January 1, 2009

5 Tips for Setting New Year's Goals

Every year I set a number of goals for myself. I never call them resolutions because resolutions always seem destined to be broken. Goals are a little more substantial for me...they signify that by the end of the year I want to have grown and not just changed a bad behavior. Resolutions, for me, say, "I am trying to change something bad about myself." Goals say, "I want to be better by the end of this year."

Over the years I have developed some principles that guide my personal goal setting.

1. Divide your life into some broad sections.
People are complex...I am complex. I have various "lives" and realms that I move in. I am a husband and father...I have spiritual, intellectual, professional, and physical aspects to my life...And each of these areas require some growth and development.

I start by writing each area down as a main heading:






and then I brainstorm ideas beneath each section.

2. Brainstorm whatever comes to mind.
When you brainstorm, there should be no limits or self-editing done during the process. You are dreaming...planning...letting go. It is a new year and anything is possible. I believe it is never too late to become the person you want to be...you just have to know what that looks like and then creates steps to get there.

Some of your brainstorming ideas may (and most probably will not) stay on the list. They may, however, become part of a master list of things you would like to accomplish before you die. Placing them on a bigger, farther out list, may mean changing some of the short-term, yearly goals you are preparing.

Just write down everything.

3. Know where you want to end up.
Stephen Covey says that we should begin with the end in mind, but sometimes you don't know what the end looks like until you begin planning for it. The time of brainstorming may lead to some revelations about where you want to go.

Determining where you want to end up may take several sessions of brainstorming...it may even take several years. And, the end picture may (and probably should) change through the years. Something you thought impossible or unheard of may become a possibility.

4. Be Specific.
Ambiguous goals are hard to reach because they are hard to track. "Lose weight" is easy to reach because any loss in weight counts...maybe that is what you are going for, but probably not. Be specific with your goals. Instead of "lose weight" try "lose 10 pounds." Instead of "read more," try "read 5 books."

When you are specific you have a tangible, trackable target. You can break the goals down into manageable sections, and hold yourself accountable throughout the year. You know how far along you need to be at any particular time.

5. Choose your #1 goal for each area.
Brainstorming may leave you with a huge list that, if followed, would leave you overwhelmed. Look at the list and ask yourself, "If I accomplish only one thing in this area this year...what would I want that to be?"

Narrow it down to the most important one. Okay, maybe two, but you can't focus on more than 1 or 2 things in each area during a year anyway. Something has to be primary.

I go into this process knowing I will have more goals than time and ability, but I also plan to know which of my goals will be the main focus. I aim high, knowing I will not reach everything. By narrowing it down to a few goals I am making these the goals that, if all else fails, I want to accomplish.

Narrowing your goals down to one primary goal for each area enables you to focus on what is most important. Then when you accomplish some of the other goals in the section it is a plus to the process. At the end of the year, when you accomplish those few things, you will have a greater sense of satisfaction because you accomplished something...rather than just partial completed some or totally failed because you attempted too much.

6. Be flexible with yourself.
No one is perfect. Life (and other things) happen. You get sidetracked. Or, you just failed to reach the goal.

You have to be flexible with yourself, and let yourself off the hook sometimes. Being flexible (forgiving) with yourself is a necessary part of this process. Goals are meant to push you farther than you thought you could go. Maybe you didn't reach the final goal, but you got further than you did last year...that is progress. Maybe something you thought was a goal didn't seem as important as it did when you wrote it down. Besides that is why we are writing down goals for the new year now...we aren't where we want to be so we are trying harder this year to reach that.

I read a quote from Bobby Knight that has really challenged me. He said, "Most people have the will to win, few people have the will to prepare to win." Your goals will take some discipline and will power, but they are preparing you to win.

What are some of your goals for this year?


  1. Happy New Year Eric and welcome back to the blogosphere. Might one of your goals be routinely updating your blog? I hope 2009 brings only the best for you. Cheers!

  2. Yeah, that's one of them. :) Juggling that with my job plus teaching two classes this spring...and a new puppy!

  3. My goal is to be awesomER in 09!!! lol