This year, as every year, millions of Americans will start 2024 setting out to change something about themselves. Right now, nearly 90% of them are confident they will achieve their goal. But if tradition holds true, only 20% will actually succeed.
As people, we tend to have a love-hate relationship with New Year’s resolutions. None of us believes we’re living the perfect life – we all have some area in which we’d like to grow. But when the time comes to live differently, like change requires, we often fail to show up for ourselves.
For many, it’s because we tend to resist change. But for many others, it’s because we simply don’t see the goal clearly enough! Real progress comes when we can clearly see the destination. No one put it better than the great Yogi Berra: “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”
Getting Clear on Your New Year’s Resolutions
If you want to see your New Year’s resolutions through, you need to bring them into focus. As you work toward that, here are some things to keep in mind:
1. A CLEAR GOAL MAKES A GENERAL IDEA VERY SPECIFIC.
It sounds overly simple, but a primary reason that most people don’t fulfill their New Year’s resolutions is because they don’t know what they really mean. They haven’t defined their goal in clear and compelling detail. As actor and author Ben Stein asserts, “The indispensable first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: decide what you want.”
Deciding what you want requires you to be specific and make your goals measurable. For example, take a look at these vague notions put into more specific form:
“I want to lose weight.” → “I will weigh 185 pounds by June 1.”
“I want to get out of debt.” → I will pay off all credit card balances by December 31.”
“I want to learn a language.” → “I will study Chinese for half an hour every day this year.”
Being specific doesn’t necessarily mean having every little detail thought out before you move forward. That would be a mistake. The big idea needs to be clear. The rest unfolds as you move forward, and you make adjustments as you go. But you should try to be as specific as you can about the overarching goal.
2. A CLEAR GOAL DOESN’T BECOME CLEAR WITHOUT EFFORT.
It doesn’t take much effort to let your mind drift and dream. However, it takes great effort to set your mind to the task of developing a clear and compelling dream.
Former Thomas Nelson CEO Mike Hyatt says that when he took his retreat to get a clear vision for his publishing division, he went to a solitary place with just a pen and journal. He began the process by describing in writing the current reality he was facing. He was brutally honest, writing down everything he didn’t like. Only then did he write out in detail what he wanted to see happen in the future—not just as a vague dream of success or improvement. He even wrote it in the present tense to make the dream more concrete and credible. And nearly every aspect he put to paper had been realized within only eighteen months.
Take the effort to bring clarity to your dream using your own tools and method. Draw on your insight to understand how you measure success – only then can you know you’ve achieved it.
3. A CLEAR GOAL AFFIRMS YOUR PURPOSE.
When your goal and your purpose are aligned, you know it. That was certainly true for filmmaker Steven Spielberg. When he was in high school, he dreamed of directing movies. “I want to be a director,” he told his father, Arnold.
“Well,” his father told him, “if you want to be a director, you’ve got to start at the bottom; you’ve got to be a go-fer and work your way up.”
“No, Dad,” the younger Spielberg replied. “The first picture I do, I’m going to be a director.” And he was.
“That blew my mind,” his father says. “That takes guts.” Arnold Spielberg was so impressed with his son’s ambition and confidence, he bankrolled Steven’s first feature film, Firelight, a science fiction thriller that premiered at a little movie house in Phoenix, Arizona. During the making of the film, the young Spielberg told his collaborators, “I want to be the Cecil B. DeMille of science fiction.” That’s not a bad description of what he has become, having produced or directed Jurassic Park, Men in Black, Transformers, ET, Minority Report, Back to the Future, Gremlins, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and other science fiction films. Spielberg’s dream was clear, and the power of that clarity helped him achieve it.
As you put your dream to the test and seek to bring clarity to it, having your goal and purpose aligned will change your life. Why? Because it will make clear why you’re here on this earth. If you don’t sense that alignment and strengthening of purpose, your goal may not be your own, but someone else’s.
4. A CLEAR GOAL DETERMINES YOUR PRIORITIES.
If you see your dream clearly—and keep it in front of you continually —it will help you to understand what you must sacrifice and what you must dedicate yourself to in order to keep moving forward.
Disney Land’s opening on July 18, 1955, was a disaster. Melting blacktop swallowing high heels, waterless drinking fountains, overwhelming attendance, and even gas leaks turned one of the most important days of Walt Disney’s life into a nightmare. So when the time came for Roy Disney to honor his brother’s legacy by opening Walt Disney World to the public, he took every precaution to see it done right.
As summer began to fade, there was still much for construction crews to do to make the park ready for a fall opening day. Yet Roy noticed his teams taking off early and staying long at lunch. So over the castle’s clock face, he put a simple sign: “Remember: opening Oct. 1971.” With a clear goal prominently placed, crews began pouring themselves into their work again.
Only a clear picture of who you are and where you want to go can help you prioritize what you need to do. We all make choices. The question is, are you going to make choices that bring you closer to your dream or take you farther away from it? If you don’t know exactly what your dream is, then you won’t be capable of making the right choices. Clarity of vision creates clarity of priorities.
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This blog post has been adapted from Dr. John Maxwell’s goal achievement resource, Put Your Dream to the Test. John Maxwell has been one of the world’s foremost personal and professional leadership experts for more than 40 years, and this guidebook for personal growth teaches you how to make your goals a reality. You can get your own copy of this resource here.