am failing at xyz.” If I am pleased to be failing at it because the other things that are taking precedence really are more important, then so be it. If not, maybe I need to get back on the horse.
- No repeats on failed goals. If it wasn’t important enough to do last year, then I’m not going to clutter up my list with it again this year. If I still think it’s important a year from now, it can go back on the list. Note that this does not apply to partial successes. The difference between partial success and abject failure is somewhat subjective, but it mostly hinges on whether the goal changed my lifestyle. Let me illustrate with a couple of my goals from last year. I set myself a goal to read through one book a month in a certain area. I think I did it through February, and stopped. That’s a failure. I still think it’s a good idea to do, but it clearly wasn’t a priority, and therefore it’s banned from this year’s list. I also set a goal of learning Sun Lu-Tang’s 98-posture Taiji form. It crossed my mind that it might take more than a year, but I figured I could handle it in a year if I really tried. In fact, the foundational movements and power-development exercises I had to master before I could even start the form ended up taking the first half of the year. I’m finishing the year with only about a third of the form learned. But I practice 4-6 days a week. The goal changed my lifestyle, so I consider it a success; I just didn’t get as far as I was hoping. I had never done Taiji before, and didn’t have a realistic appreciation for the learning curve. This year’s goal (to learn the remaining 2/3 of the form) is much more realistic.
I don’t have a rule about this, but I’m a big fan of brevity. My entire list of annual goals will fit on one side of a 3×5 card. More than that is too much to juggle, and makes it hard to constantly review.
Here’s a partial (but representative) look at my evaluation for the past year:
- Spirit: Develop in marital and spiritual leadership. Success. I’ve been presented with leadership roles that I couldn’t have handled a year ago, and been able to step into them handily. The spiritual focus in my marriage is stronger than it was a year ago — we’re more in sync with God and each other. (Sounds fuzzy, but I can feel the difference.)
- Body: Regular workouts. Partial success. My martial arts workouts were regular and numerous. My workouts for attributes (strength, endurance, looseness, freedom of movement) were no less than once a week, but much more sporadic than they could have been.
- Body: Focus on power generation in my martial arts practice. Success. I had occasion not only to focus on power generation in my own practice, but to teach a lot of what I know — and I probably learned more by teaching than I’ve ever learned any other way.
- Mind: Write the novel I’ve been working on over the course of the year. Failure. I did nothing until October, prepped a little, and then tried to ram through it in November, using NaNoWriMo as a vehicle. It didn’t work; I can’t improvise my way through a mystery story — just too much to have in my head at once.
- Career: Greater control of my schedule. Success. My better choice of bus route package this year allows me more freedom to make and honor commitments. We are well positioned to begin curriculum sales that have a good chance of freeing me from the need to drive a bus over the next couple years, which would greatly increase my flexibility. Meanwhile, I have increased my margin by dropping a weeknight commitment, and I have successfully maintained a day of rest most weeks.
Where there is success here, it is very much God’s doing. In a number of these areas where I was seeking growth, I didn’t have a clue how to make it happen. The goal was more a prayer than anything else, and overwhelmingly, God answered those quasi-prayers, often in very unexpected ways. It’s been my pleasure to learn from what God did, and apply what I learned to setting further goals for this year.
Do you set goals for your year? How do you decide on them?