New Year’s resolutions

Should We Bother Making Resolutions?

New Year's Resolutions and GoalsBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

What does it say about human nature that we continue to make resolutions every January even when year after year we fail to keep them?

Maybe that failure isn’t such a bad thing.

In Season 3 of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a teenage character named Nog wants to apply to Starfleet academy to become an officer. This wouldn’t be strange except for one thing.

Nog is a Ferengi.

For those of you not familiar with the Star Trek world, Ferengi are motivated by profit. Their self-worth depends on how business savvy they are. No Feregi has ever joined Starfleet because there’s no profit in it. They’re not even members of the United Federation of Planets.

But Nog wants something different. His father doesn’t have the “lobes for business” and Nog knows he doesn’t either. He doesn’t want to spend his life a failure.

So he decides to apply for Starfleet. Everyone tells Nog he won’t make it. Before he can even apply, he has to pass a battery of pre-tests. He fails. And fails again.

When it comes to the resolutions we make, the goals we set for ourselves, whether we make them at the beginning of the year or some other time, many of us are like Nog. Failure after failure piles up.

But we keep making them for a simple reason.

Making resolutions, setting goals, even if we fail, means we want to be better. (Tweet that)

Nog wanted to join Starfleet because he wanted something better for himself.

I used to rebel against resolutions and talk about how stupid they were. After all, if you really wanted to change, wouldn’t you just change? And didn’t most people break their resolutions before January was over anyway?

But my thinking has shifted a little recently. Whether we want to call them resolutions or goals, whether we make them in January or July, it’s important for us to be regularly evaluating our lives, deciding what we’re unhappy with, and figuring out what we can actively do to try to make those things better.

If I’m being honest, part of my past rebellion against “resolutions” was my fear of setting a goal I couldn’t reach. (I am a type A perfectionist after all.) I didn’t want to embarrass myself with a failure. I didn’t want to face the disappointment of wanting something and not achieving it.

That attitude won’t get me anywhere. So I’ve set some extremely ambitious goals for myself this year. And maybe I will fail. But at least I’ll have tried. At least I’ll be one step closer to being who I want to be and to having the kind of life I want to have.

What’s one big goal you’ve set for this year? Do you hate resolutions?

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Image Credit: Miguel Saavedra (from

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Making This Year Better Than The Last

Did you make a New Year’s resolution yesterday? Did you know that you have a 78% chance of breaking it?

A few years ago, I gave up on making New Year’s resolutions because I always broke them and ended up feeling like a failure. This past year, though, I noticed another more serious problem.

My life has become triage.

Instead of acting, I spent most of my time reacting. Fires kept cropping up, and I survived by dealing with the biggest and badest first. Everything else tanked. I gained 20 pounds. My husband began to complain that he didn’t get any time with me anymore because I’m always working. I don’t remember what a day off looks like. Lisa and I are scrambling to prepare for the conference we’re headed to in New York this month.

I want this year to be better than the last.

Part of my problem goes back to my failed New Year’s resolutions, and why I was consistently breaking them. To make this year better than the last, I need to care for myself as well as I care for my characters. You see, I give them goals, but I mostly only had ambitions for myself.

An ambition is an abstract, high-level concept. For example, “I want a well-behaved dog” or “I want a happy marriage.” Two people can have the same ambition, but the way it plays out in their lives can be diametrically opposed based on how they define that ambition. Goals are how you reach your ambition. Without them, you can float around for years never certain if you’re making any progress toward your ambition.

If all you have is ambitions, you’re bound for disappointment and failure because you don’t have any direct control over whether an ambition is reached or not.

For example, “I want an agent this year” or “I want to lose 20 pounds.” Those are ambitions because nothing you do will guarantee they happen. You might change your eating habits and hit the gym, and only lose 10 pounds because you gained muscle as well. Or because that’s the healthy weight your body wants to be at.  

Goals, however, are in your control.

I do a lot of work for non-profit clients writing grant proposals. One of the things that separates successful grants from unsuccessful ones is that the successful ones set goals (they call them objectives) that are SMART.

S – specific

M – measurable

A – attainable

R – realistic

T – time-bound

So if your ambition is to land an agent this year (it’s one of the ambitions on my new list), set SMART goals to reach it.

For example, “I will query one new agent every week in 2012 except for the weeks of Christmas and Thanksgiving.” (Noah Lukeman suggests querying 50 agents before you give up on that particular project.)

Specific – You’ve given the number of agents (one) and what you’re going to do (query). You also specified what you’re not going to do.

Measurable – You either did or you didn’t send out a query each week.

Attainable– You can query an agent a week. That’s within the realm of what’s allowable when it comes to agents. You couldn’t talk to an agent on the phone every week any more than you can probably call up Suzanne Collins or Daniel Craig and expect to have a chat.

Realistic – This really depends on you. Maybe that isn’t realistic for you depending on what you know your personal limitations are. Maybe what you can do is query one new agent every two weeks. But you get the point. Don’t set an unrealistic goal like “I’m going to query 50 agents every week.”

Time-Bound – You have from Monday to Sunday each week to complete this goal. You have from January 1 to December 31 of 2012 to complete this goal.

If you reach your goal, you’re that much more likely to also fulfill your ambition.

I’m not just working on my goals and ambitions for my career, but also for the rest of my life. As writers, it can be easy to become a slave to our work, but some sacrifices are too great.

You see, I don’t just want to be remembered as a great writer at the end of my life. I also want to be remembered as a great wife. As a great friend. As a great daughter, and sister, and cousin, and niece. Perhaps one day as a great mother and grandmother and aunt.

To do that, I need to make this year better than the last.

What’s one ambition you have for this year, and one of the goals that you’re setting to try to meet it?

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