Resolutions that actually work...
[[originally published on Dec 29, 2019 - edited in Dec 29, 2022]]
Talking about New Year’s Resolutions is like asking people about their retirement investments. You know you should do be doing it, but feel condemned for not doing it well...or at all. You are likely in the 38% of those who never set a resolution on January 1, or maybe you are part of the 24% who never sees success in the goals you do set. Either way, I know that just by bringing it up you are likely to groan and roll your eyes. I totally understand.
I’d like to help by letting you inside how I do this every year. I don’t do many things like a boss, but I do happen to consider myself a professional resolution administrator. I absolutely love new year resolutions. In fact, you can access our sermons and look the week before or after January 1 and I guarantee you’ll find a sermon preaching to the heart on the importance of intentional and resolved living in light of the Gospel’s freedom. That being said, I won’t go into that here. Here, I want to take you into the mechanics of how I have done it over the last several years to great profit. At the bottom is a list of books that will also be expansions and added content on this very thing.
1. Spend adequate time reflecting on the last year?
In Roman mythology, Janus is the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, frames, and endings. He has two faces looking both forward and backwards. The idea in this step is reflection that informs what forward looks like. Ask probing questions to get you thinking, like “What is the biggest highlight and win this year?” “Where did I repeatedly fail this year?” “If I could have changed anything about my life this last year, what would it have been?” “What is the greatest lesson I’ve learned this year?” In processing last year, you're better poised to see next year better. Have two faces. Use this form to make this much easier.
2. Establish what your roles are?
In other words, what are the lanes you drive in - in order. For me, I'm a Christian first, a husband second, a daddy third, and a pastor and church planter fourth - and a professional triathlete 38th. Just kidding, my pro days are long gone. This step is important because it helps you “shoebox” your life in a way that makes resolving life changes a bit easier. In this step, we're still ordering and reflecting. I know it sounds laborious, but is necessary to set strong goals moving forward. Some identities and roles you have are far more mission-critical than others. Writing it down seems to help people quite a bit.
3. Establish what your life’s mission may be and how you may be distinctly called.
I think it’s important for everyone to have a mission statement and a stated understanding of their calling. Now, the mission statement ought to sound just very similar to Jesus’ Great Commission, so we’re not all distinct snowflakes in that regard. But, when it comes to your distinct calling you should expect to see a “bent” or “flavor” to how you want to live as a worshiping missionary on earth. Consider what is mission critical to you that might look different to the great family next to you that also loves Jesus. For a great book on how to do this, check out Matt Perman’s What's Best Next.
4. Establish where you keep getting stuck.
Many of your resolutions will look like refurbished resolutions from last year, and that’s because you keep getting stuck in the same areas. Diet, prayer, giving, and other potholes keep finding you likely. This is an opportunity for you to spend time looking at (1) what you wrongly believe about God and (2) what you desire more than God. Knowing where you get stuck will greatly inform your goal setting and growth. For a fantastic resource on how to be fluent in why you sin in certain areas and how to be fluent in the Gospel, check out Tim Chester's great work, You Can Change, or listen to Jeff Vandersteldt teach Gospel Fluency.
5. Develop good goals/resolutions according to your roles.
Armed with (1) why you keep gumming down in the same areas, (2) how you did this last year, and (3) what you are called to do here on earth, begin jotting down rough ideas of how you’d like to see changes within your distinct roles. For instance, I have resolved to parent my teenage daughter differently this year (daddy goal) and I have also resolved to tangibly thank people in small notes this year (pastor goal). Don’t think too hard, just start brainstorming. Try to cover all the roles you have.
6. Rewrite them several times to make them concise and crisp and honestly ask…
Are they specific enough? This means instead of writing, “I need to be healthier” you instead write down “I need to lose 25# this year.” You must define what the win is. Vague end zones provide no touchdowns.
Are they measurable at all? How will you know if you have done well? You’ll need to bring a way to discern win over failure or else you’ll never see change that will satisfy, nor will you know if your goal was too easy. You must build your goals in a trackable format as best as possible. Also consider apps that let you track habits. I use one simply called "Habits" off the Google Play Store. Nothing complicated.
Are they attainable and realistic? Do your resolutions consider your ability and time? Are they do-able? Don’t write “I want to read 50 books this year” - unless you understand that this means reading roughly 10,000 pages, which takes roughly 10 hours per week...gulp. Work backwards to see what a goal does to your calendar and assess whether it’s even doable. Resolutions should be something to stretch and strain towards, but not crushingly difficult or impossible
Are they time-bound? Also important is nailing a time down, or even breaking the year into seasons (trimester, quarter, etc…). A wise man once told me, “Don’t think of a marathon as a 26 mile race, think of it as 26 one mile races.” Makes sense.
7. Submit them to someone close and ask them to be brutally honest with you.
I have done this at great profit. Inevitably someone always picks up where I have over-reached on a goal or have an odd motive behind a goal. Maybe I have 3 goals for “pastor” for every one I have for “dad.” Not only can close community or a spouse de-bug our strategic growth strategy, they bring accountability to it. This seems like an unnecessary step, but change is a community project.
8. Write them in a place where you can look them over often.
I currently use an app called Trello, but Google has a task function that I used for years. Google tasks also lets you import them into a calendar. It doesn’t really matter what you use to collate your resolved goals, but you should have them in a place you are already used to looking. I check mine most every Monday and use it to help drive my calendar for the next few weeks. Every leadership coach in the world says the same thing about good goal setting: Write. It. Down.
Wanna see a pro do this. Check out Jonathan Edwards list of resolutions...it's inspiring.
9. Re-assess how SMART the goals are on July 4th.
You guessed it, number 6 above spelled out the acronym SMART. Now you get to see how smart the goals really were. Every July 4th (about the middle of the year) I spend a few hours to re-assess my annual resolutions. Sometimes I find I was too aggressive, and sometimes I already met a goal because it was a bit too easy. So, I take this time to adjust the dial so come December 31st, I have a good chance of meeting the resolutions in a way that they serve me and help me grow.
10. Be patient and graceful, knowing you’ll fail many times
Seriously, you’re going to fail a ton when intentionally setting out to grow as a disciple. It will require a bunch of effort to break out of the patterns you're used to living easily. Breaking into a new rhythm and way of living is going to be difficult. Be ready for setbacks and handle yourself with grace because that is how Jesus handles your resolution failures.
Also, most change is undetectably incremental in nature. hard to see, but it stacks up over time. James Clear wrote in his book Atomic Habits, "Every action you take is a vote for the person you wish to become." I agree. Disciples are built on small decisions as much as large ones. A 1% change everyday amounts to a 37% difference by years end. That is not insignificant. Let your small changes accrue to build a different version of yourself- the one you feel called and led to build.
I hope this helps you this year. Volumes can be written on goal setting by people more qualified than me, and as much as you may find failure in the goals you set this year, you statistically stand a 10x better chance of succeeding in them if you go through this process. Happy New Year!
Books that are super helpful in this arena