With Christmas past, most of us have begun to focus on our plans for the coming year, making lists of resolutions to improve our lives. But Chuck Jaffe at MartketWatch suggests that this year you ditch the resolutions to focus on goals instead:

Concrete goals don’t evaporate in the face of adversity, hardship or laziness. Resolutions are broken — and usually abandoned — with one misstep; goals are such a long journey that bad footwork days are to be expected. There have been goals that have taken several years to accomplish but that have been achieved over time.

This is a terrific idea. In 2008, I’m setting goals instead of resolutions.

Goals are the fundamental building blocks of success, not just in personal finance, but in every area of life. Without goals, you are living reactively, letting life push you around. With goals, you can live a proactive life, steering toward a destination. When you have an end in mind, it’s easier to see when you’ve made a wrong turn. You know where your path is supposed to lead.

Experts say that goals should be “SMART” — specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timed — but from my experience, what matters most is passion. You have to care about your goal. It has to be important to you. The goals that are most attainable are those that you want more than anything else.

That’s why I don’t like long lists of resolutions. You need focus to achieve a goal. If you set too many goals, it’s difficult to keep them all in mind. When you lose sight of a goal, you begin to drift. Pick one goal — or two, or at the very most three — and make these your priorities for 2008.

Also remember that it’s much easier to achieve goals when you concentrate on the individual steps toward them. Break each larger goal into smaller sub-goals. Be patient. Don’t expect perfection, and don’t allow small mistakes to derail your progress. It’s the destination that’s important, not the fact that you got lost for a while.

[MarketWatch: A goal-based plan for getting ahead financially in 2008]

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