You don’t have to wait until January 1st to set goals. But if it is January 1st, it would be good to get busy!

030216_0026_0018.wbcOkay, you might call them resolutions, but I try to have real goals, which I think are a step up. And I update my goals regularly, so it’s not just a “New Years” thing.

A resolution is an “I should.” As in “I should” lose weight, stop smoking, save some money, etc. A goal is a little more specific, and should involve both a concrete action and a measurable result. It takes the “I should” one step farther along to become an “I will.” “I will” lose weight by joining Weight Watchers, stop smoking by getting a patch, save money by putting $100 a month into a savings account….

I’ve been selecting goals for over forty years. Some of them I’ve achieved; some I’ve given up on; some I’ve changed. But in the process, I’ve learned four key things about goals.

1. The goals need to be within my control. If I select a goal I have no control over (e.g. getting rich by winning a lottery) I’m just asking for disappointment. Whatever I choose to do has to be something I can realistically do.

2. One or two key goals are enough. One of the biggest problems I’ve had is wanting to change everything at once. Trying to eat healthier, get more exercise, join a discussion group, clean my house more often, do my job better, and spend more time with my children all at the same time will leave me frazzled, frustrated, and overwhelmed. Sooner or later, I’ll throw up my hands and quit trying. It’s much better for me to have one or two key goals and then add another when those have been accomplished.

turtle moving3. The goals need to be small enough to achieve without major stress in the time allowed. When I try to make a large change quickly, I usually wind up depressed and mad at myself because I can’t do. Sure, it would be great to lose twenty pounds in a couple of months, but it’s not only more manageable but also healthier to lose it slowly, maybe one pound a week. It’s the old tortoise and the hare story. Slow but steady wins the race. Lots of small steps are more likely to get you there than a few giant leaps.

4. Setting goals always come down to making choices. You can’t get away from it. When you choose to do one thing, you automatically choose not to do something else. If you decide to lose weight, you can’t eat a box of chocolates every day. If you work full-time and have a family, your house won’t be a showplace. So you have to decide what is more important to you and choose that as your goal. None of us can have it all.


1. Pick up to 4 goals for the rest of the year.

a. A work-related goal

b. A health-related goal

c. A personal goal

d. A relational goal

Decide which goal is most important in the big picture.

Decide which goal is most urgent.

Throw out two of the goals for now, or at least downplay them.

Choose the goals that are left, and start working on plans for achieving each of them. In other words, what will you have to do/not do to meet this goal?

Be prepared to sacrifice something. No one can realistically have it all.

Now, which goal is going to be #1 for the rest of the year or another designated time period?

January 11, 2008

About the author 

N. J. Lindquist

N. J. Lindquist is the award-winning author of books, articles, short stories, and blog posts. She also edits and publishes the "Hot Apple Cider" anthologies. A former high school teacher, N. J. co-founded The Word Guild and teaches workshops for writers as well as speaking on various topics including creativity and leadership.

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