I thought the idea was silly and overrated. After thinking about it over the course of January, I had some thoughts, which I shared with a good friend of mine who was preparing to teach a lesson about resolutions and goal setting. Here is what I sent her in an email:
I have some interesting thoughts about goal setting in general. Firstly, I think that goal setting is hard for some people, particularly those who are motivated by success in different ways. For example, I am a goal setter. I feel good being able to cross things off a list. It fills me with satisfaction and helps me realize how much I am achieving.
My sweetheart, however, does not set goals because if he doesn't reach them, he feels like a failure. When I am having hard time in life, I don't set goals either because of this very thing. It is not that I am a perfectionist - but that I lose hope that goal setting is not really going to give me the outcome I want. Now, that is key. An outcome I want. Interesting, right? What about the outcome my Heavenly Father wants? How many of us set goals using Heavenly Father as our guide?
I think that is the underlying question. This is not to say that our goals only needs be spiritually focused. No, no. In fact, the one goal that seems to be common on New Year's is losing weight, right? Well, who is not to say that a goal that is important to Heavenly Father for me is to be healthy?
Another thing: Perhaps those who don't set goals don't understand how to measure success. I have been reading this great book called The 4 Disciplines of Execution where the authors discuss how to be an effective and successful leader/company. One thing they discuss is when someone makes personal goals, it is almost more important to understand the right measurements for success. The book describes two kinds of measurement:
Lag measure: measurement of a result you are trying to achieve. It is called a lag measure because by the time you get the data, the result has already happened (and it is always lagging).
The book says we need to start thinking about the lead measure instead of the lag measure. A lead measure foretells the event. It is predictive, meaning that if the lead measure changes, you can predict that the lag measure will also change (this form of goal setting means that the way you get to your goal might change! Which is totally ok).
So, back to my weight example: Let's say my goal is weight loss. The lag measure for this is typically what my weight looks like on the bathroom scale (which can mostly be depressing and show me that I am really not meeting my goal, which for me equals failure). ALAS, there is hope.
You see if you format this goal using the LEAD measure, you might define your goal as "reducing the amount of calorie intake" or "increasing the amount of calories burned" or "going to the gym 3 times a week." These are more controllable than stating I will lose 20 pounds. If the goal is to lose weight, yes that is understandable, but you need to create measurements of success that you have more control over.
I don't know if that was helpful, but this example made me really think about how I am goal setting and what it looks like to get there.
I think understanding experiences of how other set goals is also really important so that you know that there are people that may not be interested in goal setting, and perhaps for very different reasons: fear, laziness, feeling like they are doing the best they can and adding one more thing to the plate would drive them mad, feeling like they set goals everyday - and it is hard to commit to one when they are already internally committed to others. I think this is a great reflection of life. Everyone does it differently. And while people may not formally set goals by writing them down, I believe that we are already doing this goal setting business every time we take the sacrament, we just call it something different. Isn't that what it is for - to evaluate our standing in His eyes every week as we take the sacrament?
To answer your questions
Do you set goals? Yes. I set them at random times, not just once a year. But the new year helps me put things into perspective.
Do you practice setting New Year's resolutions? I didn't for a long time because, like other things revolved around the holidays, I felt like it was an inauthentic way of doing something we should be doing anyway. I boycotted setting resolutions, until I realized WHY NOT!? If I am already setting goals all year long and every Sunday during sacrament, why not take yet another opportunity to do so. My obstinate, proud moment passed as I really did take New Year's resolution setting to a new level.
Are you able to keep your resolutions? Not until just recently. I was one of those who would make resolutions - and stop tracking them, therefore I was not really able to 'keep them.' One thing I tried describing earlier: I realized the way I was setting goals was not the best to determine my success. I had to re-think how to set goals in order to keep resolutions. I had to determine HOW I was going to measure success, and HOW I was going to get there, in order for me to feel like I was able to keep my resolution. I also think that being flexible to these HOW's is really important. It is not that the goal is changing, so much as we are discovering what works and what doesn't work for us during this goal-resolution process - how we reach our goals will indefinitely change over time
Do you track your progress with your goals? I didn't, until just recently. Tracking them has become completely important to me so I can see where I have been. Again, this is my personality. Tracking may not be something that works for everyone - because again - they may not need it to feel successful. I think another important thing to consider instead of formal tracking is evaluation. I think it is important for us to decide how we want to measure our success, and if that means not thinking about it for a year, that is what that means.
Do you have a method of goal setting/resolution making that works for you? Yes. Writing it down on my blog, and re-evaluation of where I said I wanted to be and where I am, keeping in mind on of my 13 commandments, it part of life to fail - what is failure anyway.
Did you learn anything from your failures? Absolutely. Failure isn't failure in the way we natural people think about things. In my blog post: Funny Thing About Failure, I said:
"In the article Never Give Up by President Monson, he states, "In our journey on earth, we discover that life is made up of challenges—they just differ from one person to another. We are success-oriented, striving to become “wonder women” and “super men.” Any hint of failure can cause panic, even despair. Who among us cannot remember moments of failure?"
He continues, "Our responsibility is to rise from mediocrity to competence, from failure to achievement. Our task is to become our best selves. One of God’s greatest gifts to us is the joy of trying again, for no failure ever need be final."
Failure exists. Failure exists when we don't do our best. Failure exists when we compromise our personal integrity and morals. Failure happens when we don't follow Christ. So, in a way, my thoughts in the circumstance mentioned above were a failure to what I know to be right. Failure is letting the natural man take over our Godly and divine propensities. In this circumstance, I was caught between my natural-triggered emotion and the emotion of how to turn this circumstance into something I could learn from.
I have put off the next steps for the Happiness Project because I am afraid to fail. I am afraid to make commitments I might not be able to keep. This barrier is preventing me from growing. It is time I took a better look at commandment #8. I fail when I don't do my best. Why put off happiness because I am afraid of failure? Failure will make me better. The clock is ticking."
Here are some extras should you want to peruse my thoughts on this subject (from my blog)
I know this was an overwhelming load of information, as you can tell this subject is close to my heart because I struggle so much with not letting myself or others down.I still feel guilt on a daily basis for things I don't accomplish, things my sweetheart didn't accomplish, and things I don't control. I do have to say, I am getting better, and it is a goal of mine to keep going after those Happiness Project areas I identified so long ago. I think it is best if I start small and build up to it...yes, that is what I will do. At least I will start them and see where it goes, right?
Another great blog post about new year's resolutions is captured on Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project blog.