Goal-Setting for the New Year: Timely Challenge and Practical Advice

The start of a new year is a great time to set some personal goals. However, if you plan to set some goals in 2021, or make some resolutions, statistics are not in your favor. Some researchers say 80% of new year resolutions are broken by the second week in February. Others say January 12 is the fateful day every year when most have “given up on their annual commitment to themselves.”

Will your 2021 goals last? Allow me to give you a timely challenge and some practical advice that has helped me through the years when it comes to goal-setting, especially at the turn of a new year.

TIMELY CHALLENGE: I challenge you to set three kinds of goals for yourself this year…

  • 1) Spiritual. Commit to some regular, rhythmic spiritual activity that will create space for you to grow closer to God. It could be a daily Bible reading and prayer time, a set of 6-8 week guided personal Bible studies, or an accountability group with trusted Christian friends. Whatever it is, set a realistic goal that challenges you spiritually. If you need help with resources or ideas, ask your pastor or small group leader. If you’re not plugged into a local church, send me a private message and I’ll do the research in your area and make a connection for you.
  • 2) Intellectual/Professional. It is a gift from God to never stop learning. Set a goal that will sharpen your skills in your trade or deepen your comprehension of something of intellectual interest to you. Sign up for a class, apply to that degree program, read books and articles on the subject, or set up a series of interview-style meetings with experts throughout the year. Plan now to stretch yourself intellectually and/or professionally this year.
  • 3) Physical. In as much as your physical health depends on you, your body is your responsibility. It has been entrusted to you for a short time, for good stewardship toward the unique purpose for which God has designed you in his unfolding Great Commission story. Lose weight. Build muscle. Eat right. Run or walk regularly. Get your yearly physical and/or let the doctor run that test all the while, blessing the God who gives and takes away. No one but you can take charge of your physical health.

PRACTICAL ADVICE: No practical advice is absolute or foolproof. However, try these best practices on for size this year as you set and work toward your personal goals:

  • 1) Set personal goals that do not depend on others for achievement. “I’m going to get that promotion this year” is not a great example of a personal goal. You can do everything right to position yourself for that promotion but a number of factors beyond your control may deny it from you. Similarly, “My marriage will be restored,” is a worthy ambition. It is not, however, a good personal goal since restoration is dependent on two parties, not just one. Instead, set goals that challenge you to be the kind of employee who proves his or her value on the team, and if the promotion comes your way receive it with gratitude to God. Set goals that will build your own character and integrity as the husband or wife who is wholly devoted to your spouse in wisdom and grace, and pray that the God of heaven will use your witness to turn your spouse’s heart back toward you as well.
  • 2) Set goals that are challenging, but attainable. Goals should stretch you, but they should not set you up for failure. Chances are, wherever you ultimately want to be (spiritually, professionally, or spiritually), you may have more than a one-year journey ahead of you. Set a yearly goal that will move you further down the road toward your terminal ambition. And remember, it is okay to miss your goal. Many of life’s greatest truths can be learned in the classroom of failure. But if you set unrealistic goals and fail to meet them year after year, you may sit in that classroom your whole life without ever mastering a single subject. There, you may begin to characterize your whole existence by the failure you perceive rather than by the beautifully unique design God has entrusted to your stewardship. So don’t patronize yourself by setting easy goals. But don’t cripple yourself either by setting unrealistic ones.

“Many of life’s greatest truths can be learned in the classroom of failure. But if you set unrealistic goals and fail to meet them year after year, you may sit in that classroom your whole life without ever mastering a single subject.”

  • 3) Plan for success by structuring weekly rhythm and intermediate goals. Vanessa and I are reading through the Bible every year. Sometimes you may hear us say that we have a “30-45 minute daily devotional and prayer time together.” The truth is, our “daily” rhythm happens 5-6 days per week. With travel schedules and unplanned disruptions, five to six days per week is challenging, but attainable for us. And sometimes we get a few days behind and have to catch up. If your life is anything like ours, it may be just as impractical for you to plan to do anything at all seven days a week for twelve straight months (other than breathe, eat and sleep). So give yourself some space. A little wiggle room in your regiment is healthy. Instead of creating a daily habit, go for a daily rhythm. If you have a year-long goal, set 2-month or 3-month mini-goals to help keep you on track. Everyone has the same number of hours in a day and days in a year as you. We all make time and space for what we truly value. If your goal is important to you, carve out the time and space you need in a daily or weekly rhythm to work toward it methodically. And put in a little wiggle room for practicality’s sake.
  • 4) Create space for relational encouragement and accountability. I’m in a “Workout Crew” group-text with three other guys. We live several hours apart in multiple directions but throughout the week we challenge each other and celebrate one another in our workout goals. When you bring someone else into your circle of goal-setting and daily rhythm, and when you give them permission to hold you accountable and celebrate your progress, you have taken it to the next level. These accountability partners may be the impetus you need to get in rhythm when you just don’t feel like it. They may be the cheerleaders you would never admit you want when you achieve a mini-goal that you’d be too embarrassed to share with the larger public. And you can do the same for them. Find a few friends with similar goals (you may have to initiate this yourself). Be an intentional encourager in that group and receive encouragement from them. Be an intentional voice of accountability in that group and receive exhortations of accountability from them.
  • 5) Leave room in your schedule for other important things. Our family watched Wonder Woman 1984 the other day, and I loved the overarching theme of value in everyday experiences—both positive and negative things. “So many things…” the motif unveiled. Goal-setter, allow me to borrow the line today… there are “so many things” in your life. So many meaningful and important things. Your one or two goals for the year are not your life. A goal turned into obsession is a departure from good health, not a step toward it. The rhythms of your day must include expressive spiritual, intellectual, and physical elements as well as meaningful time with family and friends and plenty of space to do those perfunctory things that are part of your unique contribution to the world. In summary, you are more than your goals.  

“A goal turned into obsession is a departure from good health, not a step toward it.”

  • 6) Look for God in it. I believe that the God of the Ages is actively at work in, through, and around your daily rhythms. He is not to be kept in your “spiritual” goal box. It is in him you live, move, and have existence (Acts 17:28). Every breath is a gift from him to you—an investment, really. The greatest tragedy would not be to fail at attaining your goals this year. The greatest tragedy would be to achieve your goals while completely missing God in them. In every rhythm, watch for how God gives you strength for the moment and hope for the morrow. A lifestyle of devotion to him is evident when every activity is holy unto the Lord—whether you “eat, sleep, or drink,” (1 Cor. 10:31); “whatever you do, with all your heart,” (Col. 3:23). I pray this year that experiencing God’s grace and favor in your life and in the lives of those nearest you will not be an expectation resigned to your devotional time only. Rather, that he will meet you in your expectation of his presence in all the experiences of your everyday rhythms.
  • 7) Start today. They say that tomorrow is always the best time to start a new rhythm. That’s because it’s always easier to put off until tomorrow what you know you need to do today. With this mindset, today can be about indulgence since tomorrow will be about discipline. The problem with life this way is that the idealized tomorrow never comes. There will always be a reason not to work on it today. Always. Perhaps you are reading this before January 1st. Why wait until the first day of the new year? Instead of starting off the year with a committed activity, how about starting off the year with a few days of meaningful rhythm already under your belt? Perhaps you are reading this sometime after January 1st. I’ve got great news for you—you didn’t miss the opportunity! Every day is a new one. And today can start your new journey just as easily as January 1st could have. If you want to create new rhythms that lead toward your personal goals, tomorrow is never the right time to start. Start today.

“If you want to create new rhythms that lead toward your personal goals, tomorrow is never the right time to start. Start today.”

Grace and Peace,


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