Why Resolutions Fail

With the year coming to an end, many start to throw together resolutions. Of course, I have also taken part in this over the years with varying success (and no life-changing endings, I might add). When I started work at Lampo last year, I was somewhat intrigued that the leaders advocate setting “goals” for the new year and downplay the traditional resolutions. The distinction, as I have gleaned, is that resolutions are often nebulous and open-ended (ie: I’d like to lose some weight). Goals, on the other hand, are concrete and have a time component (ie: I’d like to lose ten pounds by June).

It is further advocated that goals should be made in the following categories: Physical, Intellectual, Social, Professional, Family, Financial, and Spiritual. Creating more fine-grained and concrete goals can certainly help with following through, but implicit within these guidelines is the theory that most people break resolutions because they don’t have a good target at which to aim. “Aim at nothing and you’ll hit it every time,” as they say.

Last year I set something like 18 goals for myself within the various categories, all of which were concrete and time-constrained. Yet looking back, I only achieved about five of those – a pretty dismal success ratio. So if setting goals according to the suggested criteria didn’t immensely help me follow through, what caused the breakdown? The sheer number and time commitment surely played parts, but there were other aspects; the analytical side of me wanted to have a closer look. I noticed three other factors to consider when making goals for 2010, hopefully helping others to avoid the pitfalls I found when I set mine for 2009.

  1. Work within your strengths – There’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to grow in places where you are weak, but research has shown that people are more fulfilled and successful when they work in areas where they are naturally gifted. For example, I had a goal to write and record a worship album in 2009. It didn’t happen because that’s not the style of music that naturally flows from me (or more likely what I would have written wouldn’t have been received as songs to be sung in corporate services). There’s nothing wrong with that, but at the very least I set myself up for hours of painfully trying to write music that would pass in such a setting. So if you don’t enjoy writing, you may want to scratch that goal to work on a novel. There’s a lot of stuff that would be great to achieve, but greatness is most often achieved when working in your strengths.
  2. Set goals that are of consequence – Another goal I had was to learn how to play a new instrument. As someone who is not a professional musician, there is very little benefit in being able to play the violin in addition to guitar. The “cool” factor is really the only value. Yeah, it would be fun to add another instrument to my skill set, but ultimately it is of no consequence in life. This year I’ve stripped away goals that aren’t meaningful. Something need not be poignant to have meaning, however; running in a half marathon means nothing in the grand scheme of the cosmos, but the discipline and health benefits associated with it carry significance. So try to avoid goals that begin and end with “it would be cool to…” If they materialize along the way, that’s great, but I don’t plan on pursuing them at the expense of more noteworthy things.
  3. Leave room for God – As I sat and pondered everything I wanted to do with the past year then held it up next to what actually took place, I saw that God had led me into several things that weren’t in line with my goals. If I had been hardcore about it and always first asked the question “does this align with my goals?” before committing to anything, I would have missed out on some incredible things planned for me. “Sorry I can’t come. I have to go sit by myself and play scales on the violin. Gotta meet those goals.” So this year I am also trying to leave room for God to move me around and put me places I may not have imagined myself rather than solely laying out my year exactly the way I envision it and unwaveringly sticking to my plan. “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”

I hope there is something helpful in all this. It helps me just as much to sit and articulate thoughts. Enjoy the last few days of ’09

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One thought on “Why Resolutions Fail

  1. Pingback: Marathon training (and something to tell my grandkids) | Ty DeLong

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