Last year, I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I set goals. “I don’t like long lists of resolutions,” I wrote. “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.”

At the start of 2008 I shared three goals for the year:

  1. To save a $10,000 emergency fund.
  2. To lose 40 pounds.
  3. To write a book about personal finance.

How’d I do? I had mixed success. Still, I’m pleased with the results. I pursued each goal the entire year (instead of giving up, as I often have in the past with resolutions), and I made progress on each.

Saving $10,000
Last February, I wrote about the power of positive cash flow. When I started to take control of my finances in 2004, I had a negative cash flow. I was spending more than I earned.

By reducing my expenses and increasing my income, I managed to generate a positive cash flow, which I used to pay off my debt. At first, this positive cash flow was small: about $50 per month. But I continued to cut expenses and to find ways to earn more money, so that by the time I eliminated the last of my consumer debt, I had generated a positive cash flow of over $1,000 a month — a figure that still boggles my mind. (What if I’d done this ten years ago!?)

Once my debt was gone, I turned this positive cash flow (which increased during 2008) toward saving. I funneled the money into an online high-yield savings account, and by the end of the summer I’d met my $10,000 goal! (Since then, I’ve been setting the cash aside for a new car.)

Losing 40 pounds
On 01 January 2008, I weighed 207 pounds. My body fat was 33%. Today, I weigh 197 pounds. My body fat is 31%. Looking strictly at the numbers, you might count this as a severe failure. I think of it as a modest success. I’m comfortable with that progress.

During the middle of the summer, I actually managed to weigh in at 187 and 26% body fat for about a week. I was training to run a marathon. I was eating well. I felt great. I was getting fit!

But I was pushing myself too hard. The changes I’d made weren’t sustainable. I refused to admit that at the time (despite advice from readers at Get Fit Slowly, my fitness blog), but in retrospect it’s clear. From couch potato to marathon runner in six months was a little too ambitious, and ignored the “slowly” part of my mantra. I hurt myself, then experienced some family trauma, and my unsustainable fitness program was swept out the door.

Writing a book
My final goal was to write a book about personal finance. That didn’t happen either. Again, I’m not disappointed.

I started the year by interviewing several published authors (Ramit Sethi, Penelope Trunk, Liz Pulliam Weston), looking for advice. I also spoke to a handful of literary agents. After careful consideration, I decided that this wasn’t a goal I wanted to pursue at the time.

Throughout the year, I spoke with several more authors (Scott Burns, Timothy Ferriss, Leo Babauta) and picked their brains about the process. Finally, just before Thanksgiving, I decided that maybe I do have a book in me. I’m now in the process of crafting an outline so that I can write a book proposal.

Other goals
Though I had only three primary goals for the year, I also set several secondary goals:

  • Fully fund my retirement account. Mission accomplished!
  • Begin accelerating our mortgage payments. Kris and I began prepaying our mortgage in February. Ironically, it’s the best investment we made all year.
  • Perfect my paperless personal finance system. This isn’t perfected yet, but I’m working on it.
  • Document my progress toward fitness at Get Fit Slowly. I did well at this for most of the year, but for the last three months, I haven’t done as much as I’d like. GRS is my top priority.
  • Read Proust. Alas, I didn’t make time to read Proust in 2008. I read many other great books, but the mammoth Lost Time wasn’t one of them.

Again, that’s not a bad record. I do need to make more time for leisure reading, but I’m pleased with the other things I accomplished.

No more resolutions
In previous years, my New Year’s resolutions have been abandoned almost from the start. I’d go to the gym for a few days, but then miss a day or two, and feel like a failure. By instead setting goals in 2008, I was able to stay focused, even when I lost my way. Better yet, I was able to actually accomplish something, even if I didn’t always reach the goals I’d set for myself.

How did you do on your goals (or resolutions) for 2008? What did you accomplish? Are you pleased with your progress? What could you have done better? What lessons did you learn that can be applied for 2009?

Please don’t share your goals for 2009 just yet. We’ll talk about them on Friday.

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