One of my favorite moments in my schedule each year occurs in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. During this week I sit down at my desk and spend some time evaluating my last year’s resolutions and setting my next year’s resolutions.

Now, I’m a bit of a big dreamer, which means I often set too many goals for myself, and complete too few of them. But I also try to look on the bright side and see growth, even If my batting average is lower than a pitcher’s.

But this year was discouraging for me. Not only did I not complete one goal, but I also did not feel like I progressed in the areas that I did set goals. For this reason, I hesitated to write this blog about resolutions. But rather than hiding my weaknesses, I thought I would share them and hope that you can avoid my mistakes. Here are a few things about resolutions that I have learned.

1. Vision and Goals are different.

A Vision is an ideal picture of what you would like things to be like in the future. It is a dream that you want your life to be. This could include health, discipline, interaction, spiritual life, etc., but it is a dream about the future.

For example, I wanted to be healthier 2016 than I was in 2015. I thought that a healthier body would help me have more energy and a better outlook on life. In my mind, I envisioned being healthy by the end of the year. Better health was one of my 2016 visions.

Goals, on the other hands, are specific initiatives to accomplish those visions. My vision to be healthy included several goals. I wanted to drink less than two sodas a week (I did not). I wanted to exercise 5 times a week (I did not). I wanted to make one healthy decision a day with what I ate (I made one unhealthy decision a day instead).

2. Our visions are too broad.

“I want to be the best me by this time next year!” Great. Now what does that mean?

My self-evaluation tends to unearth many areas of my life that I have a vision for improving. For instance, last year, I had 5 distinct visions for growth in my life, and under each of those I had 5 goals to make them happen.

I was doomed from January 1st.

Instead, we should select one or two primary, specific areas of vision for personal growth in the coming year. Normally, these areas can be easily broken up into our main vocations: parent, spouse, work, friend, physically, spiritually, church member, etc.

That’s not to say that we can’t work on those other areas throughout the year, but we are making one or two visions our primary focus.

3. Our goals are too general.

While this was not a mistake I made last year, this is a mistake I’ve made before. “I want to be healthier in 2017” is not a goal or a resolution; it is a vision. Resolutions must be specific, realistic, and stretching.

A resolution for healthiness in 2017 might be, “I want to work out 3 times a week,” or “I want to cut out soda and diet soda.” There are many directions you can go here, but you must pick a direction and commit to it.

Again, last year, I set myself up for failure by setting far too many goals. Even if I had only picked one or two visions, I would still have been struggling to keep up.

4. Evaluate graciously

So it’s March 2017 (or January 2, 2017 🙂 ) and you already have failed to meet your goals. What do you do?

This is where understanding the distinction between goals and vision is really helpful. Rather than wallowing in self-pity and quitting because our resolutions have been broken, we can focus on the vision of what we wanted to be. You see, goals and resolutions are not an end; they are a means to an end. The end is growth. The resolutions help us to focus and keep us on track for growth.

Whether you are successful or unsuccessful, we can’t tie our identity or greatest sense of accomplishment to these resolutions. In success, that will lead to pride and snobbery toward others. In failure, that will lead to despair and downward spiral.

For believers, our identity is tied to who we are in Christ. In Christ, we are forgiven and declared righteous, regardless of our failures over the next year. This might seem like it would promote apathy for growth, but actually, the opposite is true.

Because we are freed from performance and because we are freed from having our identity wrapped in our success and failure in 2017, we are freed to pursue growth in the most virtuous way possible. Rather than make it all about me (selfishness), or all about being better than someone else (pride), or all about our dissatisfaction with ourselves (self-loathing), we can be honest about our weaknesses and through the grace of God find the resources to pursue growth for God’s glory and humanity’s good.

5. Remember what’s important

“For the training of the body has a limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way, since it hold promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” 1 Timothy 4:8

The most important thing in which we need growth is godliness through Christ. Our looks, physique, mental capabilities, charisma, etc., will all fade and eventually disappear, but godliness does not. Our growth in the faith matters today and in eternity. It affects our life today and for the next million years.

I encourage you to set 1-2 visions for your life next year, and 2-3 resolutions under each to facilitate growth, but I challenge you to imagine what it would be like for you to grow in godliness. Imagine a joyful, peace-filled version of yourself that is pursuing righteousness, love, and justice. Imagine being so in-tune with God that you naturally shift in-and-out of prayer with him throughout the day. Imagine great victories over a sin struggle in your life. Imagine others being influenced by God’s grace through you.

I challenge you to imagine a more godly self for 2017, and then select 2-3 specific, realistic, and stretching goals to make that happen.