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Instead of Setting Goals, Make a To-Be List

Happy new year everyone! With a new year often comes new aspirations for oneself. In the past, I often set goals on things I wanted to DO, like exercise more, read more, meditate more, etc. But in 2021, I learned that the root of our actions is our character, it is what kind of person we ARE. Therefore, rather than making resolutions on what you want to DO this year, try setting resolutions on what kind of person you want to BE this year.

To help you think of some ideas for what kind of person you want to be, consider these three questions:

  1. What were some past goals you had that you didn't stick with? WHY did you set those goals?

  2. Who do you admire? What qualities do you admire about them?

  3. What often makes you unhappy? What quality about yourself or bad habit is the root of that problem?

My Experience

I actually started this process a few months ago, and it's been a life changer for me. I hope my experience can help you with your To-Be List.

#1: What were some past goals you had that you didn't stick with? WHY did you set those goals?

I set a goal for exercising more in the past, but I would stop after a short while. Then I asked myself WHY I wanted to exercise. I realized the reason is because my family worries that I'm too skinny and eating vegan is not healthy. Therefore one item on my To-Be List is filial piety, which means being a good child so that parents and grandparents are happy and proud when they think of me. Exercising was so they didn't need to worry about my health.

But in addition to exercise, there are so many other actions I could do to be filial, such as learning about health (that's why I learned so much about Chinese Medicine in 2021), cooking, giving parents a massage, helping with chores, and calling grandparents. Whenever I do any of these things, I give myself a point for being filial on my To-Be List.

#2: Who do you admire? What qualities do you admire about them?

I admire many people like Jay Shetty, Confucius, Seneca, Dr. Alan Zimmerman, Ray Dalio, and Gretchen Rubin. I realized that all the people I admired were wise teachers and avid learners. They helped others through sharing useful knowledge, and they also walked their talk. Therefore, I added "studious" on my To-Be List.

Being studious is not just about reading more, it's about reading useful things, taking notes on them, publishing articles on them, and walking my talk. Whenever I spend time on any of those things during my day, I get a point for being studious. I used to waste time on mindless entertainment, but after I resolved to be a studious person, I replaced mindless entertainment time with study time instead, and surprisingly, I'm a lot less stressed! I learned that doing meaningful work is much more de-stressing and fulfilling than mindless entertainment.

#3: What often makes you unhappy? What quality about yourself is the root of that problem?

I reflected that my most common source of unhappiness was arguments and conflicts with my mother. That's also why I thought I should meditate more. So I reflected on the root quality of this problem. I realized that the root of my problem is my arrogance and insecurity, which leads to my habit of always trying to prove myself right. If I was humble, I would naturally not argue back. Therefore, I added "humility" onto my To-Be List. If I was able to accept criticisms and complaints from others without arguing back, I got a point. If I argued back, I lost a point. Habit change takes time. At the beginning, there were many times I lost points, but after a few times, I got much better.

In addition to not arguing, humility also involves focusing on other people's good points rather than bad points, so I also praise my mom every day about something good she did that I can learn from. This also improved our relationship greatly.

To-Be List Example

Here is a picture of my To-Be list, which I made in Microsoft Excel.

As you can see on the left, I have a list of 10 virtues that I inspect myself on every day. At the bottom, I gave examples of actions under some virtues. The purple ticks represent comments that I inserted, kind of like a diary entry. I add a comment to each box explaining why I got each point or negative point.

For negative points, I also write down how I will avoid the same mistake next time. For example, I had a negative point under "Calm and Careful", where I wrote, "I was not careful when taking a food sample out of the oven to taste taste, then burned my hand. This was because I was talking to my mom so my attention was split. Next time, only do one thing at a time."

This process of daily self-reflection has really helped me to be more conscious of my thoughts and actions throughout the day rather than being a mindless slave to my old habits. As a result, I have become so much happier, more productive, and harmonious in my relationships!


If you want to change your results, change your actions.

If you want to change actions, change your thinking.

If you want to change your thinking, change your character.

If you want to change your character, make a To-Be List and inspect yourself on it every day.

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