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Taking Stock for a New Year’s Resolution

Strategies and goals

In two recent articles, “Should You Make a New Year’s Resolution?” and “Why New Year’s Is Such a Good Time to Make a Resolution,” I’ve been looking at the idea of making or not making a New Years resolutions. In this article, I suggest a method for taking stock of life as a whole and coming out of the process with the single most useful resolution for contributing to happiness and success in the coming year.

  1. The first step is to inventory all possible goals through brainstorming, either on a computer or a pad of paper. It’s worth thinking about this in at least 2 or 3 sessions over several days, even if it’s only a few minutes at a time. These goals do not have to be your best, most selfless, or most meaningful ones: the idea is to simply get everything out of your head and down on paper. These can include everything from “Finally replace that taped-up basement window” to “Earn my PhD in Economics” to “Become a better parent.” They can be general or specific, short or long-term, selfish or altruistic, important or trivial. Goals that might not seem like the best idea at first blush might look better on closer examination, or might inspire or transform into more perfect goals.
  2. When your list is done, go through it and circle all of the goals that would make a major positive difference in your life.
  3. Cross out or rewrite any circled goals that are not in your direct power, that are not meaningful to you personally, that are far off in the future, that can’t be tracked as you try to reach them, or that otherwise would not be feasible for you to accomplish. For instance, you might change “write a bestselling novel” to “write at least 2,000 words a week this year.”
  4. Write down each goal on a separate piece of paper or as a separate heading in a word processing document. Then, spend a few minutes to write out each of the following things for each goal:
    • Any advantages you have in accomplishing that goal.
    • Any new advantages you could create (for instance, by joining a group to get extra support or by learning a new skill)
    • Your reasons for caring about that goal
    • What it would be like to accomplish it or to make real progress. 
    • Reservations, obstacles, and concerns
  5. It may also help to think about each possible goal and determine whether it’s something that you could accomplish entirely in the coming year or something longer-term. If longer term, is there a waystation you can shoot for instead? For example, if your goal is to build your own house, waystations might include completing a course in carpentry, saving enough money to finance the project, or completing the design and estimates.

After looking at each goal in this way, you may have one stand-out winner. If not, compare two goals at a time and choose out of each pair; this is much less overwhelming than trying to compare everything to everything else and makes it possible to focus on contrasting the very specific advantages of each, ending up with one winner at the end.

Once you have chosen a goal, it then needs to be changed into a resolution (if it isn’t already). A goal is usually a desired outcome, but a resolution is a specific plan for what you’ll do, along with a way to measure how well you’re doing.

Lastly, it’s important to look at the other goals you haven’t picked and make your peace with not focusing on them at the moment. While it’s certainly possible to take some steps toward various goals at the same time, making a major life change takes so much time and attention that making a real attempt at achieving multiple life goals at once is very likely to result in failure of both goals. Letting go of a feeling of responsibility for completely addressing everything you want to change in your life at once is both freeing and practical, and allows you to focus effectively on your own goal. The goals you’re not addressing now are not goals you’re letting go of; they’re just goals for the future … goals you might be able to attack next year, by which time perhaps you’ll have made real progress on the goal you’re choosing now.

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