“A person should set his goals as early as he can and devote all his energy and talent to getting there. With enough effort, he may achieve it. Or he may find something that is even more rewarding. But in the end, no matter what the outcome, he will know he has been alive.” – Walt Disney

“I don’t make New Year’s resolutions,” Jane told me. I think it’s stupid.”

“And why is that?” I wanted to know.

“No one ever keeps them,” she said. “And if I want to make a change, I can do it any time. I don’t have to wait till January first.”

I didn’t argue with her. She was pretty much correct. Studies show that most people abandon their resolutions within days of making them. According to Dr. Stephen Kraus, a Harvard-trained social psychologist who has done extensive research on resolutions, only 15 percent of people who make resolutions adhere to them over the long-term. Of the 85 percent who abandon their resolutions, says Kraus, 20 percent break them within a week.

And Jane was right about the timing too. If you want to improve yourself, the best time to start is immediately.

But her conclusion was wrong. Just because most people fail at something doesn’t mean you will.

If 85 percent of people abandon their New Year’s resolutions, that means 15 percent complete them. And when those people succeed, they feel good about themselves. And they put themselves in a position to set and achieve higher-level goals.

Studies show that people who set goals achieve more in life than those who don’t. Those same studies confirm that when people write down their goals and refer to them regularly they achieve even more.

And what does Jane risk by setting new goals for herself this year? Some time. Some effort. But what are the possible rewards? She might accomplish something meaningful. She might improve herself in some significant way.

Jane says she doesn’t believe in making New Year’s resolutions. But what she really means is that she doesn’t believe in setting goals. In the past, she has dreamed about having a better life. And she’s talked about it. But nothing happened. So she chalked it up to fate. “Some people are lucky,” she says. “And some people are not.”

If, like Jane, you believe success is a matter of luck, that means you believe your destiny is out of your control. So you hope for something to “happen” that will change your life for you.

I’m on the other side of this fence. It makes me feel good to believe that I can control my future – to believe that by increasing my knowledge, developing my skills, sharpening my thinking, and ruling my emotions, I can accomplish a great deal. And the only way I know of to do that is to set goals and pursue them, one small step at a time.

Tom and Joe, two young people with the same experience and education, begin working for the same company. Initially, they have the same jobs, the same salaries, and the same perks. Five years later, Tom has become a divisional boss with a salary and perks far beyond those of his old friend Joe. What happened? Tom understood that, more often than not, success in life comes in small degrees – one small accomplishment added to another, gradually, over time.

It’s like building a sand castle. If you amass just enough sand to sustain a single onrush of waves, it will be gone in a few hours. But if you build a larger castle – make the walls higher and thicker and stronger – then you’ll have something to build on the next day.

It won’t look like much in the beginning. Just the half-wrecked foundation of a wall. But with every passing day, it will become more substantial. Eventually, it will be a massive structure – taller, wider, and stronger, by far, than all the other sand castles people have tried to build around it. And yet, it will have been built by a person of equal talents using the same tools. The only difference: the extra effort it took to add something new and better every day.

If, like Joe, you put in just an ordinary amount of effort – the same amount of effort your friends and colleagues are making – your progress in life will continually be eroded by external forces over which you have no control. Every day, you will get up, go to work, and do your best. But at the end of each year, you will look back and realize you’re in the same position you were in at the beginning of the year. You will feel like Jane does: that there’s no point in trying.

But if, like Tom, you are willing to do just a little bit more – to add just a little more sand to your castle every day – you can make progress. It won’t be impressive progress after a week or a month. But by the end of the year, you will be amazed at how much you will have accomplished.

I have made New Year’s resolutions for many years. And for most of those years, I followed through on very few of them. Then, when I started writing about goal setting for ETR in 2000, that changed. My track record shot way up.

Not all of the goals I set for myself are major. But I find that even working on the minor ones helps me have more control over my life – and accomplishing them gives me a feeling of satisfaction.

My track record is much better now, because I have gradually changed the way I think about work, the way I feel about work, and the way I manage my resources – including my time, relationships, skills, knowledge, and finances. I am going to be talking about these changes in a series of essays that will be combined into a book that ETR will publish. It’s tentatively titled How to Master Plan Your New Life.

The first part of the book will focus on setting goals and making resolutions. I will explain the kind of goals I set; why, when, and how I set them; and exactly how I integrate them into my daily work schedule. (It’s going to be the perfect supplement to ETR’s Total Success Achievement Program.)

Meanwhile, I’m hoping that, by taking advantage of the advice you’ll be reading in ETR each day, you will be taking at least one small step forward every week. And I’m hoping that, at the end of the year, you will look back and realize that 2008 was the best and most productive year you’ve ever had.

It’s up to you… so, what are you going to do?

Are you going to put this essay aside, telling yourself, like Jane does, that New Year’s resolutions are “stupid”? Or will you decide that you don’t need to be motivated, that your life is fine as it is? Or will this be the year you humble yourself and say, “Maybe I can do better”?

Make this resolution now. That you will make good use of ETR this year. Resolve now that you will spend five minutes every day scanning it – and that when you come across an article that can be helpful to you, you will read it then or set it aside to read later.

Resolve, too, to read all the essays I’ll be writing on master planning your life. And when something I write encourages you to do more – to put more sand on your castle – take action.

Every day, ETR’s editors will give you one or several ideas that will improve your life – ideas on personal productivity, leadership, diet, fitness, business management, sales, and marketing. And if neither the briefs nor the main article inspire you, there’s always “It’s Good to Know” or “Word to the Wise” for a bit of self-education.

Five minutes a day with ETR. It will pay you back many times over.

The year 2008 can be the healthiest, wealthiest, and wisest year of your life. It starts today. Set your goals.

[Ed. Note: Get a jumpstart on 2008 by signing up for ETR’s Total Success Achievement program. As a member, you’ll get ideas and recommendations on how to set your goals…weekly Power Surge messages from Bob Cox with advice on how to accomplish your goals… bi-monthly teleseminars with Bob and Patrick Coffey… a members-only website full of motivational articles… access to a members-only forum where you can share success strategies with others… and much more.] [Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]

Mark Morgan Ford

Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Wealth Builders Club. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.