A few years ago I swore off making resolutions. I got tired of making my list each New Year’s Eve and then disappointing myself a month or two later. After my initial “bah, humbug” attitude, I realized the problem was with my approach. Resolutions tend to be oversimplified generalizations of what we’d like to be.

Be better.

Exercise more.

Read more.

Give more.

Those are nice thoughts, but what do they even mean? Seriously, put a month or two between me and jotting those vague niceties down; and I haven’t got a clue what I meant to begin with.

Get Specific

Be better … at poker?

Be better at seeking out constructive criticism from valued professionals and then accept and implement the advice they give.

Exercise more … so I can eat more ice cream?

Exercise for 30 minutes 5 times a week with the goal of improving my flexibility and alleviating my lower back and hip pain.

Read more … junk food labels?

Read more well-written fantasy and literary fiction books as well as more short stories and stagger these with craft books, biographies and devotionals. Simply put, be more intentional and discerning with what I read.

Give more … treats to the dogs?

Give more of myself—my time, my attention, my love, my focus—to my family.

Making our resolutions more specific takes us one step in the right direction; but it still doesn’t get us away from our modern view of what “making resolutions” means.

We need a much more specific guide of how to be who we are and will be. I do that by one constant resolution: make better goals.

Make Goals Instead

I won’t be that person who copies the definition of the word resolution for you, so I just gave you the link to check it out yourself if you’re so inclined. My point here is that the word is actually a good one for what we want to do, but its meaning has become lost or even modified over the years.

For our purposes, I would like to urge you to make better goals instead. I’ve written about goal-setting before. If you missed that post, I’d encourage you to head back to it. It’s not long and happens to be one of my favorites! I won’t repeat myself here other than to give you my four goal-setting points:

  1. Goals should be attainable.
  2. Goals require a deadline.
  3. Goals need to be encouraged.
  4. Goals deserve a detailed system.

Why Goals?

The point of goals is they require planning, preparation and perseverance.

You can’t make a list of goals and expect them to magically happen.

(You can’t do that with resolutions either; however, a change of terms may get us back on track this year!)

Planning

I could set a goal like “Write a book.” Sounds great, right? Wrong! We’re back to simplicity and vagueness. Now, one of my goals for this year is “Complete Ashlee’s book.” While that may be all I’ve written on my list so far, I understand that beneath that will come many mini-goals.

A couple months ago I made a list of the steps required to complete this book. Once I receive the second draft back from the family, I will take that list I’ve made and tweak it as necessary. I may need to add more research that I hadn’t considered. I will then be able to make a more specific plan for how many sessions I need to spend with the family as we put the finishing touches on her story. Once I know those things, I’ll be able to adjust those mini-goals that will lead us to achieving that larger, more vague goal sitting on my list now.

As you can see, goals must be fluid. They’re not something you chisel into stone on December 31 and expect to roll into your “Done” garden the following December 31. While the main goals may remain the same, the mini-goals should always be written in pencil. And, you have to be willing to carry over some goals into the next year.

With this particular goal, much of its achievement depends on situations outside of my control. So, I’m mentally prepared to adjust whatever I need to in order to reach this goal, whenever I can and regardless of how many erasers I go through.

Preparation

The preparation involved with achieving set goals varies. To stick with the example I’ve been using, I have a stack of emails from a lovely author that I need to reread. As I do that, I’ll jot down some questions I have for her. And, finally, I’ll send her an email. She wrote a book in a similar fashion to what I’m doing for Ashlee. She has paved the way, so to speak; and I look forward to hearing her advice and suggestions from her own experiences. This is something I can do on my own before I receive the draft back.

On the other side, when I do receive that feedback and have time to sit down with the family, I can begin to schedule the work I have yet to do. That’s when my calendar will start to fill up. I will share that calendar with my family so my expectations and writing time needs are clear to them. For more details on that, check out my holiday post.

This is when setting personal deadlines is a must. Once you know those mini-goals, you have to attach a deadline to each one. Get it on the calendar and mark off the time in between to make it happen.

A list of mini-goals remains as useless as that list of resolutions when not accompanied by set completion dates.

Once you hit this stage, something delightful happens—you can start to ballpark a completion date for your ultimate goal. That feels pretty doggone good. It may be the journalist in me, but deadlines drive me more than most anything else! You may remember the post I wrote a while back about writing on deadline.

Perseverance

For someone like me who would be happiest if I could set a schedule and stick to that same one for the next 50 years, the realization that plans and goals have to be flexible causes a heart-sinking sensation that sends me grabbing for a stronghold.

If you’re like me, breathe. Take a few moments. Grab a paper bag, if necessary. Take your time. I’ll be right here.

Is the bag still over your mouth? Yea, mine’s on standby as I type this. It will be okay. I promise. *Typing to both of us now.*

Understanding and admitting the necessity of being willing to adjust and adapt will set you free.

Do I do this perfectly? Am I cool as a cucumber when something derails all my pretty plans and messes up my delightfully colorful schedule? Nope. Not even close.

However, I’ve learned to breathe. Face the alteration with acceptance and take a few breaths before I get to work adjusting my expectations and plans. I have to be honest with you. Most of the time these unexpected turns in the maze end up making things go so much better with infinitely better timing than I could have ever planned—once I relax and accept them.

Most important, though, is to persevere. One of my largest goals this year is to continue world-building and researching for an epic fantasy story I finally began intentional work on last week. This is a goal that I can’t break down a ton right now.

I can’t set September 1 as my deadline for a first draft because I’ve never built worlds and creatures and histories and mythologies and languages before. I have no clue how long that process will take me.

What I can do is set aside specific times each week to create these pieces that I will need to stack together once I begin more focused writing. I can set specific tasks to tackle during each session and I can end each session by preparing a task list for my next session. One super-wee-mini-goal at a time for this giant dragon!

The rest of this goal includes beginning consistent writing on this work this year. I know I want to get to that point, and I know I’d love to get as far into that process as I can; but I’m realistic enough to realize a work like this won’t fit neatly into a one-year timeline. J.R.R. Tolkien committed his entire writing life to The Silmarillion … and never saw it in published form. I’ll need a heap of perseverance to make this work happen.

What are Joy’s goals?

Well, I’m glad you asked! I’d love to tell you, but they’re still in a metamorphosis stage. I made myself a list of major goals and started working on the mini goals for each. But, I’ve also made a big business decision that will change my approach to everything I do. It’s super exciting and also super scary!

I’m planning to post more on that next Thursday, but shared some of the details with my subscribers this morning. If you’d like to get more details on my writing process and what I’m working on, please subscribe to my weekly newsletters. I love sharing with my subscriber Fellowship! 

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Leave me a comment below and share with us some of your goals for the year. I’d love to encourage you! Do you have any suggestions that may help us with our goal-setting this year?

A few years ago I swore off making resolutions. After my initial "bah, humbug" attitude, I realized the problem was with my approach. Resolutions tend to be oversimplified generalizations of who we'd like to be. Instead of making vague lists, we can make better goals instead.

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