Goals vs. resolutions

For the last couple of years, sometime around New Year’s Day, I have written down goals for the coming year. I’m calling them goals, not resolutions, because I think that there’s a difference, and that goals work better, at least for me.

Here’s an example of what I don’t like in a resolution. Let’s say that for any number of reasons (health, life-experience, eco-guilt), you’ve decided that riding your bike is to be encouraged over driving. And so you make the following resolution:

“I will bike to work every Wednesday, without fail!”

Now, what’s wrong with this resolution?

1) It’s very very likely to fail. Rain, vacation, illness – any of those could blow it for you.
2) It’s binary – you either fail or you don’t.
3) On M, T, Th, Fr, Sa, Su, there is absolutely nothing you can do to work on this.

A very likely outcome is that one rainy Wednesday in February you have blown your resolution, and now what’s your guide for the rest of the year, other than feeling vaguely crappy about having blown it?

Here’s a goal I like better:

“I will bike to work 50 times this year!”

How is this different from the resolution version?

1) It’s hard to blow completely until very late in the year. All you can do is fall behind.
2) It’s actually possible to exceed the goal. You could end up doing it 55 times, and feel especially good.
3) You can actually do something about this almost any workday.
4) You can get ahead, temporarily
5) You can get partial credit. Biking 40 times is better than biking 0 times, even if it’s not hitting the target.

Sure, there’s the “danger” that you will bike twice a week in the first half of the year, and then be done, and stop biking, and get fat. 🙂 But let’s be real here – what are the chances? And as downsides go, how bad is that one?

Even better, I think, is

“I will put N miles on the bike this year!”

Now, you can’t goalize every resolution like this. There are things you have to resolve always to do, or never to do. You can’t say “I will be not-mean to my family on at least 200 days this year!”, or set very low targets for the numbers of murders you will commit per month. But for active, intermittent, achievement-oriented activities I think goals are better.

I wish I could close by saying that when I switched to listing goals rather resolutions I started to nail them all, but looking back on 06, hmm, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. This year, though, I resolve that I’ll hit _every_ goal. 🙂


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