Making Progress – Not Resolutions

Resolution: a firm decision to do or not to do something.

New Year’s Resolution: A decision made out of guilt, peer pressure, or popular culture to do something you probably actually want to do but have little will or intention to actually follow through.

Apparently 40% of people admit to making New Year’s Resolutions and less than 10% of those individuals actually make it through and achieve their goals. Why? Partly because we’re creatures of habit, it can be very hard to create a new habit or break an existing one, it’s just the way we’re wired. I don’t believe that’s an out however because there is also another component, deciding to do something in and of itself means nothing, action and planning is required.

As Yoda once so eloquently put it “do or do not, there is no try.”

We can decide damn near anything, in fact, I just decided I’m going to be an astronaut, that doesn’t make it realistic. Yes, we have to set goals, but we also have to act…

Ok, so what the hell now, do I make resolutions or not? Yeah, go ahead, and make one and only one, be very specific about it too. The quickest way to fail at something is to try to do too many things at once with no clear objective in mind. There’s a reason most projects have plans and schedules, because it keeps everything on track (in theory) and maintains a goal post you can see. How else would you ever know you’re finished?

When you’re done with that goal, then you’ll have some momentum to move on to the next. There’s nothing more encouraging than a sense of accomplishment. So maybe you’ve more than one goal, but let’s start with one for now.

Setting Goals

Benjamin Franklin made a list of the 13 virtues he thought should be guiding principles in his life and once a year he would spend a week focusing on each of them to maintain them in his life. His method was clear, concise, repetitive, and focused.

  • Keep the number of goals to a minimum, if you usually have trouble achieving anything, pick just one.
  • Make sure your goals are specific, “save more money,” or “lose weight” mean absolutely nothing, there’s no finish line there and you’ll fail before you’ve started. Try something like “save $50 more per week,” or “lose 10 pounds.”
  • Set a deadline, if you set the goal post a year away you’ll never make it. Try to keep it to a month or less, anything else and you’ll put it off.
  • Make a plan, a deadline is great, but with no clear path to get there you’re dead in the water. Decide the when, how, and where of achieving your goals. Get the gym more means nothing unless you’ve carved out an hour and a half every other morning to actually do it.
  • Keep it realistic, becoming a rock star in 30 days is likely unrealistic of most people, but learning the basics of a new instrument isn’t. Set a goal that while difficult is still possible, you can set a more difficult one later when you’ve built up momentum from the first achievement.

Tracking Progress

My journey to taking this trip was a 5 year timeline, I had to save X number of dollars by a date far, far in the future. The timeline and dollar value meant nothing to me, how was I to achieve it? I broke that number up over the 60 months that would lead up to the final date and then set about tracking that goal every month.

“Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs” – Henry Ford

How you track your progress is a bit dependent on what you’re trying to keep an eye on. For finances there are some great apps that do it automatically such as Mint (Android, iPhone). If you feel you can actually keep track on a purchase by purchase level my favourite spending app is Travel Expense on Android which can be used quickly and easily for everyday use as well.

My personal favourite way to track financials however is on Excel, I do it monthly and I can quickly see when I have a bad month. I go back, look at what I spend and then use that as a compass for guiding my spending the next month.

For something less tangible like “did I stay positive today?” You can use a plain old calendar and cross it off, or get fancy and use a habit tracker such iPro Habit Tracker on Android which I love or Way of Life on iPhone is supposed to be goo.

If you give yourself daily feedback you’re much more likely to achieve your goal instead of getting to the end of the month and realizing you’ve done little to nothing to get you there.

No matter how you go about tracking yourself just remember that it takes about 30 days of consistency to make something into a habit in your life.

Staying Accountable

While you can certainly set goals and achieve them in the ether, success is often much more achievable when you’ve held yourself accountable.

  • Tell a friend your goal and have them check up on you.
  • One clever trick I’ve encountered for staying positive is to tell everyone you know that anytime you say something negative for the next 30 days you owe them a dollar (or 10 if one doesn’t hurt enough).
  • Track/work with a buddy who has the same goals, sometimes guilt is a powerful motivator.
  • The digital habit tracking methods I’ve mentioned above are pretty clear when you’ve failed, they go red. I find the OCD in me needs to keep them green (done).
  • Create a penalty if you fail. allows you to put money on the line and have friend decide if you’ve met your goals, if you don’t succeed your money goes to a friend, a charity you like, or a charity you hate.

My Goals

Last year I picked 4 goals and was honestly really only successful at one. I’m not worried that I failed at some of them because a lot of things changed last year that I couldn’t have anticipated. Some I failed at because I lost sight of the goal, for those I have no excuse.

  • Learn basic Portuguese to get me by in Brazil (failed and didn’t go to Brazil anyway)
  • Read a book in Spanish (failed, I still have to find a book I can understand/enjoy).
  • Learn to kite surf (success and it was awesome) and be able to jump (failed, but I’m OK with that, as I almost had it and then tore a muscle which means a I need a tiny bit more time, not drive).
  • Last but not least, find a way to make my travels more financially sustainable (honestly this one is far too vague, I’d say I kind of sort of made some headway here).

This year, I’m not making any goals yet aside from picking back up my read a Spanish book goal. To follow through with it I’m emailing a friend right now for a suggestion on what I could try as both my previous attempts kind of failed. I’m writing this on the 3rd and I’m giving myself 60 days to complete the task this time.

As for any new goals, they’ll have to wait a few months, sometimes my life tells me where I’m going, occasionally I get to decide. This is not one of those times i get to decide, and I can’t wait to see what happens.


So, don’t make resolutions, get out there, set a goal, make a plan, and follow through with it!