One Problem, One Correction: How to Set New Year’s Resolutions You’ll Actually Keep

A new year is coming, and for many people that means it's time to make a list of resolutions. I used to be one of these folks, carefully cataloging the faults I'd like to fix every winter. Not anymore.

It's not that I'm perfect — as my wife would attest, I'm far from it! — but I've learned that a long list of resolutions was a sure path to failure. There's a reason you see stories every April about how most people aren't able to meet the goals they set at the first of the year.

Now, I do something different, something that's actually proven to be successful. Instead of tackling many resolutions every year, I only tackle one.

This year, for example, I focused on fitness. In fact, I dubbed 2010 The Year of Fitness. My aim was to lose fifty pounds, and I tried to weigh every decision with that one goal in mind. You know what? It worked. Though I didn't lose fifty pounds this year, I did lose forty. More than that, I'm stronger and faster than I've ever been in my life. My Year of Fitness has been a success.

A year ago, the only exercise I got was walking to and from my office every day.
A year ago, the only exercise I got was walking to and from my office every day.

The main reason I was able to do this was that it was my only goal for the entire year. 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
A couple of months ago, my fitness trainer wrote about this very subject in the context of exercise. Cody Limbaugh owns a Portland Crossfit gym, where he guides people like me toward our fitness goals. In October, he 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.

Limbaugh says that by focusing on one thing at a time, you're able to:

  • Obtain greater focus. When you try to correct more than one thing at a time, it's easy to get 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 you try to 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,” Limbaugh writes. This can help boost 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.

Limbaugh 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 last April, my form was awful. I couldn't do an actual squat — not even without weight. By correcting one thing at a time, I've made great progress. (I can now back-squat 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 New Year's resolutions you'll actually keep
Over the past five years, I've written a lot about goals at Get Rich Slowly. I believe in the power of goals. By setting and pursuing big goals, I've accomplished more than I ever thought possible. And I believe that you can set and achieve big goals, too.

So, let's put everything together. Let's summarize all of the lessons I've shared about setting goals since 2006. 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 personalthey 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 had great success setting a big goal for 2010 and then 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, StickK, or 43 Things. You might find an accountability partner. Or you might advertise to yourself.
  • Be prepared for setbacks. Let's face it: You're not going to meet your goals without mistakes and setbacks. Stuff 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. (My solution for all the food around Christmas? I ate less during the week before. This is just like spending less before a vacation to make room in your budget for souvenirs.)

After all of this, 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. (And isn't that nice for a change?) There are lots of little things that need work, but I haven't decided what to focus on next year.

What about you? What are your goals (or resolutions) for 2011? 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
guest
54 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
LifeAndMyFinances
LifeAndMyFinances
9 years ago

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.

Jia Jun
Jia Jun
9 years ago

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.

dotCOMreport
dotCOMreport
9 years ago

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.

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago

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

Brett
Brett
9 years ago

JD, 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… Read more »

Sarah
Sarah
9 years ago

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… Read more »

Kyle Richey
Kyle Richey
9 years ago

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!

Chris Parsons
Chris Parsons
9 years ago

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

Rene Mayo
Rene Mayo
9 years ago

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.

Bruce
Bruce
9 years ago

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

Cammy@TippyToeDiet
9 years ago

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. 🙂

Caleb Wojcik
Caleb Wojcik
9 years ago

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… Read more »

Van
Van
9 years ago

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!

retirebyforty
retirebyforty
9 years ago

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.

Bill
Bill
9 years ago

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.”

Joan
Joan
9 years ago

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

Hannah
Hannah
9 years ago

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… Read more »

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
9 years ago

@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.

Work Maker - makingmyownliving.blogspot.com
Work Maker - makingmyownliving.blogspot.com
9 years ago

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… Read more »

elisabeth
elisabeth
9 years ago

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… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago

@18 JD
heehee, you exercise restraint heehee

Ally
Ally
9 years ago

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… Read more »

Tracy
Tracy
9 years ago

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… Read more »

Money Reasons
Money Reasons
9 years ago

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 🙂

Jenny_Dee
Jenny_Dee
9 years ago

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.

Patrick
Patrick
9 years ago

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.

Katy @ The Non-Consumer Advocate
Katy @ The Non-Consumer Advocate
9 years ago

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

http://thenonconsumeradvocate.com/2010/12/happy-new-year-youre-fat-and-unorganized/

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

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
9 years ago

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.

IRS Hitman
IRS Hitman
9 years ago

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.

Briana @ GBR
Briana @ GBR
9 years ago

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.

Usiere Uko
Usiere Uko
9 years ago

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

Crystal@BFS
9 years ago

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. 🙂

khadijah
khadijah
9 years ago

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.… Read more »

akajb
akajb
9 years ago

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… Read more »

Cybrgeezer
Cybrgeezer
9 years ago

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!”

chacha1
chacha1
9 years ago

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.

Alissa
Alissa
9 years ago

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… Read more »

twentysomethingmoney
twentysomethingmoney
9 years ago

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.

Joel
Joel
9 years ago

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!

Jacq @ Single Mom Rich Mom
Jacq @ Single Mom Rich Mom
9 years ago

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.

Kim
Kim
9 years ago

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

Flexo
Flexo
9 years ago

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… Read more »

Kevin
Kevin
9 years ago

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!

Mrs Darling
Mrs Darling
9 years ago

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.

Mrs Darling
Mrs Darling
9 years ago

thats suppose to read “gym loving”.

Vanessa
Vanessa
9 years ago

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… Read more »

Darren
Darren
9 years ago

JD,

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…

Darren

Doug
Doug
9 years ago

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… Read more »

Jen
Jen
9 years ago

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… Read more »

Kevin M
Kevin M
9 years ago

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… Read more »

shares