As we begin a new year, one particular thing tends to be on everyone’s minds: New Year’s resolutions. Making resolutions is easy; committing to them is much harder. So this year, I would challenge you to try something new: make goals instead of resolutions.
Resolutions are declared emphatically at the beginning of the year. For the first month or so, we remain steady in our course, determined to make this resolution stick. By March our resolution has hit a bump, and we’re not quite sure where to go next or how to get back on our set path. Perhaps by May, our resolution has been placed on the back burner until at last by the middle of the year, we’ve forgotten what we’d set out to do.
Goals are different. Goals demand to be written down, step by step. Goals will show just how far we’ve come, as well as what we need to do next to accomplish it. Goals require self-discipline, just as resolutions, but offer hope when we’ve lost our way.
“… When one learns to master the principle of setting a goal, he will then be able to make a great difference in the results he attains in this life” (M. Russell Ballard, “Do Things That Make a Difference,” Ensign, Jun 1983). Emphasis added.
He goes on to explain that self-discipline is the first key in setting and accomplishing goals. The second part is writing our goals down. In fact, write them down several times. Put these goals out in places you’ll read them daily as a reminder. If your goal includes getting rid of a bad habit, find a good one to replace it. Is there something you’ve always wanted to do, or learn to do? Use the time you would normally spend on doing the bad habit (like watching too much TV) and put it towards doing something new (like learning to play the guitar).
Set clear, specific, realistic goals. Don’t set the goal to lose 100 lbs by the end of the year. Instead set a goal to become healthier through better eating and exercising. Join a class if possible. Include family members or roommates in order to have a good support system. Talk with a nutritionist about better ways to eat.
Set mini-goals along the way. These mini-goals will not only help keep you on course, but will help you see just how far you’ve come. They’re easier to accomplish and make the big goal seem much less overwhelming.
For example, say you want to set a goal to read your scriptures for an hour daily. If you haven’t been in the habit of reading before, don’t start now with an hour. You’ll find yourself slipping easily, may become discouraged, and will give up too soon. Start small. For the first few weeks, set a mini-goal to read for five minutes. If you miss a day, read for ten minutes the next. After you’re used to reading for five minutes, up the amount to ten. A few weeks later go for fifteen minutes, then twenty. Be sure to mark off major stepping-stones along the way.
If you don’t quite make your mini-goals, don’t give up. Just re-evaluate and do a little rewriting. Goals are flexible that way! Just be sure to place these rewrites back in obvious places. Reminders of what we want to be doing and how far we have come will go a long way to keeping us on course.
Setting goals is important in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — for example, Latter-day Saint missionaries are repeatedly encouraged to make and accomplish goals, and it is a huge part of the Church’s self-reliance initiative. The youth’s Sunday School curriculum likewise encourages members to set goals: “When we plan prayerfully and work diligently to achieve our goals, the Lord magnifies our efforts and helps us reach our potential.” As we set realistic goals, and learn the value of accomplishing them, we can one day look back on our lives and realize just how much good we’ve done.
“If your goals are righteous, of God-given perspective, eternal in their nature, then go for them. Pray for the inner strength to have the discipline to do those things that will guarantee through your activity and your life that you will reach your goals. Then, I think, perhaps as important as anything, we have to have faith. We have to have faith in God. We have to have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And oh, how desperately we have to have faith in ourselves” (M. Russell Ballard, “Go for It!,” New Era, Mar 2004).
The mightiest tools in making and accomplishing goals are to include Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ in our plan, and to have faith. After all, with God, anything is possible.
This post was originally published in December 2007. Changes have been made for timeliness and consistency.