How to Set Goals and Resolutions You’ll Actually Keep

Because it’s a new year, a lot of people are making lists of resolutions. I used to be one of these folks, carefully cataloging the faults I wanted to fix every winter. Not anymore.

It’s not that I’m perfect — as Kim could attest, I’m far from it! — but I learned a long time ago that making a bunch of resolutions was a sure path to failure for me. There’s a reason you see stories every April about how most people aren’t meeting the goals they set at the first of the year.

Nowadays, I do something different, something that actually works for me. Instead of tackling several resolutions each year, I only tackle one.

Last year, for instance, my goal was to explore the United States by motorhome. (I just posted a trip summary at my personal blog, by the way.) In 2014, my aim was to publish and publicize the Get Rich Slowly course.

Here’s a more relatable example: In 2010, I focused on fitness. I wanted to lose fifty pounds, so I tried to weigh every decision with that one goal in mind. You know what? It worked. I didn’t lose fifty pounds that year, but I did lose forty. I lost the rest by the middle of 2011 and was the fittest I’d ever been in my life.

[Weight Loss Progress]

The main reason I was able to do this was that fitness was my only goal for 2010. Nothing else mattered. I didn’t have other objectives clouding my view. I set one goal, and I worked hard to meet it. I picked the one thing in my life that most needed change, and I committed to changing it.

One Problem, One Correction

Turns out I’m not the only one to champion the “one goal at a time” approach. The magic of single-tasking is well known. For example, my friend and trainer Cody once wrote:

One of the teaching skills that is developed in good coaches is the concept of “one fault, one correction”. The idea is to take the most important correction needed and just focus on that one thing. Attack it from different angles if needed, but be tenacious on correcting the biggest fault only. Once that has been achieved, the Coach and Athlete can move on to the next biggest fault, then the next and so on, in a never-ending journey toward excellence.

Cody says that by focusing on one thing at a time, you can:

  • Obtain greater focus. When you try to correct more than one thing at a time, it’s easy to become distracted. You can’t do any one thing well because you’re trying to do many things poorly. But if you concentrate on a single goal, you’re able to obtain a laser-like focus that better helps you achieve that objective.
  • Reduce stress. If tackle too much at once, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. It seems like you’ll never get it all done. When you focus on one thing at a time, you know that’s the only thing you have to worry about. This relieves a lot of pressure.
  • Build confidence. “Honing in on one challenge and overcoming it can give you a tremendous feeling of success,” Cody says. This boosts your belief that you can overcome other obstacles. When you kick ass on your first goal, you know you can kick ass on the next one.

Cody puts this philosophy into practice every day in the gym. He uses it when coaching me on squats, for example. When I started at his gym, my form was awful. I couldn’t do an actual squat — not even without weight. By correcting one thing at a time, I made great progress. (At my peak, I could backsquat 245 pounds, which was 150% of my body weight!)

This same “one problem, one correction” principle applies to meeting other goals — including financial goals and New Year’s resolutions.

How to Set Resolutions You’ll Actually Keep

As you all know, I’m a big believer in the power of goals. That’s why the very first step of the Money Boss method is to create a personal mission statement from which you can derive secondary goals. By setting and pursuing big goals, I’ve accomplished more than I ever thought possible. And I believe that you should set and achieve big goals, too.

Based on everything I’ve learned about goal-setting over the past decade, here’s how to set New Year’s resolutions you’ll actually keep:

  • Don’t make resolutions — set goals. This may sound like picking nits, but I’ve found that setting goals keeps me on task in a way that setting resolutions never did. Goals are the fundamental building blocks of success. When I set goals, I don’t feel like I’m trying to become somebody new; instead, I’m trying to achieve something that the current me already wants.
  • Make your goals smart. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the notion that good goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timed. This is true. But don’t forget that the best goals are personal — they mean something to you. There’s no use setting a goal to get out of debt if you don’t know why you want to get out of debt. Make your goals meaningful and smart.
  • Pursue one goal at a time. I’ve had great success setting one big goal every year and making that my only objective. If you have a big goal — getting out of debt, saving for a down payment — I encourage you to make that your only project. If you do set more than one goal, work on only one at a time. Get out of debt before you start saving for the down payment on your house. Lose 20 pounds before you start training for a marathon. Correct one problem before trying to correct another.
  • Keep your goal in mind. When I’ve been successful in the past, it’s because I’ve kept my goals in mind every day — if not every hour. If you’re not constantly reminded of your goal, you’re not going to remember to pursue it. To keep your focus front and center, you might use web-based tools like Joe’s Goals or StickK. You might use a smartphone app like Strides or Nozbe. You might find an accountability partner. Or you might advertise to yourself.
  • Consider going “all in”. For some folks, like me, the “all or nothing” method works best. If I want to reduce my intake of ice cream or alcohol, for instance, I’m better at abstaining than I am at moderating. And Josh Dorkin claims that it’s easier to exercise seven days a week than it is to work out three days a week. Some people are good at balance and moderation. If you’re not one of them, going “all in” could be the best approach.
  • Be prepared for setbacks. Let’s face it: You’re not going to meet your goals without mistakes and detours. Shit happens. The best way to deal with problems is to prepare for them. Have a plan. Before trouble occurs, know what you’ll do to handle it. If I’m trying to eat well, for example, I practice pre-commitment by keeping good food in the fridge; if I slip up and go out for Mexican food, I have a safety net at home so that I don’t descend into a downward spiral.

There’s one last key to meeting your goals or keeping your resolutions: To succeed, you must do the work. You can’t just talk about what you want to do; you have to actually do it.

Action is Character

Back when I worked at the family box company, my cousin Nick and I had lots of philosophical discussions. On more than one occasion, I’d be lamenting that X was a priority in my life — where X could be exercise or getting out of debt or reading more books — but that I never seemed to have time for it. Instead, I did a bunch of other stuff.

Nick would always tell me, “Then X isn’t a priority.” If I tried to argue, he’d point out that the things we actually do are the priorities in our life. What we say doesn’t matter; it’s what we do that counts.

It took me a long time to learn this lesson. I used to be what I call a Talker: I talked about all the things I wanted to do, and I felt like I had the solutions to everything, but I never actually took action. I was full of hot air.

Somehow, I’ve turned into a Doer. Most of the time, I get things done. Instead of lamenting about the man I want to be, I’m working hard to be that man. I’ve built a new life out of doing the things I used to only talk about before. (Note that I’m not always a Doer. I still spend plenty of time Talking, but my ratio of action to words has increased in recent years.)

In his notes on The Last Tycoon, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “Action is character.” Fitzgerald meant that what a fictional character does defines who that character is in the reader’s mind. The same is true in real life: If you never did anything, you wouldn’t be anybody. You are defined by the things you do – not the things you think and say.

To up it another way, we are what we repeatedly do. (This is Will Durant’s interpretation of an idea from Aristotle, though many people mistakenly attribute it to the latter.)

  • You can say that health is important to you, but if you don’t eat and act healthfully, it’s just not so.
  • Thinking about writing doesn’t make you a writer; writing makes you a writer, and if you’re not writing, you’re not a writer.
  • You can say your life’s too busy and you want to slow down, but so long as you keep scheduling things, you’re showing that you value the busy-ness more than the downtime.

Action is character. We are what we repeatedly do.

If you want to make your New Year’s Resolution stick, you have to do the work. Doing the work creates a virtuous cycle that makes it easier to keep doing the work. And doing the work shows the world (and yourself) who you really are.

“There is what you believe and there is what you want and these things are fine. But they’re just ideas, in the end. History, like any single life, is made up of actions. At some point, the thinking and believing and deciding fall away and all that’s left is the doing.” — Jess Walter, Citizen Vince

The Bottom Line

After all of this, what’s my one goal for 2016?

To be honest, it’s fitness. I haven’t lost all of my gains from six years ago, but I’m not where I want to be. (Looking back at my spreadsheet from 2010, I’m at the same place I was at the end of July in that year.) Kim and I have both struggled with food and drink on this trip, and especially with lack of exercise. It’s time for that to stop. Once again, fitness must be job one.

For at least a little while, that means choosing not to consume alcohol. It means watching my portion sizes. And, especially, it means making exercise my top priority. That’s why I got up New Year’s Day and ran a mile. I did the same on Saturday. And yesterday. Running one mile every day is a totally achievable goal (for me), and one that will start a sort of “health snowball” (ha!) that can help get me back to where I want to be.

If I follow my own advice, I should be able regain a modest level of fitness by the time we hit the road again in April — and then keep it during the six months it takes us to return to Portland. But the key is to make fitness my one job for the year, and to take action instead of just talking about it.

What about you? What are your goals (or resolutions) for 2016? And what strategies will you use to make your resolutions stick?

More about...Planning, Psychology

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

There are 64 comments to "How to Set Goals and Resolutions You’ll Actually Keep".

  1. LifeAndMyFinances says 27 December 2010 at 04:38

    It’s very true, if one makes 4 or 5 resolutions for the new year and messes up on one of them, they most likely give them all up.

    It’s important to have a focus. I agree with J.D. Make one resolution at a time. Only add another once you are comfortable with your routine with the other.

  2. Jia Jun says 27 December 2010 at 05:04

    Totally agree with you J.D. Roth. Stay focus is really crucial in achieving something.
    I always lost focus especially when I’m reading articles online or surfing net (Indeed, internet has too many information, 1 page link to 10, 10 links to 100 and we’re lost and distract by those thing) end up achieving nothing.

    Agree with you that stay focus and do 1 thing at a time, it helps produce higher quality of work and achievement at the end, rather than all fail at last.

  3. dotCOMreport says 27 December 2010 at 05:07

    My goal for 2011 is simple: to write a book. I’ll start with writing 1000 words each day, 5 days a week. At the end of the year, I’ll take what I have and work with that.

  4. Nicole says 27 December 2010 at 06:40

    Get tenure. How to get there is #1 on my to-do list… Well, after washing my hair and taking the kid to daycare.

  5. Brett says 27 December 2010 at 06:55

    I really like this post. I have always found it hard to do the whole NY resolution thing or even set annual goals for that matter, because it seems like every year is totally different. This year, I am getting much more singularly focused on breaking free of the 9-5 and starting my own company that makes at least as much as I do currently. This is an easy goal for me because it really consumes most of my attention in various ways, but I have no trouble trying to remember why I’m doing it. The biggest challenge I have with this is simply working smart and not working for the sake of work. Often when we set goals we try to be busy rather than effective.

    Here’s to 2011!


  6. Sarah says 27 December 2010 at 07:25

    I think this concept of making a single New Year’s resolution is interesting. Every year I make several resolutions for different areas of my life. After I achieve a goal, I keep the new action on my resolution list. It becomes hard to part with what has been achieved (nice to review success) and it prevents backsliding.
    I am very interested though in behavior modification…I see achieving goals as either a ‘start’ behavior or a ‘stop’ behavior. I have no trouble ‘starting’ and keeping an exercise routine, but I have trouble ‘stopping’ and not having seconds — ‘stopping’ is most hard.
    Lastly, sometimes I notice when I make progress in one behavior area (lose weight), I might notice I start spending more on groceries. When I work harder on my writing, I find that I begin not getting my housework done. When I push myself further at work, I might buy more take-out for the kids. This is another problem area — preventing improvement in one area becoming a slide in another.
    Balance is always a goal.

  7. Kyle Richey says 27 December 2010 at 08:00

    Great post JD!

    I’m reading “The Power of Less” by Leo from Zen Habits which dives deeply into this very concept, and it’s helping me tremendously.

    For 2011, my goal is to work out, get ready and be working by 9am every weekday.

    I work from home, and it can be extremely difficult not to get distracted or put off my workout until later in the day, so I think this goal will help me become more productive, make more money, and be happier throughout the week!

  8. Chris Parsons says 27 December 2010 at 08:14

    I disagree with only having one goal. I do think having too many goals can cause inaction because you don’t know where to start – but that doesn’t mean that the ideal number is 1.

    I believe that annual goals should be made that bring you closer to your life goals. Check out the Small Biz Big Dreams Anti-New Years Resolution

  9. Rene Mayo says 27 December 2010 at 08:29

    I have two goals for 2011 – one is watch my money and two is no more quilting classes, only work on the quilts projects (over 40 projects) and clear out the room of them. I have a lot that I bought in the last two years, so in 2011, I will be working on those projects and finishing off any quilts that I have started the last two years but have not actually finished it.

  10. Bruce says 27 December 2010 at 09:08

    For 2011, every day spend:
    – at least 20 mins with my wife
    – at least 20 mins with my kid
    – at least 20 mins on my business
    – at least 20 mins exercising
    – at least 20 mins on personal development

  11. Cammy@TippyToeDiet says 27 December 2010 at 09:10

    Congrats on achieving your goal by recognizing that it wasn’t the specific pounds lost, but the changes in habits and efforts that mattered most. Well done!

    My personal goal for 2011 is to find a way to write faster/more efficiently. Writing better would also be nice, but I don’t want to push it. 🙂

  12. Caleb Wojcik says 27 December 2010 at 09:11

    This is a very timely post as I setting my 2011 goals this week. I agree with Chris Parsons that I think the 1 goal mentality is helpful if there is only 1 area of your life that is in dire need of focus. In the past I have picked too many goals to focus on (i.e. 100!) so this year I am sticking to 5.

    My main 2011 goals are:
    1. Fitness/Exercise
    2. Blog
    3. Eating Better
    4. Marriage (Wedding planning…)
    5. A Side Project with Friends

    I would name 2010 as the year of ‘Transition’ (finished MBA, new job, moved). 2011 for me will be the year of ‘Following Through’, as some of the areas mentioned above have been attempted before.

    Good luck to everyone on their goals!

  13. Van says 27 December 2010 at 09:14

    I wish I could set one goal. You had already achieved goals, like resolving debt and running a successful website, by the time you made your fitness goal for 2010.

    I have to set three. 1)Get Organized 2)Be Healthy 3)Successful website (short forms).

    Congratulations on the success you’ve made this year, and thank you for this inspiring post!

  14. retirebyforty says 27 December 2010 at 09:14

    Congratulation on a great 2010. Wow, 132 minutes of exercise a day, that is awesome. You’re in great shape.
    I just wrote about my retirement goals at my website. It’s a longer term goal and my target date is April 2014. I like your tip about setting one big goal and I will do that for 2011.

  15. Bill says 27 December 2010 at 09:20

    Many years ago, I worked in a small newspaper owned by one of the major chains. I had nothing to do with sales, but in a small shop, everyone knows about all aspects.

    The company had a standard for all the sales people, but it fits your post, too:

    “Challenging but achievable goals.”

  16. Joan says 27 December 2010 at 09:27

    Enough already about how much weight you’ve lost and how fit you are! We get it. Sheesh.

  17. Hannah says 27 December 2010 at 09:34

    Thanks for the reminder JD on what makes a good NY resolution: setting goals, not resolutions!
    I’ve decided that my 2011 will be a year of action – for too long of 2010 I read, planned but never took enough action, including reading your site but never contributing – so my first step is writing here. Second step, is to take my NY resolutions, putting them into SMART format and making the timeline in achieving these. And finally, the end goal is to be able to re-visit the goals at timely intervals and finally at the end of 2011 with a big smile on my face of what was achieved. Thank goodness for the year changing, it is well needed!

  18. J.D. says 27 December 2010 at 09:44

    @Joan (#16)
    If I had a better example to use right now, I’d use it, but one negative side effect of focusing one goal is that, well, that’s all you have to talk about. 🙁

    Imagine what poor Kris has to put up with. I exercise restraint here at GRS, but at home, I do no such thing. I talk about fitness constantly.

    Anyhow, I know that many people don’t give a fig, so I’m trying not to mention it very often, but sometimes — like for this post — it only makes sense.

  19. Work Maker - says 27 December 2010 at 09:47

    I’ve been fighting a major fatigue problem for seven years, and need twelve to fifteen hours of sleep a day. There are long periods when the brain fog won’t let me think or plan or write, and the only thing that gets rid of the fatigue and brain fog long enough to get some things done is a major infusion of pop, which is why I currently weigh 210 pounds.

    There are so many things that I want to accomplish; the blog, writing several books, teaching, stand-up comedy, etc. and all of it depends on being able to stay awake and stay concentrated on my task. I don’t really care about what I look like; I care about being healthy.

    I can’t afford a gym membership or personal trainer, a naturopath or their medicines to help me rebuild my funked out body systems, or organic fruits and vegetables, (even if they were available in my town.) But I can walk, and let exercise, fresh air and sunlight rebuild my serotonin supplies. And I can experiment with what quantity and combination of food work best with my body.

    I need to concentrate on this one thing this year, because everything else depends on it.

  20. elisabeth says 27 December 2010 at 09:50

    JD says . “what’s my goal for 2011? To be honest, I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of weeks, actually, and for once I have no glaring flaws I want to correct.”
    But as some above have suggested, it may be that the fun way to approach 2011 is to choose goals that aren’t about “correcting” what’s perceived as wrong; goals about adding something to something that’s right or adding something new that’s not a response to a perceived flaw, just something you want to do.
    I’ve always had better luck with resolutions that are just positive add-ons to life — like “always carry a bag and try to reduce to zero the number of bags I take from stores when shopping” or “write an actual snail mail letter every day” or “read for an hour every day.”

  21. Nicole says 27 December 2010 at 09:59

    @18 JD
    heehee, you exercise restraint heehee

  22. Ally says 27 December 2010 at 10:04

    Two weeks ago, I came up with 10 resolutions or goals for 2011. I can’t choose which one to focus on so I’m doing them all. They are:
    1. Pay off car loan – $600/month would do it. I would have to make $20/day 5 days a week which is doable.
    2. Save $3,000 for a cruise next November. My friend wants me to go on a cruise with her next November. Any money I make from residual income will go towards this goal.
    3. Save $1000 for summer vacation. For the past 5 years, I’ve been going to this music festival every June. My friends and family don’t think I can save up for both a cruise and the festival but I’ll show them. I only need to make $10 a day, 5 days a week (combined with goal 1 – $30 a day).
    4. Run a 10K or Half-Marathon in October. I originally had planned on a half-marathon then I realized that it was different than a 10K. I can already walk a 10K in two hours so I could probably train to run it pretty easily. Doing a half-marathon would be pushing it but I think I could do it. Registration opens Jan 11 so I need to decide which I’m gong to run soon so I can get registered. I’ll start by getting in a 1/2 hour of regular exercise a day for a month. Then I’m going to get on the treadmill and do the C25K program. After that I’ll probably do the next program until I can run either a 10K or a half-marathon.
    5. Make $1,000 in residual income. I’ve been making $2 per article on InfoBarrel so I would need 500 articles to reach $1,000/month. I am planning on writing 50/month or 3 articles a day.
    6. Go on 5 first dates. I’m 27 years old and have never been on a date. I’ve never had a boyfriend and I’ve never kissed a boy. It’s really pathetic and I don’t want to wake up one day and realize that I’m a 30 year old virgin. That’s why my goal is to go on 5 first dates. I don’t care if nothing happens on these dates but I just want to get comfortable with dating. In July I am going to post an ad to OKCupid and hopefully will have the first date sometime in late July or early August.
    7. Graduate from college. This one should be pretty easy. I just have to get my homework in on time and study for the tests. I only have 2 semesters left and the last semester I’m only taking 1 class.
    8. Lose 50 lbs. I’m going to count calories while I train for the 10K/half. I lost 20lbs last year while counting calories so I should be able to lose 50 in 2011.
    9. Learn to play guitar. My brother gave me a guitar two years ago and I still haven’t learned how to play it. I’m going to practice playing it for an hour each weekend in 2011. I should be able to learn a few songs.
    10. Save $1,000 for a down payment on a house. After the cruise and summer vacation, I can put all extra money into this goal. I should be able to make $1,000 in December of next year. My goal in 2012 will be to buy a house so I want to get started in 2011.

  23. Tracy says 27 December 2010 at 10:07

    I definitely agree with focusing on one goal at a time. Too often when it comes to my own personal goals, I find myself trying to work on too many things and by the end of the day, I have accomplished very little.
    With this in mind, I will definitely be focusing all my attention into creating a healthier financial lifestyle. Not only do I want to get out of debt, but also to finally stop putting off writing a will and other necessary, but usually avoided documents. Then and only then, will I tackle the losing a little weight goal, as I know for me personally, I will not lose weight until I lose the stress I associate with my currently feeble financial health. Fortunately, my husband is also on board with my financial goals, so that will make achieving them even easier. Here’s to a wonderful 2011!

  24. Money Reasons says 27 December 2010 at 10:14

    I like the message here!

    I had resolution last year but most I just did okay at.

    This year I’m going to incorporate my resolution for next year into a clever routine that will enable me to tolerate and possible enjoy the routing.

    No PX90 for me, not that there is anything wrong with PX90, I’m just not that intense 🙂

  25. Jenny_Dee says 27 December 2010 at 10:20

    I gave up trying “resolutions” and instead started writing down all the things I accomplished in the past year. It gave me a sense of pride, realizing just how much I’d accomplished without actually TRYING to accomplish anything.

    I do intend to make changes for 2011 – my #1 goal is to have the credit cards paid off. Assuming my house refi goes through within the month of January, I should have enough money leftover to pay off the cards – for good! Then, on to the student loans.

  26. Patrick says 27 December 2010 at 11:16

    For 2010, I had 11 goals and achieved 4, maybe 6 if you slightly change the definition of a couple of them. At last count, including the ones I didn’t accomplish and want to retain for 2011, I have another 11 goals for 2011, in varying levels of difficulty of accomplishment. If I can accomplish 9 of them, I will be thrilled.

  27. Katy @ The Non-Consumer Advocate says 27 December 2010 at 12:07

    Let’s not forget the option of accepting ourselves the way we already are. It’s actually quite a wonderful new year’s resolution:

    Katy Wolk-Stanley
    “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

  28. Tyler Karaszewski says 27 December 2010 at 12:19

    I don’t mind you mentioning your fitness J.D. — to never mention it would be disingenuous. You might as well try to avoid mentioning that you’re married, or that you live in Portland. They’re facts of your life and talking about them on a site that values personal stories seems to fit.

    Also, I think it’s great advice. I’ve never been very food at multi-tasking, so I almost work on one thing at a time for a lack of ability to focus otherwise. It works for me, even if each thing takes more or less time than one year.

  29. IRS Hitman says 27 December 2010 at 13:12

    This post hits home. I always have many goals for the new year, but this post makes me consider which goal is the most important. If I had to cut all goals but one, which one would be the priority? I don’t know yet…maybe just continuing to help those who owe the IRS every day?

    I like this goal system, I may have to re-blog this before the end of the day.

  30. Briana @ GBR says 27 December 2010 at 13:25

    I like that idea, but I usually always have multiple things I want to focus on in 2011. I think a good idea would be to focus on one per quarter, or until it’s met.

  31. Usiere Uko says 27 December 2010 at 13:34

    I absolutely agree. Focus is the single most important ingredient in achieving goals. Without relentless focus, you flounder. If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.

    You do not necessarily have to have only one goal for 2011. You can have a handful of goals, but focus on one at a time. Get one done, out of the way, and then move unto the next. If one goal takes you the whole year, others simply have to roll over

    It is very tempting to multitask, and get nothing done well. Thank you for the reminder

  32. Crystal@BFS says 27 December 2010 at 13:55

    I have about 5, but the only one that will be difficult is losing 20-25 pounds. The other 4 goals are all money-relatedm which I am surprisingly good at, lol. Getting to 150 pounds by the end of 2011 is going to be tough since I do not have that kind of willpower. I’ll probably join Weight Watchers with my husband and his family since I do much better with support. 🙂

  33. khadijah says 27 December 2010 at 14:10

    I like having multiple goals. And I make yearly goals, so I can measure my yearly productivity.
    But I also make fun, inspiring, specific and useful goals and not “losing weight”.

    The goal of having a goal is self improvement, and the satisfaction when fulfilled, so don’t make goals you *know* you’re not going to do.

    My typical yearly goals look something like this:

    – See Lady Gaga in concert
    – Improve my 3rd language
    – Learn a new dance
    – Read more books
    – take professional engineering exam (and licensure) or some other equivalent post college career related education.
    – Mexico City, Paris or Puerto Rico (travel goals)
    -skydiving (or something equally daring)

    Everytime I see a good opportunity, or extra time, I don’t hesitate or contemplate what to do because I already know what I want and how much I’m willing to pay for the cost, and I pretty much wait for the right moment. Its like sniping. This means if I see a Groupon for skydiving or a dance lesson, I am ready to go.

    I check my list every couple of months and modify accordingly.

    When you make goals with varying degrees of difficulty, obtaining the smaller goal is often a boost or motivator to achieve a larger goal.

  34. akajb says 27 December 2010 at 14:10

    I’ve been trying to come up with a new goal for 2011.

    In 2009, I did the 100 push-up challenge (day 1 – 1 pushup, day 2 – 2 pushups… etc). I even added a 100 situp challenge to it. I finished it, but after the first 100 days of the year, I had nothing left to aim for and just stopped.

    This year, I came up with 4 fitness goals. Run 365km, bike 1000km, swim 365 laps, and climb 52 hours. As this year comes to a close, I will just finish my running goal (am just under 9km away at the moment), I have climbed for over 80 hours, biked 835 and swam 249. Yes – two of those goals were not completed. However, when I added up all the time I spent exercising this year – walking, hiking, climbing, swimming, biking, curling, running, step class, etc I’ve worked out for over 245 hours or about 41 minutes a day! I can’t complain now about missing those two goals.

    Right now, I’m thinking of biking, running and climbing goals for 2011. However, I agree with @Chris Parsons – I’m not sure about setting just this one goal. I’m a PhD student and I think I need to come up with some goals for that area of my life as well.

    @Ally – I feel I could be you on a bunch of your points. I give a HUGE thumbs up for C25K. I started it in 2007 which was the same year I ran my first 10k. I ran a half the next year, and am now just running more for fun and fitness.

  35. Cybrgeezer says 27 December 2010 at 14:40

    I always start my resolutions on Feb. 1. Then, on Feb. 2, I can ask my friends, “are you still following your New Year’s resolutions? I am!”

  36. chacha1 says 27 December 2010 at 14:48

    I had to go back and look at my list of goals for 2010 to see how I’ve been doing. One dropped off the list entirely as I decided I really didn’t actually want to do that thing for the foreseeable future, but I did put more of my energy and attention into all the other items.

    I have been trying to get away from my overdependence on my to-do list for the past month. In a week I’ll let myself go back to it, with one over-arching goal: meaningful progress, on a monthly basis, in each area of interest.

  37. Alissa says 27 December 2010 at 15:22

    I make a big to do list. I make sure to include things I know I can/will do (vote in a local election), things that are fun (go to local sports games), things that will grow me as a person (volunteer work), and things that will challenge me (I think I might want to do C25K in 2011 so I can run a 5k… or pay off a stretch amount of my student loans). 2011 will be my 7th year doing this and I’ve found it incredibly helpful. Each year I get a little bit better at my wording and knowing what is and is not reasonable. Sadly there are some items that have been on my list for the past 6 years that are still not done. Maybe I need to make 2011 a year of getting those things done!

  38. twentysomethingmoney says 27 December 2010 at 15:29

    an interesting perspective — it seems that in life and work, we have multiple goals, making it really difficult to complete them all. This idea of one goal, one track to follow, is smart. Perhaps 1 goal a year is the way to go — focus 1 year at a time on something, see how that impacts your life.

  39. Joel Runyon says 27 December 2010 at 16:15

    Can’t wait to see you at WDS and see how different you look than in Chicago.

    Congrats on the weight loss JD. Heck of an accomplishment!

  40. Jacq @ Single Mom Rich Mom says 27 December 2010 at 16:56

    I’ve always liked the philosophy on goal-setting in the book Your Best Year Yet – have one goal in each area of your life, but one goal that is the focus for the year. It ensures balance, yet greater progress in the one area that might be a sticking point.

  41. Kim says 27 December 2010 at 17:08

    To hang around with happy people. Life’s way too short for the other kind.

  42. Flexo says 27 December 2010 at 20:08

    My financial goals in 2011 will remain similar to 2010, and now that I left my day job this should be the easy part. The hard part is similar to your 2010 situation — I want to get into shape. I’ve set some specific goals that will help me get there. They don’t involve a training program, but just increasing my time spent on strenuous physical activity.

    As it happens, my 2011 goals post will be going live tomorrow morning, and it covers more than just finance and getting in shape, and I answer the question of whether it makes sense to tackle a number of goals…

  43. Kevin says 28 December 2010 at 00:21

    Great advice! I would also add that physically writing the goal down is a must for success. Those who write their plans down (financial or not)are 50% more likely to succeed!

  44. Mrs Darling says 28 December 2010 at 01:01

    I find your ability to make and reach your goals, refreshing. I wish I could read more of how you changed from a snowball loving guy to a gy loving one! Goodness, whats the matter with Joan #16. You have to wonder if maybe she is a tadbit jealous.

  45. Mrs Darling says 28 December 2010 at 01:02

    thats suppose to read “gym loving”.

  46. Vanessa says 28 December 2010 at 02:18

    JD: As far as I’m concerned, you can talk about exercise all you want! I’m obsessed too. I bought my first kettlebell today! 😀

    I have two goals for 2011:

    1. Health — I’m currently weaning myself off two drugs I take and focusing on getting up and exercising at the same time every day. (The trials of the self-employed – no structure in your day! 😉 )

    2. Earning a specific minimum for FY2011, so that I can wave my healthy earnings at the banks and buy an apartment in July. I already have the deposit.

    Hooray for a new year and a new beginning!

  47. Darren says 28 December 2010 at 06:58


    I think 132 minutes a day of anything might be a bit excessive. 🙂 Take a look at The Four Hour Body to see what’s possible in much less time. Imagine having all that extra time each day available for comic books…


  48. Doug says 28 December 2010 at 07:36

    I also set 2010 as my year of improved health and fitness. When you are focused on something so strongly it really helps. I went from 195 to 155 in 5 months with really no cardio and never counting calories – all by “simply” changing to a low carb primal lifestyle. Your committment to your goal is commendable, but judging from the numbers and your focus on minutes spent exercising, your apparent method of is a dead end and a common and sad tale. One simply won’t be able to achieve long term health from cardio exercise and the conventional wisdom USDA style diet. Make 2011 the year to truly understand how your body uses food and change the menu -you will be amazed at yourself in 6 months. Now that I am at the right BMI, for me 2011 is going to be the year for increased strength and stamina.

  49. Jen says 29 December 2010 at 05:40

    I read this when you posted it and then came back to read it again and read the comments. In the meantime, I’ve decided on a single goal that will have several parts/activities. Maybe I can add one on for real each month?

    Here’s the outline I came up with in my head while driving a kid around this morning:

    Main Goal: Decrease stress/anxiety

    (Where does my stress come from? I’ll ponder that as well, but I think it’s mostly my brain/style, which has worsened with the addition of kids and age! Also, tend to work better under semi-stress, motivate myself by imagining deadlines or the bad consequences of not doing somethin, etc. )

    I annihilated the main part of it by resigning from an untenable job. That relieved a WHOLE lot of stress, but of course, adds a few complications too!

    Here’s what I’ve brainstormed as steps to achieve my goal (it’s a hard one to measure, I’m afraid, though these smaller steps are more measurable):

    — decrease caffeine and sugar intake
    — daily exercise, even if it’s as simple as 15 minutes of dancing/jumping around the house or walking to errands more often
    — carve out daily time for designated quiet leisure (reading) and stick to it
    — set up more times to get together with friends and do same for youngest child
    — actually stick to some sort of quick relaxation routine that can be practiced anywhere
    — work on decluttering
    — control the web use
    — work on choosing three top, not huge, things to get done a day (from zen habits?)
    — make the call, write the quick email or note when I think of it rather than planning to do it and then thinking about it for days.

    There, that’s nine…say 5 weeks on each to cement it in? Though a couple of the first few should probably go together all at once. Will ponder!

    Thanks for the idea!

  50. Kevin M says 29 December 2010 at 12:07

    2011 is MY “Year of Fitness”, I mentioned it on your personal blog too. I’m determined to get in better shape than I was in my 20s. I’m not even trying to lose weight, I just want to get stronger and healthier and do my best to make sure I’m around a long time for my wife and kids.

    My “one problem” was lack of exercise so I’ve been doing simple body weight exercises for a few weeks just to get in the habit. I plan on starting to lift weights as soon as I find a good used set on Craigslist. It worked for me years ago (went from 190 to 165), so I’m going to try it again. I also want to continue learning how to cook simple, healthy meals.

  51. Ely says 29 December 2010 at 17:33

    For me I think 2011 is the Year of Strength. For one thing, I am recovering from a shoulder injury that set me back quite a bit. For another, I’ve talked and talked about weight training and getting strong, but never done anything consistent about it. This is my year.

  52. Financial Samurai says 31 December 2010 at 05:19

    It’s great that you got down to a healthy weight JD. Can you share with us why you got so big in the first place? The psychology behind weight gain and weight loss is fascinating!


  53. Heather says 01 January 2011 at 14:08

    I’m going sugar-free and sort of dairy-free for January. Will reflect and make decisions about later, later. (I know that going sugar-free will cure me of cravings – I did it before I had cancer, but then eating while in treatment killed all my progress.)

    I’m growing my fledgling business. After 6 months, I have half a dozen clients and am in the black, though I’m not drawing a salary.

    Connecting with out-of-town family and friends on a regular basis – planning to talk to someone on the list once a week.

    Clean out more clutter. The house still has too much stuff in it.

    Read more books. (Read: make more time to read more books.)

    Get my 5K back under 30 minutes. I don’t know if this will physically be possible (heart issues as a result of chemo), but there’s only one way to find out…

    A longer list than I usually make (many years, I haven’t had a list at all), but they’re all do-able…

  54. Yusef says 03 January 2011 at 22:24

    Great post! New Year’s resolutions can be so meaningful and so difficult at the same time. I really enjoy hearing people’s resolutions. Thanks for sharing yours. I recently stumbled upon another blog like I stumbled upon yours and that I enjoyed:

    I look forward to reading more of yours. Thanks!

  55. JoDi says 04 January 2016 at 09:04

    I am going to work on fitness and learning Spanish this year. I struggle with sticking to habits after a while. I go through phases of working out regularly and then not. I really enjoy it, but I’ve had a hard time making it automatic so I’m always debating myself about whether or not I’m going to work out on a particular day. I read Better Than Before recently and enjoyed it. I know I’m a Questioner, but I’m also a bit of an Obliger. I definitely stick with my workouts more when I belong to a gym, but the gym’s class schedule stopped working for me about a year ago so I stopped my membership. I just got a Roku TV for my home gym as an early anniversary gift and signed up for the Daily Burn today. I’m hoping it will provide the same motivation that scheduled classes at the gym did. We’ll see…

    Thanks for the podcast recommendation! Can’t wait to check out Adulting. Podcasts have helped me keep up a semi-regular running schedule because they make me look forward to running even more. It will be fun to have a new one to try out. I regularly listen to Gretchen Rubin’s podcast since I read her book and Radical Personal Finance which was another of your recommendations.

    What helped you the most when you were learning Spanish? I’ve been dabbling in Duolingo but haven’t invested in anything like Rosetta Stone because I’m not sure if it would be the best investment. Any books, websites, or software you recommend?

    Here’s to a year of good health and personal growth!

    • Molly says 04 January 2016 at 14:36

      Fitness and Spanish are two priorities for me this year too JoDi! One of my favorite resources has been the Pimsleur audio CD series which is comparable in price and what it can teach to Rosetta so I’m told but I understand Rosetta has you sitting at a computer and I liked being able to listen and speak back to audio while cooking, driving, running etc. I also found at least 60 hrs of Pimsleur at libraries so it cost me exactly free-ninety-free! There’s also a cheesy but fun 90’s Spanish learning video series soap-opera called Destinos that your library might have. Have you already tried out the Coffee Break Spanish podcast? Another fun way to practice is watching movies (kid’s movies if you’re still beginner/intermediate) with the audio in Spanish. You can do English subtitles if you like. Hope this helps!

  56. Doug says 04 January 2016 at 10:00

    I started writing a book a couple of years ago and never finished it. It is a study guide for passing the PMP exam. My biggest setback was that every time I sat down to write I ended up spending most of my time editing text I had already completed instead progressing further along into the book. My primary goal for 2016 is to compete this book and get it published in the Amazon bookstore.

    I also plan to continue with the daily habits I developed from pursuing goals that I set for myself in prior years:

    1. Track spending and make smart financial decisions. (Goal is to be debt free)
    2. Increase my tithes and offerings each month. (Goal is to reach 10%, currently at 4%)
    3. Track calories and exercise daily. (Goal is to maintain current fitness level)
    4. Actively pursue career and leadership development opportunities. (Goal is to be the most qualified for promotion when the opportunity arises.)
    5. Continue strengthening relationship with wife. (Goal is to stay married (happily))

    Enjoyed reading todays post JD, very motivational.

  57. Thehappyphilosopher says 04 January 2016 at 13:18


    I’m not a fan of the New Years resolution, but I like the framework of setting goals that you have outlined. If I start with a vision or a set of goals I’ve found more success in actually following through. In spite of detesting resolutions I have made three (sigh).

    1. 100% truthfulness. I wrote an article about this. I’m using your ‘all in’ principal here.
    2. Read 1 book per week. My reading list is so long, and I always have an excuse for not picking up a book.
    3. Write and publish 1 post per week. I think this will be my biggest challenge, but the easiest to measure.

    *Bonus resolution: Buy JD a beer and see if he follows through on his resolution (Just kidding!)

  58. Mysticaltyger says 04 January 2016 at 14:56

    I think sometimes weight and fitness goals can actually be 2 separate goals. Weight is really more about what you eat than exercise (probably 80/20 ratio). I’m not always in the greatest physical shape but I reeeeaaaly don’t like being overweight, so I cut back on the bad food and big portions as soon as I get 2 lbs. over my ideal weight range. It works. I don’t think I’ve ever been more than 6 lbs. over my ideal weight. Fitness is more about exercise, which is a whole different set of behaviors.

  59. Lane says 04 January 2016 at 16:13

    I’m setting my goal as: Get rid of ALL extraneous stuff.

    There are many sub-goals to this, but having a single goal I can focus on eases my mind and my “does this …” process of evaluating choices.

  60. Geert says 05 January 2016 at 02:24

    Another tip I once got is not to put a goal in negative terms but focus on a replacement activity instead. So not ‘I will stop eating junk food’ but ‘I will eat 1 piece of fruit and 200grams of vegitable every day’

  61. Mag says 05 January 2016 at 02:24

    That’s a great approach! I find that I always have so many ideas about what I want to achieve in any given year, that I need to re-read my own list to remember them all.

    This year, my goal is to meditate every day for at least 10 minutes. It sounds easy, but somehow there is always something that distracts me and I realise by the end of the day that I haven’t done my meditation practice.

  62. Nate says 14 January 2016 at 21:46

    I really agree with the idea of focusing on just 1 goal. Its also one of the main principles behind one of my favorite productivity books, “The One Thing”:

    “What’s the ONE Thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

    For me, its a specific business goal that I don’t share publicly because I feel like announcing goals publicly actually decreases your motivation to complete them. I know that goes against what most self-help gurus preach, but it works for me!

  63. Eldeen says 14 May 2016 at 04:34

    Today is the first day that I actually sat down and browse on your blog and this topic interest me the most. What a wonderful way to start my Saturday morning. Good info and full of ideas that I can used and work on.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*