12/27/2012 04:29 pm ET Updated Feb 26, 2013

Make Goals and a Vision for 2013, Not Resolutions


In 1984, I lost 140 pounds after 25 years of failed weight loss attempts, and I've kept it off for almost 30 years now. Making New Year's resolutions played a part, but only because I succeeded after I quit making them. I'll explain.

Like many people, I had a long history of making New Year's resolutions, usually about diet and exercise, only to fail almost immediately. Most people have done the same, and we've felt like defeated failures the very first week of the year. It's an awful feeling I know too well from the 25 years I struggled against obesity.

Here's my advice: Don't make resolutions, which are promises to do or not do something, ever. Sticking perfectly to your resolution is unlikely, and with most of us, the failure causes us to say "the heck with it" and give up trying all together. Instead, sit down and write out your hopes and goals for your life, and then for the year. Clearly envision, with precise language, what you'd really have happen, if you could figure out how to make it happen. What have you got to lose? You won't be any worse off if they don't happen.

I personally know of and teach the incredible, almost mystical power of having written goals. I lead counseling clients through a detailed training process in goals orientation and visioning that yields almost miraculous results.

I was pretty much an undisciplined wreck as a young person, constantly making vows in the morning to do one thing or another, then losing my motivation and belief by noon most days. I could not follow through on just about anything that didn't feel good, whether it was writing a letter, starting a diet, applying for a job or even doing something as simple as making a phone call. By the time I was 30, I was over 300 pounds, smoking like a chimney, in terrible health and without a college degree, a successful career or the means to live a nice life.

I had to hear the advice to write down my goals for years before I started actually doing it, but when I did (together with using other therapeutic psychogenic techniques) my life changed. In time, I solved my lifetime obesity problem and lost 140 pounds permanently. I not only completed a college education, but I completed graduate school. I became trained and licensed in clinical counseling and psychotherapy and established a successful private practice helping others to solve problems like weight loss. I wrote a successful book about it. Most of these things were not even on the horizon when I first started writing down what I honestly wanted in my life as true goals. I started with my most desired wants and needs and gradually, my life started getting better.

I don't want to suggest that this was all I did to succeed at weight loss and the other accomplishments. There are lots of other pieces of the therapeutic psychogenic mechanism that I used and teach. But writing down your goals is one of the most important, the foundation and starting point that everything else grows from.

You will hear over and over again that you should not make resolutions, and some people will say, "don't set goals." That would be a tragedy. A friend's mother thought that if you didn't hope for too much, you wouldn't be disappointed. However, she didn't hope for much, didn't get much, and she was still disappointed!

You'll also hear that it's a good idea to make resolutions. But that sets you up for an almost certain sense of failure when you break your vow. That results in a loss of hope and a reluctance to try again. I agree that making resolutions is a bad idea, but I think writing down your goals is absolutely necessary if you want your life to get better.

When I wrote down my goals, it's not like they all came true overnight. I'd make goals for this year, this month, this week and today. Most days, weeks and months I only made some progress, sometimes none. But I started getting better. And look what happened! The year I started writing out goals, things got better, and one year has been better than the last. What if that started happening for you?

So forget about making resolutions, especially to stick to a diet. Everybody says, "I know what I need to do, I just can't do it." I guarantee, you don't know. What you need to know is not about diets and exercise routines. It's about your mind and how to retrain it.

You can make your life better. It starts with a vision of what you'd like it to be, a picture with the details described: goals. Start writing them down. You'll be surprised what can happen.

For more by William Anderson, MA, LMHC, click here.

For more on weight loss, click here.