Why New Year’s Resolutions and Goal-Setting Can Be A Massive Waste of Time

Share This Post

As this year closes and another pops onto the horizon, you’re probably already thinking about the resolutions you want to make and the goals you want to set.

Yet for most leaders, it appears that making those resolutions and setting those goals is a massive waste of time.

Why?

Well, because for up to 92% of people, New Year’s resolutions fail.

With statistics like that, what do you do—give up?

Actually, no. There’s a better way to set goals that will result in success. But most people don’t take that route.

First, let’s cover three quick reasons goal setting and resolutions are a massive waste of time. Then, we’ll look at the one key characteristic you find among the 8% of people who hit their goals.

For too many people, “New Year New You” becomes “New Year Same You” – unless you figure out how to avoid that.

For too many people, "New Year New You" becomes "New Year Same You." Click To Tweet

Trap One: Good Intentions

Their goals die on a piece of paper because nothing happens beyond writing them down.

You’ve heard it said more than a few times: If you have a goal, write it down.

That’s actually great advice.

The problem, of course, is that for the vast majority of people, that’s where their New Year’s Resolutions stop.

Their goals die on a piece of paper because nothing happens beyond writing them down.

As a result, all most people end up with is an intention.

Their goals die on a piece of paper because nothing happens beyond writing them down. Click To Tweet

Hoping to see your church grow without a plan to help your church grow is just that—a hope.

Intending to lose weight without a plan and process to lose weight is simply an intention.

So here’s the challenge. What do you hope will happen next year?

Writing it down is the first step, not the last step. And simply announcing it to people in the hopes that announcing it will help your stay accountable isn’t enough either.

Next year will be exactly like this year unless you change more than your intention.

Next year will be exactly like this year unless you change more than your intention. Click To Tweet

Trap 2: Momentum That Creates False Success

Momentum masks underlying problems, creating a false sense of success. This means that when the momentum ends (as it inevitably will), you have a much bigger mess to clean up than if you worked on the things that produce long-term health all along.

I’ve set goals as a leader every year for decades.

In the early years, an interesting pattern developed that I didn’t understand at the time. I would miss most of my personal goals (like losing weight or saving X amount of money) but hit most of my organizational goals (like growing church attendance or reaching new people).

Looking back on it, I realize I only hit my organizational goals because we had a ton of momentum.

While that feels good, it can create false success.

While the church growth and life-change that was happening were real, it came at a significant personal cost because I wasn’t nearly disciplined enough to carve out some margin in my life and schedule to do what mattered most.

Eventually, the inability to run my personal life well led to burnout.

The lesson here is simple. When you have momentum, setting a goal of 20% growth, for example, isn’t a goal nearly as much as it is a reasonable prediction.

The point? Outcome-driven goals feel motivating, but process-goals produce far better results in the long run.

When you have momentum, setting a goal of 20% growth, for example, isn't a goal nearly as much as it is a reasonable prediction. Outcome-driven goals feel motivating, but process-goals produce better results in the long run. Click To Tweet

Financially, saving $500 a month is a better goal than hoping to see your investments grow by 15%, which they might do all by themselves in a bull market.

Shooting for 15% growth in your church attendance might happen ‘automatically’ if you have momentum. Overhauling and optimizing your guest assimilation strategy might be a wiser goal, though, as it can boost that growth rate even more.

And even if it doesn’t, you’re preparing your church for much better stewardship of the people who are coming than you would if you left things as they are.

Momentum masks underlying problems. It can create a false sense of success. This means that when the momentum ends (as it inevitably will), you have a much bigger mess to clean up than if you worked on the things that produce long-term health all along.

Momentum masks underlying problems, creating a false sense of success. This means that when the momentum ends (as it inevitably will), you have a much bigger mess to clean up than if you worked on the things that produce long-term health… Click To Tweet
FREE PREACHING CHEAT SHEET

10 effective steps to preach more engaging, relevant, and memorable sermons every single week.

FREE THRIVING CHURCHES CHECKLIST

Churches that aren’t just surviving but thriving in this season share 8 common traits. Get the checklist today.

FREE GUIDE FOR LEADING CHANGE

If you’re leading change, this guide will help you determine who to involve, how quickly to change, when to communicate, and much more.

FREE PREACHING CHEAT SHEET
10 steps to preach more engaging, relevant, and memorable sermons each week.
FREE THRIVING CHURCHES CHECKLIST

Churches that aren’t just surviving but thriving in this season share 8 common traits. Get the checklist today.

Trap Three: Lack of Momentum That Creates a False Sense of Failure

In the same way momentum can create a false sense of success, the lack of momentum you’re currently facing can prematurely create a sense of failure—that any attempt at a fresh goal is useless. And that’s a lie.

So what happens if you don’t have momentum?

It’s far too easy to avoid setting goals or roll your eyes at all the achievers who do.

That, too, is a mistake.

In the same way, momentum can create a false sense of success. The lack of momentum you’re currently facing can prematurely create a sense of failure—that any attempt at a fresh goal is useless. And that’s a lie.

If this was a negative year for you where you lost ground personally or organizationally, setting clear process-driven goals is one of the best things you can do.

Rather than simply stating, “Grow by 10% next year” or “Lose 10 lbs” as your goal, think through what you might need to do to change things.

“Overhaul the new guest follow-up system” holds much more promise than “magically grow” does.

“Track my daily calories, eat 150 grams of protein, and cap my max calories at 2000/day” is far more likely to lead to losing 10 lbs than simply stating a wish that you hope to lose 10 lbs.

See the difference?

A bad year this year doesn’t mean you have to go through another one next year. And when you combine hope with a strategy, the likelihood of success increases dramatically.

A bad year this year doesn't mean you have to go through another one next year. And when you combine hope with a strategy, the likelihood of success increases dramatically. Click To Tweet

The Remedy: A Strategy

Often the differerence between goals that get realized and goals that don’t is the presence or absense of a strategy.

Often the difference between goals that get realized and goals that don’t is the presence or absence of a strategy.

Hope is not a strategy, but a plan is.

Post-burnout, I was determined to make a change and realize my personal and organizational goals.

While I still miss a few goals from time to time, the difference between the goals you hit and those you miss is almost always strategy, not intention.

So as you set your goals for next year, the big question to ask is, “what’s your strategy?”

Here’s what’s true: What you do every day matters more than what you say on New Year’s Day.

A simple correction is to spend far more time working on your strategy for implementing the goal than you do coming up with the goal.

Do that consistently, and you’ll be part of the 8% who realize their New Year’s Resolutions, not the 92% who don’t.

When it comes to goals and resolutions, what you do every day matters more than what you say on New Year's Day. Click To Tweet

Identify and Break Your Growth Barriers in The Art of Leadership Academy

  • What used to work isn’t working anymore. What do I do next? 
  • Why aren’t we seeing results, even when we’re putting in the effort? 
  • What’s the right decision for the future when everything is so uncertain? 

The Academy is for you if you are a Pastor, Director of Ministry, Church Leader, or Faith-Driven Business Leader looking to lead a thriving and healthy church.

Escape the struggle today by joining a vibrant community where church leaders share strategies and ideas to help each other generate momentum in their ministry:

  • Live Monthly Coaching Calls
  • 8 On-Demand Church Leadership Courses
  • Team Training Resources
  • 1,750+ Top Tier Peers and Mentors

Ready to change the trajectory of your church?

Share This Post
Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.