Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

The Slow Start Solution to Conquering New Year’s Resolutions

Off to a slow start with your New Year’s Resolutions? Maybe that’s a good thing. So many people profit from selling you instant (but rarely lasting) results that we often forget the virtue in taking the long way.

The Slow Start Solution to Conquering New Year's Resolutions

The other day, an old friend emailed me a list of his goals for the new year. There were thirteen of them. Most were vague and imprecise, and I told him so. But the truth is most of us do this in one way or another. Figuring out how to not fall into this trap is the secret to setting goals and actually obtaining them.

I should begin by saying that I’m not the best person to pay attention to when it comes to setting goals. See my friend Michael Hyatt if you want a Type-A roadmap to getting everything you want in life. I, however, am more of a “let’s throw it against the wall and see what sticks” kind of guy. But as a driven individual, I do like achieving things. I just struggle with the discipline of it all and, quite frankly, with even knowing what I want in the first place.

So what’s a guy like me to do, when for so long I set goals and never achieved them? Well, I think it comes down to practice. As a musician, writer, and mediocre runner, I get practice. I understand why it’s important to get up every day and do the same thing over and over. But for a short while, I forgot this.

Recently, my new friend Chris came across a quote of mine on Twitter or Instagram, and in his words, it changed his year. The quote was this:

He told me these few simple words were some of the most impactful ones he had read in the past year. He told me how, in the previous year, his business had gotten out of control and he’d experienced some failures that were the result of broken promises and over-committing.

But one thing saved him:

“The practice,” Chris told me, which he defines as: “a set of habits, rituals and plans that are scheduled to support the pursuit of a goal.” For him, this meant having a seven figure business. One million dollars. He gave up nearly everything — relationships, integrity, even his health — in pursuit of this goal. And in the end, he realized it wasn’t worth it, at least not the way he was doing it.

“The practices,” he wrote in a blog post, “are meaningless without the virtues.”

I love that. In fact, Chris taught me more about my own quote than I knew myself. So, here’s what I’m doing as someone who has struggled with setting and attaining goals most of my life. Maybe it makes sense for you, too:

  • Focus on the habit, not the result. With most things frequency matters more than quantity. Make it a habit to go to the gym every day even if you only spend a few minutes there.
  • Make the habit small, easy, and repeatable. Then make it more difficult over time. Don’t binge. Nibble. Don’t write a book. Write 500 words per day. Don’t get into shape. Walk 10,000 steps a day. Or start even smaller with one push up before bedtime.
  • Don’t do something big and audacious. This year, do something small and consistent. That’s the secret to breakthrough with any goal, resolution, or change you want to make.

It’s not the big things that change our lives, or our world. It’s the small things that add up over time. Drip by drip, as Seth Godin likes to say. It’s not the passion, but the practice that sustains us.

Resources

If you need help, here are a few resources worth checking out:

  • For writers: The My 500 Words a Day Challenge. This is a 31-day writing challenge that’s completely free. You get an email prompt a day plus access to a 5000-member community. Every year, I start off my January writing 500-1000 words per day to jumpstart my creativity and help me create the next project I want to work on. Usually, this continues through the rest of the year. If you’ve always said you’d write a book some day, this is a great place to start.
  • For people wanting clarity: The Art of Work Video Course and Workbook. This is a free resource for anyone who buys my latest book, The Art of Work. You can get it in any format, including audio, which is my preferred way to read books these days. Once you buy the book, you are eligible for the free bonuses. Find out more at artofworkbook.com.
  • For goal setters: Michael Hyatt’s Best Year Ever. This once-a-year course is a great resource for figuring out what you want out of every area of life and how to create a plan to get there. I use this system every year, in spite of being averse to goal-setting, and it works.

Further reading

And if that’s not enough for you, then there’s a smattering of pieces I’ve written on resolutions here:

Which goals are you setting for this year? What habits do you need to practice to support them? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Anni

    Thank you. Due to a major life change, I am floundering. During much of 2015, I provided care for my mother, who died on December 23rd. All the dreams and goals I have put on hold shoved their way to the front, suddenly demanding attention. I’m too tired and numb to even consider talking to most of them. But I can talk to and become reacquainted with a couple of them, in small chunks at a time. I feel overwhelmed, but I can handle just 15 minutes of something. Thank you for helping me see this.

    • Sorry for your loss. I know it is hard I lost my mom 2 years ago 5 days before Christmas.

    • Jodi

      I too lost my Mom..on Dec 29th of 2015…Its difficult getting things moving again in your life after a traumatic event. Its different for everyone…don’t beat yourself up just move forward a little each day, but go easy on yourself…you’ll find your motivation eventually…chin up! 👍

  • Mia Hayson

    Interesting post! I don’t set goals but maybe there’s real wisdom in setting habits/practice 🙂

  • Heidi Hill

    My goals are to get a blog up and running (with the help of the Intentional Blog course, to worry less about money, and to trust my gut.

  • Heidi Angell-Author

    Love the information! Because of the Intentional blogging course, I extended that to my writing and publishing. I am actually working on a great blog post of all the things that helped me plan out my next year starting with my goals ( 3 books published and released, marketing goals, and event goals) and building backwards. It will go up on Friday, I think. Love the 500 word a day challenge! Will definitely have to join that!

  • Oh, so true, Jeff. We as writers know this so well, no? We don’t get to just write when we feel like it. But once practice becomes habit, ah, then the real magic begins!

  • vanda23

    Thanks for the post. My goals are to publish my first book and to start a blog. I’ve been writing weekly Tumblr blogs to get myself back into the discipline of it. I used to write a weekly travel column in the newspapers but after a two year break, I do have to motivate myself and build my confidence. Between you and Michael Hyatt, I’m certainly getting the guidance I need for my 2016 venture. Thank you.

  • Right now, I’ve been striving and dedicating myself to completing book 2 in the romance series I began composing 2 months ago. I’m more than half way done with it. The goal is to compose up to chapter fifty, because I decided to make book 2 fifty chapters. I just completed chapter 31 a few moments ago. Overall, the book is progressing nicely.

  • Abdiqani Farah

    Goals! Goals! Goals. I count on them.

  • Heather

    I have a number of goals (thanks to Michael Hyatt’s course), but one is to read more books. I won’t share how many books since apparently that can be detrimental. Just listened to your podcast on how to read moreand I feel confident I can surpass my reading goal.

  • kathunsworth

    Jeff I love that quote
    When the passion goes away, it’s the practice that sustains us.
    As an artist the passion can die when working on something. I use to fall into the trap of giving up and starting something new. But I am determine this year to finish my picture book and this one quote may help me to keep chipping away at it in small manageable chunks. Thank you for inspiring me to start the year off in the right head space. If I look at the big picture the mountain seems high. If I turn up every day and just get to work it feels like I am getting somewhere.
    Kath

  • 2015 I tried to do too much Youtube channel, blog, among other things but in the end didn’t make any progress and the main reason was consistency I didn’t have any.

  • Great post. I needed the reminder. Small steps and goals leads to big change.

  • One of my goals for this year is to write my next book. This will happen by breaking it up into bite-sized chunks and getting a couple people to hold me accountable.

  • dumspirospero

    I love this, Jeff. Thank you! Last year, my biggest struggle was falling in love with monotony–the practice of building. I think impatience and putting the proverbial cart before the horse led me back to the “start” line in many respects. While we intuitively understand that progress means bit by bit, actually living bit by bit is a different story. Thank you for sharing! – Dekera

  • Michelle Van Doren

    Thanks Jeff. I have always been a goal-oriented person, and setting goals has helped me achieve quite a few things in my life. I am fortunate that I enjoy the process as much as the accomplishment. Writing my goals in chunks – long-term and short-term helps me feel a sense of accomplishment in the process of moving toward that long-term goal. And writing everything down – the goals, and what the work I do each day toward that goal helps to keep me on track and accountable to myself.

  • i do one word to focus on each year. last year’s was connect. this year is craft.

  • Rosey Mcleghan
  • Kevin

    Inspiring, encouraging, thought provoking. I am currently working on a novel and the 500 word a day challenge has been HUGE for me. I now make consistent progress everyday, even if it’s only 501 words 😉

  • Emily Amner

    That point of view puts things into perspective. If you can’t do one push up, what makes you think you can handle anything more physical? Thanks for a great post.

  • Focusing on the habit and not the result Jeff has been hands down the easiest way for me to allow my goals to reach me.

    It’s as if I’m doing things in reverse these days. I fall more madly in love with the process. Then I need not a result or reward because I am all into the process, the fun/work and THAT is the reward. Complete change from my first 5 years or so online when I NEEDED results to keep me going. Now I do stuff for the love of doing stuff and it’s just much easier to sustain myself, to keep on keeping on, to break when I break, to rest up and to just enjoy the entire process.

    The results are the icing on the cake. An extra. That’s how I feel more each day.

    As they say here in Costa Rica, Gracias Jeff!

    Ryan