On Your Mark, Get Set, Goal!


words: Matt and Becca Whitson

New Year’s resolutions. Those three words either make you roll your eyes or have you reaching giddily for the nearest notebook to make a list. Having sworn off resolutions for years, we are quite familiar with the eye-roll. There are a couple of reasons why. First, we don’t want to be part of the cliché crowd, heading to the gym and eating dry salads on the second day of January. And next, we have literally never kept a resolution, making us much like the majority of the January gym-goers. Year after year, we made our resolutions only to break them in the first six weeks…or days.


Unmet goals can bring frustration and discouragement, and ultimately, that’s why people stop setting them. But what if there’s a better way? Maybe the way we set goals is actually the key to making them happen. Try these tips when you set goals this year.


Be S.M.A.R.T.

Goals often remain unmet because they weren’t well-written in the first place. Without a clear vision of where you want to go, you’ll end up settling with where you’ve always been. One easy way to be sure you’re writing clear, attainable goals is to use the acronym S.M.A.R.T. for goal setting.



Know exactly what you want, and make your goals as specific as possible to reach that end. Use “who, what, when, where, why” as a guide.

Bad: Save money.

Good: Put $20 from each paycheck into my emergency fund.



Choose goals with quantifiable results. Make sure you will know clearly if you’ve reached your goal or not.

Bad: Get in better shape.

Good: Run my first 5K in June.



Use action words (e.g. “go,” “finish,” “save,” etc.) rather than to-be verbs (e.g. “be,” “have,” etc.).

Bad: Be more disciplined with food.

Good: Substitute fruit for my afternoon candy bar three
times a week.



Choose goals that push you to be better but are still within reach. Unattainable goals are an invitation to failure and frustration.

Bad: Get up two hours early each morning to increase productivity.

Good: Get up thirty minutes early on weekdays to tackle the to-do list.



Author Michael Hyatt says, “A goal without a date is just a dream.” Give each goal a time limit to keep you motivated and on track.

Bad: Lose weight.

Good: Lose fifteen pounds by April 1.


Take Inventory. 

Be clear about where you are right now. Take inventory of your life: where you are and where you want to be. Write down what is really important to you, what you’re dreaming about, and then how you spend your time and money. If those lists aren’t congruent, look at what needs to change in order for your actions to line up with what you want for your life. Start with three to five goals. More than that will likely be counter-productive.


Write Them Down. 

After you’ve chosen your goals, write them down. Productivity studies have shown that people with written goals are much more likely to reach their goals than those without. But don’t stop there. Put your goals in a place where you’ll see them every day. Keeping your dreams and goals in a highly visible spot in your home or office will keep them front and center in your mind as well.


Practice Grace. 

When you mess up, and you will, extend grace to yourself. Beating yourself up for that cheat meal or extra hour of sleep will do nothing but push you further away from your goal. Take note of your moment of weakness and what led up to it, then move on. If you dwell on it, you’re likely to start shaming yourself. Shame only leads you to continue in the same behavior pattern that caused the shame in the first place. So take note and start again.


Talk to Yourself. 

We spend a lot of time listening to our self-talk, that script that runs constantly in our heads, even when we don’t realize it’s happening. That script may say something like, “I’ll never be able to lose the weight. I do this every year, and it never works.” Pay attention to your self-talk. You might be surprised at how self-defeating those scripts are. In fact, you’re probably talking to yourself in ways you’d never talk to someone else. Stop listening and start talking. Try substituting the negative self-talk with positive statements. Research shows that people who use their own names or the pronoun “you” perform better than those who speak to themselves using “I.” This year, try to become aware of your negative self-talk and replace it with positive, motivational statements you would say to a friend (e.g. “You’ve got this! You can do it!” or “So you messed up one time? Big deal. Start over tomorrow.”).


Choose Support Carefully. 

Instincts say that announcing a goal on social media will hold you accountable and make it more likely that you’ll work hard to reach it. However, the opposite is actually true. Derek Sivers teaches in his TED Talk that the social support you feel from announcing a goal can mimic the support you’d feel from achieving the goal, thus making you less likely you’ll work hard enough to actually accomplish it. That said, support is important, and many goals will require help. Choose carefully. Sharing your dreams and plans is a vulnerable thing. Who has earned the right to hear them? Who can you ask to hold you accountable without fear of their own motives getting in the way? Calling a professional counselor or coach may be an appropriate step if you need help getting to the next level in your personal or professional life.


Edit when Necessary. 

Revisiting your goals consistently is an important part of reaching them, but don’t be afraid to edit them when necessary. Life happens, and sometimes your goals need to adapt. When our son Will was diagnosed with lymphoma this past summer, our personal and work goals were put on the back-burner. We didn’t forget about them; we changed the timelines and put our focus where it needed to be. Will is doing well post-treatment, and we are slowly getting back to our goals with a new fire for what’s truly important. When your goals need to adapt to your life, you haven’t failed. You’ve just shown yourself that you can adjust to what life throws at you and keep going.


As we begin 2017, don’t let New Year’s resolutions haunt you again. Set your goals, put them where you can see them, give yourself a break, get a handle on your self-defeating thoughts, get help when you need it, and be ready to change when life throws you a curveball. You can do this!


Matt and Becca Whitson work together at WhitsonLife.com. They’ve been married for eighteen years and have three kids through birth and adoption. Passionate about using their story to bring glory to God and share hope with others, they write a blog, speak to large and small groups, and offer professional counseling and coaching services. 

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