Goal Setting Tips for New Years or Any Time of Year

It’s that time of year when it feels like literally everyone is setting a goal. Multiple goals, even.

Maybe you’re one of them. Or, maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed by the pressure of it all.

Are you a failure if you don’t set a goal going into a new year? No!

Is it wrong if you do want to set a new year’s goal (aka. resolution)? Also No!

While it is helpful to set goals in life for personal (and professional) growth, January 1st is not a magic date. Goals can be set any time of year, for any length of time.

Setting goals

I’m about as goal-oriented as they come. True story: When I was eight years old, I decided I would be valedictorian of my high school graduating class. Ten years later, I spoke at commencement as co-valedictorian of my class of 2001.

I tell you that to establish that I know a thing or two about setting—and achieving—goals. Not to brag, but to explain that what I’m about to share didn’t come out of laziness or lack of ambition or making excuses for giving up on my dreams.

Over the past few years, I’ve learned a few things about setting goals that my younger self simply didn’t understand.

What I’ve learned about goal setting

  • Goals are achieved in baby steps, not giant leaps.
  • The present is more important than the future.
  • Goals require letting go, not gripping tight.
  • It’s okay to not have a plan.

Let’s break each of these down with more context.

Goals are achieved in baby steps, not giant leaps.

Excluding my example about becoming valedictorian, it can sometimes feel like a goal goes from A to B with no in-between. As if, today you’re at point A, and if you will it hard enough, you’ll arrive at point B as if you teleported. Of course, that’s never how it happens.

Goals require steps and incremental progress. And, I think it’s easy to forget that when the goal is first set—which can feel overwhelming and daunting. How the heck am I going to achieve that?!

Baby steps.

Asking the question: What can I do now (or today, or this week) to get me closer to point B (aka. the goal)?

Whether you already know the answer or you have to take a moment to figure it out, breaking a larger goal into mini-goals is the key to progress.

Takeaway: Break your goal into steps and pace yourself.

The present is more important than the future.

This may seem counterintuitive, since the whole concept of a goal is achieving something for your future self. But, here’s the thing. Working toward a goal can easily become all-consuming or have you longing so intensely for the day you’ll reach point B… that you forget to enjoy each day in between. The present.

As you work toward a goal, don’t miss the valuable and joyful moments of life happening even when you aren’t exactly where you hope to be just yet.

Focusing too much on the future can also lead to anxiety and worry—and that’s not how we’re called to live. In Matthew 6:34 (CEV), Jesus gives the best advice: “Don’t worry about tomorrow. It will take care of itself. You have enough to worry about today.”

Takeaway: Live in the now, not in the future.

Goals require letting go, not gripping tight.

When you set a goal, your inclination may be to hold so tightly to that specific outcome that your determination becomes tunnel vision.

While there’s nothing wrong with having a very specific goal vs. a general one, if you find yourself too focused on that one thing, you limit yourself to a singular outcome. What if a better outcome pops up? What if reaching 75% of your goal is actually what you needed all along? Or, what if you experience a major life change and your goal no longer serves you well?

That doesn’t mean you should never set goals. It simply means allowing yourself to be okay with a different outcome, without feeling like a failure.

The reality is, we can’t predict the future. Life can change SO much from one year to the next.

In my own life, I experienced several years when what I wanted to happen didn’t. But, the key to me not feeling like a failure was embracing what I did accomplish instead, and acknowledging that some of my original goals weren’t best for me after all.

James 4:13-15 gives us a Biblical perspective:

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 

Takeaway: Set your goal and then give it to God.

It’s okay not to have a plan

This was honestly the hardest for me to learn and accept.

For so many years of my life, I always had a plan. It gave me comfort. Structure. Peace. Or so I thought. But my plan wasn’t always the same as God’s plan for me. That’s where I got it wrong. I wanted the control a plan gave me. I wanted to know what was coming next. So, naturally, I thought my plan was the best.

But living by a plan doesn’t always work out the way you plan. Life happens. God knows better. So many things can alter our plans and goals that sometimes it’s almost easier not to have a plan.

While I won’t go so far as to say you should NEVER plan anything—that would lead to chaos!—I now believe that life won’t fall apart if not everything is planned and you don’t know what’s coming next. If some things are left to spontaneity. If some periods of life are left open to see how God works.

Some of the biggest milestones and highlights of my life came about unexpectedly. They weren’t goals achieved or items on my bucket list. Yet, they changed my life.

You see, we can make plans. A lot of life requires at least some degree of planning ahead. But not every victory in life will happen because of a plan. Sometimes, going with the flow—or, better yet, God’s flow—is the best plan.

As King Solomon put it in Proverbs 16:9 (CEV), “We make our own plans, but the Lord decides where we will go.”

Dream big

Though this wasn’t on the list, probably the greatest lesson I’ve learned over the past decade of my life is to dream big when it comes to setting goals.

Ephesians 3:20 (NIRV) proclaims: “God is able to do far more than we could ever ask for or imagine. He does everything by his power that is working in us.”

I’ve witnessed, first-hand, God doing more in my life than I ever dared to hope. More than I thought possible. Every time, I realized I wasn’t dreaming big enough. My finite mind will never dream as big as God can do.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t dream as big as our minds allow.

Whether you’re setting goals for the new year or any time of year, I challenge you to do just that. Dream big—while also keeping the four other lessons in mind:

  • Goals are achieved in baby steps, not giant leaps.
  • The present is more important than the future.
  • Goals require letting go, not gripping tight.
  • It’s okay to not have a plan.

Are you a goal setter? What lessons have you learned over the years?

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