Step 2: Write down specific goals.
Write out a few specific resolutions based on your time of reflection. “Specific” is a key word. Don’t say, “I want to be healthier.” Say, “I want to lose _____ pounds and be able to run three miles without dying.” And really write out your goals. Put them down on paper so you can see them, so they’re not just swimming around in your head. And make positive goals! Don’t say, “I want to stop eating pizza, chocolate, and bacon fat.” Instead, “I want to eat vegetables at every lunch and dinner and save the pizza, sweets, and bacon fat for an occasional treat.”
Another example: For me, on that mountain in 2006, I made the goal to write a book. It’s specific. I did not say, “I want to write more.” I said what I wanted to write. My goal was positive. I did not say, “I want to stop wasting the gift of writing that God gave me.” That’s not the kind of goal you’ll keep. It’ll just make you feel bad. And anyway, it’s not specific, so you have no way of measuring your success, which will only lead to a feeling of failure. Specific. Positive. And written down. When I actually put pen to paper and wrote out my goal, I realized what had kept me from making that goal in the past: 1) I was scared. What if I fail? And 2) It seemed like such a big goal. Perhaps, too big?
Tomorrow, we’ll look at what to do with a goal that seems right on the edge of what is possible for you. Step 3 in the goal-making process is the most crucial of all, and failure to follow it is why I think so many people become cynical and discouraged and give up on their goals by February. So come back tomorrow!
My cliche mountain top experience
January 1, 2006, I hiked up to Tinker Cliffs along the Appalachian Trail in southwest Virginia. I went to get away, to be alone, and to reflect. I remember praying, asking God to show me if there were any talents he’d given me that I wasn’t putting to good use. I had known since fifth grade that I had a knack for writing, but aside from keeping a personal journal and writing the occasional article for an online magazine, I’d never done much with that talent. For years, I’d dreamed of being published, but I hadn’t taken any steps toward making that happen. It was there on that mountain, New Year’s Day, 2006, that I made the goal to write a book. (The pic to the left is the view from Tinker Cliffs that day.)
Step 1: Reflect
The first step to making a good New Year’s resolution, one you can actually keep, is to take significant time to reflect. Get alone, away from all distractions, and look back over the last year for clues to how your life went. What was good? What needs work? Be honest with yourself, and take as much time as you need–I recommend at least an hour–to really get a feel for how last year went. Author Craig Groeschel suggests five areas to consider: relationship with God, relationship with people, financial health, physical health, your life’s work. I’d add mental/psychological health since so much of our unhappiness begins with our self talk, what we tell ourselves about our life’s circumstances. Have a notepad and pen with you so you can write down whatever comes to mind as you reflect.
Tomorrow we’ll look at what to do in response to the things we learn from our time of reflection.
Why bother making New Year’s resolutions?
“Resolution” is just a fancy-pants synonym of “goal.” I resolve to ________ in 2012. It is my goal to __________ in 2012. Same meaning, different terms. Why make goals? Mike Bickle says, “To waste time is to squander destiny.” Read that quote a few times and dwell on it until you really feel its weight. When we blow through life without a plan, we waste a lot of time and miss out on the good we might have accomplished had we only set some goals, or made some resolutions. Goals give our lives direction. Without them, we’re adrift. I hate that feeling, the sense that I’m listless, without purpose, without intention. I need dreams worth pursuing and a plan for achieving them.
Several years ago I was struck by a couple verses from the Bible. One said that with God, anything was possible (Mark 10.27). Absolutely anything! The other said, “… You were redeemed [by Christ] from your empty way of life” (1 Peter 1.18). One translation said “your aimless conduct” (NKJV). One verse was telling me I could accomplish anything with God. The other was telling me I needed to know what I was trying to accomplish. Otherwise, I was living a life of aimless conduct, which Jesus had died to free me from. How could I simply live adrift?
I needed goals, and if anything was possible, then I needed to aim big. Since this feeling of urgency gripped me around New Year’s, I made a resolution. A big one. I’ll tell you more about that tomorrow and give you the first step I took toward keeping that resolution.
People can be so cynical about New Year’s. Mark Twain wrote, “New Year’s Day: Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.” Oscar Wilde said, “Good resolutions are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account.” William Thomas: “It wouldn’t be New Year’s if I didn’t have regrets.” And, my “favorite,” by F.M. Knowles: “He who breaks a resolution is a weakling; he who makes one is a fool.”
Is that true? Is he right? Are we foolish for making resolutions? Are we weak for not keeping them? I don’t believe so because my own life contradicts these quotes. I have made many goals at New Year’s that I’ve kept. I’ve decided to write books, and I’ve written them. I’ve said I would get in shape, and I’ve gotten in shape. I’ve planned to read the Bible through in a year, and I’ve read it in five months. I’ve resolved to get a handle on my finances, and I’ve stuck to a budget.
I think we have two problems when it comes to New Year’s resolutions. We buy the cynicism of Twain and others, so we go into the goal-setting process anticipating failure. And we simply do not know how to make good goals. Over the next few days, I will post my suggestions for how to make quality resolutions you can actually keep. I know these ideas work because I’ve followed them in past years, and people have been sick of hearing about my books ever since.
See you back here tomorrow.
You suggested them. I have picked them. Here are the books I hope to read in 2012. Actually, I hope to read many more than these, but here are the ones at the top of the list. My goal is to read broadly, to move beyond my typically narrow range of subjects. Thank you for all the wonderful recommendations you made.
Sabriel, Garth Nix
I love fantasy films (some of them, anyway), but I’ve never read much fantasy. I chose Sabriel because, though it is part of a series, the story of book one stands on its own. No cliffhanger demanding I read more if I choose not to. Publishers Weekly says, “Rich, complex, involving, hard to put down, this first novel, an Australian import, is excellent high fantasy. The suitably climactic ending leaves no loose ends, but readers will hope for a sequel.” Amazon.com’s reviewer says, “Just try to put this book down.”
Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
From Amazon: “Think you’ve got a book inside of you? Anne Lamott isn’t afraid to help you let it out. She’ll help you find your passion and your voice, beginning from the first really crummy draft to the peculiar letdown of publication. Readers will be reminded of the energizing books of writer Natalie Goldberg and will be seduced by Lamott’s witty take on the reality of a writer’s life, which has little to do with literary parties and a lot to do with jealousy, writer’s block and going for broke with each paragraph. Marvelously wise and best of all, great reading.”
Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt
Seems an obvious pick for March, what with St. Patrick’s Day and all. A Pulitzer-prize winning memoir from a first time Irish author. Four and a half stars with nearly 2,000 reviews on Amazon. From the publisher: “Frank endures poverty, near-starvation and the casual cruelty of relatives and neighbors—yet lives to tell his tale with eloquence, exuberance, and remarkable forgiveness.” School Library Journal says, “Readers will enjoy the humor and the music in the language. A vivid, wonderfully readable memoir.”
Why We Love, Helen Fisher
This Valentine’s Day, tell that special someone, “I neurotransmit you.” I don’t think neurotransmit is a word, but neurotransmitter is, and I bet this book uses that word a lot. Having studied (amateurishly) the goings-on of the brain suffering a mood disorder, I’m curious to know just what is happening “up there” that we call falling in love. Publishers Weekly says, “Fisher also reports on the behaviors that lead to successful lifelong partnerships and offers, based on what she’s observed, numerous tips on staying in love.”
The Holy Bible with the Apocrypha (NRSV)
In college, my friends and I made up nicknames for all the many versions of the Bible. The NIV was the Non-Inspired Version. The NASB was the Non-Authoritative Scripture Bible. The NKJV, the Never Knew Jesus Version. CEV, Completely Erroneous Version. My favorite was the KJV: The Killer Jargon Version. The list went on and on. Well, the past couple years I’ve read the Bible through in various versions. This year, I want to take my next 365-day jaunt through Holy Scripture by reading the NRSV, the Not Really Scripture Version. (Weren’t we clever?)
How to Cook Everything, Mark Bittman
Okay, so probably I’m not reading this one cover to cover, but I do want to cook better in 2012, so I’m picking up a copy of this. Some of you suggested the vegetarian version, but the original contains vegetarian recipes, and really I want to know how to cook everything better. Chef Bobby Flay says, “Mark Bittman has done the impossible, improving upon his now-classic How to Cook Everything. If you need know-how, here’s where to find it.” Good enough for Bobby Flay, good enough for me!
Thanks again for all the great book recommendations. If your book didn’t make the cut, don’t despair. A year is a long time for someone who enjoys reading as much as I do. I may yet read your favorite.
Happy reading in 2012!