Episode: You Need a Goal, Not A Resolution

Michael Hyatt: Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.

Megan Hyatt Miller: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.

Michael: And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work and succeed at life. This week, we’re going to be talking about why you need a goal but not a resolution. Now, if you’re a little bit skeptical about goal setting, you’re not alone. Maybe you’ve set goals in the past and they didn’t really work, or you thought you set goals and they didn’t work. You think that’s a bunch of motivation whatever, but we’re here to tell you that goal setting can work, but resolution setting, which is what most people are used to, just flat-out doesn’t work.

Megan: In fact, according to U.S. News & World Report, 80 percent of people fail to follow through on their New Year’s resolutions. In fact, most of them give up by mid-February. I mean, that is not very long in terms of how long people are able to stick with these resolutions. I think this point is really appropriate as we’re thinking about “How are we going to make 2021 better than 2020?” After all, for a lot of people, 2020 was a really tough year and they’re thinking about what they could do differently. I think setting goals is one of the big levers to pull.

Michael: No doubt. I was thinking as you were reading that U.S. News & World Report that 80 percent of people fail to follow through on their New Year’s resolutions… That sounds like a big number, but I think at least 15 percent of the remaining 20 percent are lying.

Megan: Wow. Okay.

Michael: I just think very few people… I’m speaking out of my own experience. I have some age on me. I’ve known a lot of people, and I’ve gone through a lot of these New Year’s resolution cycles. I think it’s extremely rare for people to follow through.

Megan: I think so too. I feel like we’re going to see a resurgence of the New Year’s resolution this year. People who may have been cynical about it in the past are like, “You know what? Now is the time. I’ve got to set some intentions for 2021.” I feel like what we’re going to talk about today is that if you want 2021 to be better than 2020, it is good to have a vision for what that would look like, but intentions or resolutions are not going to get you there. What you need are actual goals.

Michael: Okay. Megan, do you remember your husband Joel talking about that thing called the fresh start effect?

Megan: Yeah, I do. It’s basically whenever there’s a new season in your life… It could be, like this year, for me, I turned 40, or the new year starts or you have a baby or you get a new job. Just something significant happens in your life, and all of a sudden, it feels like a fresh start. You’re like, “Wow. This is really a clean slate,” and you get all excited and all gung ho about making big changes in your life. The problem is that while that inspires you to want to make some resolutions for the year, unfortunately, it kind of wears off if you don’t have anything more substantial to pair with the enthusiasm that comes initially.

Michael: That’s why we want to distinguish between resolutions and goals. What we’re advocating for, the thing that really does work… And that’s based on our experience and over 50,000 people who have gone through my goal achievement course Your Best Year Ever. Goals really work. Resolutions, not so much.

Megan: So, Dad, when did you become convinced of the power of goal setting?

Michael: I think when I started college. I feel like until then I was a little bit lost and kind of trying this and trying that, but somehow, there was something about college that made me buckle down and get serious. That’s when I first started exploring productivity, goal achievement, and all the rest. Now, I happen to be an Enneagram Three, the Achiever, so achieving things is really fun for me. I like it a lot. Not achieving is not fun.

So, I got very serious about goal setting. I started listening to different people on the topic. I remember my dad paid me to read a book called The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. It wasn’t exactly a book about goal setting, but it was an introduction to self-help literature and this whole phenomenon of personal development. I kind of saw goal setting as a means by which I could improve myself and become something different than what I was. You know, improve my state, improve my character, improve my lot in life.

Megan: So, everybody wants to know. How much did you get paid for reading that book?

Michael: This was so awesome. I wish this would have continued, because I would have made it my job. He paid me $20 to read that book. I don’t know what it was that he saw in me that needed that book, but I’ll never forget it. I felt like that was an awesome experience for me, and I thought it was a good move on my dad’s part too.

Megan: This is in the early 70s, probably. Right?

Michael: Yeah. It would have been about 1972, maybe.

Megan: So, $20 was a lot of money back then.

Michael: It was.

Megan: And you were really motivated to read it as a result.

Michael: What about for you, Megan? When did goal achievement or goal setting become a thing for you?

Megan: While I think I probably was doing this on and off because of you as a kid, or at least as a teenager, my first memory of something that was close to goal setting was when my younger sister Mindy got married. This was about 20 years ago. As a family, after her wedding, everybody besides her went on a vacation, and we read a book called Write It Down, Make It Happen.

Michael: I forgot about this.

Megan: Do you remember that?

Michael: Yeah, I do remember now.

Megan: Our whole family was reading it, and we would talk about it at breakfast. I think it had you write down everything you could possibly think of that you wanted in your life. It was like 100 things or something like that.

Michael: No, that was my part of it.

Megan: That was your part of it?

Michael: Yeah. I said to you and your sisters and to Gail… I gave everybody a yellow legal pad, and I said, “I want you, during this week, to write down 100 goals you want to accomplish before you die.”

Megan: Well, as it turns out, that’s really hard. The first 10 or 15 or maybe even 20 were pretty easy, but then it was much more difficult. I mean, you think you have these big dreams for your life and you want things that are much farther beyond where you are now. In reality, connecting with what you want is challenging. So, that was probably my first memory, at least that I can put my finger on right now, when I started thinking about goal setting. I feel like I never looked back. That was a very empowering experience.

Probably around that time, within a year of that, I went to a Tony Robbins conference, and there was a lot of goal setting that was a part of that, which was neat. Anyway, I think I got the bug, because I had always been a person who cared a lot about bringing my future self, you know, all of the things about myself into the future, in congruence with who I wanted to be. I didn’t want to just drift through my life. I wanted to be intentional, and I had discovered that goal setting was one of the best ways to be intentional.

Michael: Yeah, absolutely. I remember learning from that exercise just the power of writing things down. Years later, I looked at that same list and was astonished at how much of it had come to pass even though I didn’t consciously take steps to accomplish those things. It obviously works better if you do, but there were just some of those things, just by stating the intention, getting clarity on it, writing it down, that caused it to become reality.

Megan: That’s really powerful. What do you think happens in our lives if we’re not setting goals?

Michael: We’ve said this many times on this podcast, but there are two basic approaches to life. You’re either going to drift or you’re going to design. Goals are a practical mechanism by which you can design the future. You can get clarity about what you want, and then you can decide that this thing you want has to be caused. Somebody has to cause it to happen. You’re not going to find a bottle and rub it and a genie is going to come out and grant your wish.

Megan: Unfortunately.

Michael: If anybody has a lead on that, let me know. But, no, you have to actually get clear, which from my perspective, that’s the most difficult part: getting clear what you want. That’s the value of writing it down, because writing forces clarity. I think that’s what makes the whole thing work. It’s the first part of the creative process.

Megan: Yeah. I was thinking about 2020 and some of the aftereffects of that that we’re all facing. I think one of those is a lot of people have stopped thinking about their future. They’re so consumed with the present, with the anxiety of the present, with the limitations of the present, they’re not thinking about the future. They really are just drifting because they don’t feel like they have a lot of control in their lives.

One of the things I hope will be different for people in 2021 is that we can come to an understanding that while we certainly cannot control everything, we can control enough things to design a great life regardless of the circumstances outside of us. Even though there certainly are, to be sure, going to be continued challenges… I don’t think either of us are under some kind of illusion that 2021 is going to be a cake walk.

I think there are a lot of hard days ahead, yet we get to still choose. Are we going to just drift and kind of put our life on pause until it’s over or are we going to step up to the plate and say, “You know what? I’m going to engage. I’m going to design my future, and while I can’t control everything, I can control a lot, and I want to get to the end of 2021 with a different feeling than I have at the end of 2020.”

Michael: Yes. I totally agree. Okay. I think we need to spend just a few minutes talking about the difference between a resolution and a goal, because some people are probably thinking, “Well, it sounds like you’re talking about resolutions.” They are similar in that you’re stating something you want. The problem is that resolutions are often left vague. People say, “I want to be in better health” or “I want to improve my marriage” or something that’s kind of vague and non-specific.

Because there’s not more clarity, you don’t really have a way to mark your progress. You don’t have a way to put together an action plan. You don’t even know what strategy would work. What we’re talking about is something that produces more clarity, more specificity, and we teach that in my course Your Best Year Ever through an acronym called the SMARTER framework.

Megan: The big idea here is that the biggest difference between resolutions and goals is that goals are designed to set you up to take action. Resolutions are just aspirational.

Michael: They’re kind of a wish.

Megan: They’re kind of like a wish. Our friend Jeff Walker says hope is not a strategy. The same thing is true for the rest of your life. Hope is not a strategy. You need a real strategy, and if you want to design your life, goal setting is that strategy to help you take action.

Michael: Okay. Most people have heard of the SMART framework. GE invented that back in the 1980s, and it meant the goals needed to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. That’s the conventional thing. There have been a few twists, including ours, which is the SMARTER framework. One of the things that’s unique about the SMARTER framework is that, based on the latest goal achievement research, our conviction is that R for realistic actually sets you up to fail. It’s like the worst possible thing you could do if you actually want to achieve something meaningful.

Megan: Yeah, because it’s not inspiring. If you think about doing something realistic… I mean, just think of that word in your mind. It’s like, “Wah, wah.” It’s just not exciting. It doesn’t get you going. It doesn’t engage your mind or your creativity or your innovative thinking in any way. It doesn’t get you out of bed in the morning. It doesn’t really do anything. There’s no energy to it. Realistic might be good when you’re planning your Saturday chores, but it’s not great when you’re planning your life, because you’re never going to stretch outside of your comfort zone. You’re never going to really be able to tap your potential as long as you’re in that comfort zone, realistic place.

Michael: When I hear the word realistic, I think of a parent talking to a child who has a dream and trying to get them to throttle it back or give up on the dream and saying, “You’ve got to be realistic, son. Being an astronaut is not in the cards,” or being an actor, or whatever it is. There’s that moment of innocence when you rob the child of that thing they want.

Basically, what you’re saying to them is, “Son, it’s time to settle. It’s time to give up on the dream and just settle. You’re just going to be a drone going to a desk job, and that’s your lot in life. And when you’re 65, if you’ve saved enough money, which, oh, by the way, is really fun too… When you start saving money for the rest of your life, maybe you’ll have enough money to do what you want to do.” I hate that.

Megan: It’s just depressing. That’s one of the big hallmarks of the SMARTER framework: this idea of risky goals. I’m going to tell you, with all of these tens of thousands of people who have gone through Your Best Year Ever course over the years, we have seen some incredible goals accomplished that when people set them certainly were not realistic. They had no idea how they were going to accomplish them, yet they did it, and they’re better for it. Now they’ve gone on to even bigger and better things.

Michael: Let me just ask this question here. Again, the R in SMARTER doesn’t stand for realistic. In our framework, it stands for risky. By the way, the E stands for exciting. We have seven attributes of a well-formed goal. The goal has to be exciting. If the goal is not exciting to you, then you’re also not going to have the motivation to complete it. And that motivation can’t come externally from somebody else. It has to be something that wells up within. It’s something that gets you out of bed in the morning and something you really want.

The R stands for relevant. We don’t have time to get into all this today, but it needs to fit in your season of life. It needs to be congruent with your values. It needs to be congruent with the other goals you have. So, those three ways in which it’s relevant. To go back to risky for a minute, what is a goal you’re proud of accomplishing that substantially changed your life?

Megan: This year, one of the things I decided to do… Actually, this goal is not accomplished yet. It’s very close to being accomplished, but it’s not completely accomplished yet. That’s because at the time of this recording we are at the end of November, not yet at the end of December, so I’ll have to follow up at some point. But I set a really big financial goal for the company this year. In fact, I did it in April. That may sound like, “Wait. Do you remember what was happening in April? Why would you do that?”

The reason I did it is I wanted our team to feel like they had a stretch goal to rally around that was a reminder that we were not victims of the COVID-19 crisis, that whatever was happening externally, we still had control within our sphere of influence and we were going to exercise it to the full extent. Right now, we are projecting dramatically ahead of our original budget for the year, and we’re on track to make major progress toward that goal, and I think we’ll hit it.

One of the things that was really interesting about setting that goal is that… This was true for me, and it was also true for our entire executive team and even our larger team. We had to become somebody different on the way to that goal than we started out. There was no way the leader I was on whatever date I set that goal…April 15, let’s say…was the leader who was going to be able to accomplish that. I had to grow in order to be able to be in a position to deliver that goal. The same is true for my executives. The same is true for the rest of our team.

I think that is one of the most compelling reasons to set goals outside of your comfort zone that are truly risky. They call something out of us that would otherwise never be demanded and we would never push ourselves to do except that we’ve put ourselves on the line in some way. There’s something to lose if we don’t accomplish it; therefore, we’re going to push ourselves harder than we would normally and we can achieve something that ordinarily would be impossible.

Michael: That’s a great example. Awesome. I was trying to think back on my own life and think of a big goal I was proud of that had some element of risk. One of them… I don’t know. This may be a fluke. You tell me what you think. One of the first goals I remember setting was a goal to get married. Not having any prospects in mind, I put a list together of the character qualities and attributes I wanted in a wife. It was a ridiculous list. It felt like pie-in-the-sky, crazy stuff.

I wanted things of my wife that were mostly character things. Like, I wanted somebody who was playful. I wanted somebody who could… This sounds arrogant to say, but keep up with me intellectually, somebody I could have conversations about topics with. I was a philosophy major, and I was really interested in those kinds of things and books, and I wanted somebody who could converse with me on a level that I thought would keep it interesting. I wanted somebody who was affectionate, who would be a good mom. I just had this whole list of things. There were probably 100 things. Megan, I know you had a list similar before you met Joel.

Megan: I did.

Michael: I’ll tell you what was funny. When I met Gail, literally, within the first five minutes, I thought, “I think this is her.”

Megan: Well, I had the exact same experience. I don’t think we’ve ever talked about this before. This is really funny. I did the same thing. I’ve been married almost 12 years. In January it’ll be 12 years. I had been engaged before. It was a really tough breakup on the back side of that, and I was like, “Okay. I’ve got to do something different for the next time. I’ve got to be much clearer about what I want,” because apparently, that was part of the problem previously.

So I made a list, again, of 100 things. I didn’t know you had done that. I think I read it in an O Magazine article, or something, about someone who had done that, and I was like, “Well, what can it hurt?” So, I went for a little retreat, and I got my legal pad out, and I wrote 100 things down. I mean, it was so detailed. It was kind of ridiculous. I had everything on there from “Knows how to dance” to “Wears cowboy boots.” It’s hilarious. You guys are laughing because you know Joel does not wear cowboy boots or know how to dance.

However, he basically checked every other thing on that list, and a lot of it was character stuff too. It was amazing. I remember the first time I met him. We knew each other casually before, but the first time we were together in a more concentrated way, I was like, “This is my husband.” I knew the first time. It was so crazy. From the time we started dating to the time we got married was less than six months. So there you go.

Michael: That’s awesome. Well, we’ve had all kinds of goals throughout our lives. I can think of writing my first book, getting on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Those were literally goals that I read every day and struggled to complete and wondered if they were going to come to pass, and then they did. Starting Michael Hyatt & Company… I remember one of my goals one year was to break a million dollars in sales revenue. It was the second year I was in business.

I thought, “Okay. Now wait a second. So, I’d have to be generating about $100,000 a month in revenue to make that happen.” I remember the exact month it happened, because I called one of my good friends, Robert, and I said, “You’re never going to believe this.” I said, “We did $100,000 in sales revenue this month.” His business was pretty far beyond mine, and he was celebrating with me, high-fiving me. He was so excited about it. I was so excited.

Megan: That’s awesome.

Michael: Looking back on it, from our vantage point (and it’s all relative to wherever you’re at), that seems so small, but it was so significant, and again, it started out as a goal. I took the time to write that down on my annual goals and then watched it, with a lot of hard work, come to pass.

Megan: So, Dad, what would you say to somebody who feels overwhelmed by the thought of setting goals, maybe either because they haven’t done it before or they’ve tried and failed or because, after 2020, honestly, it feels kind of risky to hope that 2021 can be any better?

Michael: Well, first of all, you’re normal. I think that’s how most people feel, and that’s fine. Frankly, it’s not your fault. You probably didn’t take a goal-setting course in school. They don’t teach this in college, sadly. I think it’s one of the greatest technologies, if I can use that term, that has ever been invented for achieving anything. You can go back to the beginning of time. People had aspirations, and over time, those became goals, and people set them on paper, and people saw that they were able to achieve things.

So, it’s not your fault, but there is a simple methodology. Maybe that’s a better word than technology. There’s a simple methodology or framework, and I cover all that in Your Best Year Ever. If you remember how that course started, you came to me back when we wanted to create… I think it was a bonus for our Platform University students. You said, “Dad, you’ve been doing this goal-setting thing for as long as I’ve known you,” which was your whole life. “And I think you ought to distill this, deconstruct it, and teach people how to do what you do.”

That was the first time we shot Your Best Year Ever, because that’s how I approached it. I always said to myself, “How can I make this next year better than the last?” I knew I could only do it by design, not by drift, and that I’d have to be intentional. I wanted to write it down. That had been my practice for a couple of decades. Then you said, “Let’s turn it into a course,” which, over the course of several years, forced us to really dive deep, not just me but our whole writing team, into the research on goal achievement.

So, Your Best Year Ever represents the best distillation of goal-achievement research to make it simple and easy. So, if you’re tempted to be overwhelmed, you don’t have to be. This is a simple framework that anybody can use that can take you from where you are to where you want to be. Now, it may not all happen next year, but you can be in a substantially different place at the end of 2021 than you are today when you’re listening to this episode.

Megan: That’s right. If you’re thinking, “Man, I’ve got to get my hands on that course,” there’s also a virtual live version, so you can either do the course or the live event. Both of those are available at The great thing about it is we walk you through a paint-by-numbers process to set your goals for next year. We’re going to address things like…How do you process the disappointments of 2021? How do you think about the future when it feels like a lot of things are outside of your control? How do you connect with yourself again and dream again about what you really want?

It gets me excited to think about those of you listening and what this could mean for your future to join us in this process of goal setting for 2021. Again, you can go to to find out more about the course and the live event. So, Dad, we’re about at the end of our time today, but I was just wanting to know your thoughts on this. What do you think is at stake in 2021 if we choose to not set goals?

Michael: Well, a lot. The alternative to setting goals is just kind of taking life as it happens. I hope people have a sense that they’re done with that, that they’re tired of waiting on election results, waiting on COVID tests, waiting on the economy to improve, but to realize that we have amazing agency over our lives. The things that really matter we have control of. Not total control. I get that. But we can take more control than we’ve had in the past.

2021 has to begin with an intention. It has to be more than that, though. We have to have clear goals for what we want to achieve in 2021 if it’s going to be better than 2020. It’s my hope and prayer that everybody listening to this will be determined to do that, to stop waiting for this hiatus to be over so they can resume their lives. Look. This hiatus can end when you say so. So, stop drifting. Start designing. Your Best Year Ever is a great place to start. You don’t have to buy it, but we think it’s a wonderful course that will save you time and make it so much easier to set goals that really work in 2021.

Megan: Well, Dad, thank you so much. I think this has been a really practical episode, and I hope it has inspired you guys to get excited again about the new year, about what’s possible in 2021. We look forward to being back with you next week. Until then, lead to win.