How to Make New Year’s Resolutions That Will Actually Happen

New Years Resolutions Writing

Making a list of New Year’s Resolutions is romantic. Why?

For the same reason that high school is way cooler on your first day of high school than it is on your second. For the same reason that for every virgin the wedding day seems like the first step toward a lifetime of sexual paradise. And for the same reason that finding out “we’re pregnant” is initially a blast of uncontainable excitement.

New beginnings are romantic. And that’s okay!

But in order to make a list of good New Year’s resolutions, it’s important to be both realistic and romantic.

Romance. Who doesn’t love it? Maybe there are a few exceptions like Ebenezer Scrooge or Darth Vader, but on the whole most people would agree that it’s ridiculously fun! Emotional highs can inspire you to focus and do great things like get married, start a new business, or even pray for twins.

It can also inspire extreme stupidity.

For example, when my wife Jo and I were rockin’ fiancé-status, my already married sister-in-law Madeline captured a video of Jo and I telling my iphone 4s that we would never fight. Her cynical background giggle playfully mocks, “Never fight? We’re talking about marriage here, right?”

Well, at the time we thought we were talking about marriage, but we were really talking about romance – the romance of new beginnings.

Unfortunately, for most of my new beginnings in life, I’ve set Jurassic-sized goals exactly like “never fight.” If my goals were a monkey, they would only answer to the name “King Kong.” That’s partly because “King Kong” is enormous and partly because “King Kong” is a mythical creature that could never exist in real life.

At the end of my eighth grade year, I set high school basketball goals that filled five front and back pages of my Mead spiral notebook. They included, “Lead the nation in scoring as a freshman,” “Lead the nation in rebounding as a freshman,” and “Be voted to the McDonald’s All-American team as a sophomore.”

I had never played organized basketball outside of a few games in sixth grade, and I wanted to make a bigger mark on high school basketball than Michael Jordan. It sounds absurd, but this type of goal-setting continued throughout my whole life up until a year and a half ago.

At the beginning of anything new, I’d write down a bunch of massive mythical creature sized goals, then forget about them until I unearthed them months later from the pages of a dusty abandoned journal. I’d get disappointed for a little bit, then restart the cycle with a new journal.

When I was young everybody told me, “Write down your goals.” So, I followed their advice. I wrote down pages and pages of goals, and guess what! It doesn’t work.

I heard a basketball coach once say, “Shoot for the stars, and you’ll at least reach the clouds.” Well, it’s true, but in a bad way. If you shoot for five pages of stars (a.k.a. unattainable goals) you’ll probably end up in a confusing fog with your hands full of nothing but mist and air.

So, this New Year’s, I’m determined to set a few huge, yet totally attainable goals. To do that effectively, I’m borrowing/stealing Dave Ramsey’s formula for effective goal setting. I’ve tried my own way, and it doesn’t work. As soon as I started using the method from his book EntreLeadership, “Wahlaa!” I started seeing slow, but very immediate results.

So here’s the formula. All of your New Year’s Resolutions must be specific and measurable. They also must have a time limit, ownership, and they must be written down. All of these are non-negotiables in any kind of goal setting strategy. Let me break them down for you.


Specific is the opposite of vague. Remember the confusing fog that I talked about earlier? That’s what happens when you set way too many goals, no goals at all, or a few vague goals. Being specific with your goals forces you to think them through and spend more time setting fewer goals, which is very helpful.

If you don’t have the time to set highly specific goals, you probably won’t have the time to accomplish them either. Being specific helps me know that I’ve either accomplished my goal or failed.

Here’s an example of a specific goal: “Write a 12 chapter, 200 page book about the futility of Facebook cat videos by December 31, 2016.” Here’s an example of a goal that’s not specific: “Write a book about someone or something sometime in the future.”

Which goal do you think has a shot at being accomplished? My bets are on the first. I hear people tell me all of the time that they should’ve written a book. When I ask, “About what?” their blank expression tells me all I need to know. Be specific.


“Measurable” is the Type A twin of “Specific.” They almost can’t exist without each other. In my previous example “12 chapter, 200 page” is the measurement. Once I’ve written a “12 chapter, 200 page” book, mission accomplished. Being measurable is all about the numbers game.

If you’re in sales, you can measure with a dollar amount or number of leads generated. If you’re a politician, you can measure the number of votes. And if you’re a stay at home mom, there’s a ton of ways that you can make your goals measurable. You can measure by number of books read to your kids, time spent teaching each kid their letters, or percentage saved by coupon clipping. In whatever goals you’re making, remember that numbers are important.

Time Limit

Set a deadline for your goals and resolutions. Deadlines help you measure progress. If you want to write a 12 chapter, 200 page book by December 31, 2016, that means you’ll have to write 1 chapter a month or 4 pages per week.

Setting goals without deadlines leads to confusion when measuring your progress. Set a deadline from the get-go. If it’s unrealistic, you made the goal, so you can always change the deadline.

Own it…

Your goals and resolutions must be yours. If you set a goal that you don’t care about accomplishing, you probably won’t accomplish it.

If you don’t care about losing weight, you aren’t going to lose it and keep it off for your husband or wife. If you don’t care about spending time with God, don’t set a goal of spending 365 hours in prayer and Bible reading this year. Setting goals or resolutions just to look awesome in front of other people is just setting yourself up for failure.

This is another great reason to spend time goal setting. When you spend more time thinking through your resolutions and goals, you weed out goals that aren’t actually your goals.

Written down

This is huge. Write down your goals. Whether you write down your goals or not is the most accurate predictor of whether you’ll actually accomplish them or not. If you don’t write them down and don’t keep them in a spot where you’ll see them everyday, like me, you’ll probably forget them in an old, dusty journal somewhere.

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