What’s Wrong with Resolutions?

There’s something magical about the idea of making New Year’s resolutions, of envisioning ourselves healthier, holier, and more productive by the time another year rolls around. But statistics tell us that our usual methods of making resolutions aren’t terribly effective in actually getting things done.



For me, a resolution is too much like a promise to myself. Once I break that promise, it’s broken for the whole year. The result is that I end up feeling like a failure. Maybe you can relate to this problem.

A priority, on the other hand, is more like a GPS device that keeps me focused on my chosen destination. When I get off course (which I usually do), it provides me with the orientation I need to get my journey back on course.


Enter: The Priority Reset

After a couple of frustrating attempts at New Year’s resolutions, I began a different kind of New Year’s ritual, one I call a Priority Reset. This amounts to prayerfully reviewing my course over the previous year and writing down a new list of priorities for the year to come. For several years, this was the whole process. I kept the new list under the glass on my desktop, where I could review it frequently to remind myself of my intended destination.

For me, this worked really well. When confronted with the choice of taking a run or studying gross anatomy (which is quite aptly named, I assure you), all I had to do was glance as my desktop to remember that “Health” outranked “Grades.”

Somewhere along the way, I learned that writing down specific goals was important too. My first attempts at this weren’t very helpful, and I soon realized that I had too many goals. Again, consulting with my list of priorities helped me determine which goals were most important during that particular phase of my life.

My yearly Priority Reset continued to evolve over several years as I evaluated different ways of staying on course. This is the final version, including an example of how I use it, as a PDF or a Word document. If you find it helpful, you’re welcome to use it as is, or to revise it to fit your own needs.


Using the Priority Reset

General: This is only one page long so I can refer to often and easily. I like to keep mine in my journal, which I open nearly every day. Sometimes I keep other copies in places I frequent (e.g., under the glass on my desk at work).

The human mind and body are finite. We cannot concentrate on an infinite number of priorities or work toward an infinite number of goals during any given period. For most people, setting a total of 6 to 10 goals is best for maximum effectiveness—fewer won’t sufficiently challenge you; more spreads your energies too thin.

Remember this principle at the end of the year, too. If you’ve done this right, you won’t actually reach every single goal (if you do, you probably didn’t challenge yourself sufficiently).

Done! - ©iStock.com/ gpointstudio

Done! – ©iStock.com/ gpointstudio

However, you will also find that you managed to do things you’d only dreamed about doing before. Merely writing goals down has been shown to be a simple but powerful tool.

Realize that everything about the Priority Reset represents an ideal. People don’t set goals to do things they’ve already accomplished or to form habits they’ve already mastered. The point here is to grow. If my every action were to bless others (as in the example), or if I lived every moment with the attitude of a servant, then I wouldn’t need to remind myself of these ideals by writing them down. To become more than we are, we must choose goals that are attainable but that stretch us a bit.

This process is best done with God’s help. (Isn’t everything?) Don’t set your course for an entire year without prayer.

Mission & Motto: If the Priority Reset is like a GPS, then the Mission and Motto are your overall destination and method of travel (attitude).

Priorities: All of your priorities should move you toward your Mission. Rank them in order of importance, and don’t forget the basics. For example, almost every other priority, even that of serving others, will be affected negatively if you are unhealthy, so this priority must be very high on anyone’s list.

Goals:  Every Priority should have at least one Goal; these are like the routes you follow to reach your chosen destination. The little caution signs are areas that tend to detour or distract you from your goal. You may not always know what these areas are at the beginning of your journey, but try to identify them so you can formulate an action plan that takes them into account.

You may already be familiar with the idea of setting SMART goals. The acronym stands for elements that help you set goals you can actually realize.

Specific – e.g., “Lose 10 pounds” vs. “Lose weight”

Measurable – e.g. “Miss no more than 10 days of work this year” vs. “Be more reliable”

Attainable – i.e., realistic; e.g., “Live 500 years” is not humanly possible

Results-focused – e.g., “Run a marathon” (outcome) vs. “Run 30 minutes/day” (process)

Time-bound – e.g., “Run a marathon by Christmas” vs. “Run a marathon someday”

Plan: Design specific actions that will help you move toward your Goals. Be sure to target the areas you identified as problems. If you find that the plan you set forth doesn’t work—maybe it proves unsuccessful in moving you toward your goal, or maybe you just can’t keep up with it—modify it.


Good Luck!

I hope you find this New Year’s tradition helpful. What other New Year’s rituals do you find useful?

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