The New Year’s resolution is an old tradition that has become a greater source of satire than an actual practice for most people.
Take gym memberships, for example. According to U.S. News & World Report, about one-eighth of all gym memberships are purchased in January. Many of those who purchase memberships rarely use them over the course of the year.
Gym memberships are just one facet of the sudden surge in self-improvement goals that occurs right after the New Year. The propensity for those goals to fall by the wayside has led many to mock and eschew the practice of making resolutions.
Far from being a waste of time, the upshot is that establishing meaningful resolutions for the coming year may be an important part of properly stewarding God-given resources.
What Makes a Good Goal?
The common acronym used to describe the structure of a helpful goal is SMART. Goals need to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Reasonable, and Timely.
Setting the goal to memorize the book of Ephesians by May 1st, 2015 is helpful. There is a specific purpose, the outcome can be measured, it can be done in the amount of time without ignoring other responsibilities of life, and it is bounded by a deadline.
On the other hand, the generic goal to “memorize more Scripture this year” would be unhelpful because it lacks three of the five characteristics and doesn’t provide a clear path to success.
James 4:13–16 shows we don’t have control over the future, and shouldn’t have an arrogant attitude towards it and our plans. Any goals we set should be tentative, understanding that circumstances may change significantly.
Though we cannot control the future, this should not discourage us from making an effort to improve the time and opportunities we can reasonably anticipate through goal setting.
What Kinds of Goals Should You Set?
There is no exact science to goal setting, but since we are multi-faceted people we should have goals that touch those different aspects of our lives, goals that reflect the spiritual, physical, and vocational aspects of life.
This is the season when Bible reading plans are posted across social media. Some are more helpful than others, but reading Scripture is an essential spiritual discipline for growth in godliness. Therefore, having a goal to strategically absorb God’s word over the course of the year is a worthy goal. Print out a plan and put it in your Bible so that you can have a visible reminder of discernible progress over the course of the year.
The resolution to shave off a few pounds is a common New Year’s resolution, as the spike in January gym memberships demonstrates. Losing a specific number of pounds is not a bad goal, but it might be more helpful to set the goal of being physically active for an hour a day on three days each week. Goals that encourage a healthier lifestyle instead of a specific benchmark can be easier to attain and have longer term results.
One of the biggest pitfalls I’ve seen in people I have supervised is a failure to set medium range vocational goals. For example, we cannot entirely control our income or promotion opportunities, but we can often recognize some of the key attributes that will improve our chances to be promoted. Setting a goal to measurably increase output by a set number, improve timeliness in completing tasks by a percentage, or expand knowledge of a field by reading a certain number of books can pave the way for advancement opportunities.
The Ultimate Goal
The chief end of our entire lives should be to glorify God and enjoy him forever. We do this by acknowledging God in all that we do (cf. Proverbs 3:6) and pursuing his glory in all that we do (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:31).
Being faithful as Christians is our ultimate goal, but to meaningfully pursue that grand vision we need to have discernible goals along the way. New Year’s resolutions can serve that purpose.
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