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Last week I suggested everyone should ignore the annual guilt-ridden exercise of making resolutions. But it’s a hard custom to shake, which makes worth spending a little time analyzing the process.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Puritans spent their birthdays and January 1 in an exercise of intense introspection. During the process, they looked for their shortcomings, invariably impressed by the many ways they sinned and failed God. For the Puritans, self-reflection was part of their goal of reaching heaven. Perfection was impossible, so all fell short.

This may be why, no matter how sincere our “resolution,” we never expect to accomplish the task we set out. We don’t really expect to lose 50 pounds, or completely declutter, or achieve any other self-improvement goal. The task we set ourselves is so general and large, it overwhelms us before we begin.

The entire process of making a resolution begins with the assumption that something is wrong and needs immediate correction. Have you ever seriously resolved to have more fun? The goal is too frivolous, and who knows what fun is anyway.

The entire process of making resolutions is so self-defeating, we no longer make resolutions; we set goals instead.

Goal Setting Should Be SMART

Goal setting is not a bad thing. Working in the flow, for example, doesn’t mean we won’t accomplish anything. But goals have to be SMART.

A goal should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time Sensitive

I have 2 broad goals for 2020. Let’s see if they’re SMART.

PRIMARY GOAL: Complete the first draft of my current novel by the end of 2020.

  • The goal is specific, even though I don’t know how the story will end.
  • It’s easy to measure, because when I finish the last chapter, it’s done.
  • I think it’s achievable, because I’ve written books before.
  • One year to complete a draft is realistic. (One year to complete an edited manuscript, not so much.)
  • A year is a year, so I’ll check that off.

SECONDARY GOAL: Complete family history and photo books.

This one is tough. It’s been on the list for 3 years, and remains undone, though progress has been made. Hmmm. Let’s see if I can pare it down.

LET’S TRY: Complete photo book for maternal family history. That works better.

  • It’s specific. I already scanned the photos and traced the genealogy.
  • It’s easy to measure. So far, I’m 0 and 3. But,
  • It’s achievable, and
  • Realistic to create one photo book, compared to the entire family history.
  • And, once again, I’ll check off time sensitive.

I know I’ll complete the draft of my novel, and I should be able to complete the photo book for my maternal family history, unless I get sidetracked by something like gardening.


In 2019, my goals were:

  • Complete the audiobook format for Two Coins: A Biographical Novel
  • Complete my website update
  • Complete the research for my current novel
  • Complete the family history and photo books

I succeeded in three out of four goals, so not too bad. Research on my current novel even got me into the flow state.


Did find your flow last year? Will you look for it in 2020? Leave a comment.


New Year Resolution Post Card, 1915

Tinset cat wearing glasses by Cardiffchestnut

Author Sandra Wagner Wright

Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.

 Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.


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