Achievable Resolutions

To Plan, Decide, and Act to Achieve, Improve, Solve, Change, Transform

I developed this 7-Step Method to help my seminar students who often set the same “New Year Resolution” year after year. Both they and I have done better identifying priorities and taking action.

7 Steps to Set a Resolution that increase your chance of success:

If you answer these seven questions as an outline for your plan, you will boost likelihood of success. You will better internalize the results you seek and why you should follow through, plus have a plan that helps you invest enough time to give you a chance to succeed. Research—mine and others—suggests over 50% of people quit on resolutions, most within one month.

  1. Mission (Purpose)
  2. Vision & Goals (Desired Results)
  3. Solutions (Strategy that could work if implemented)
  4. Motivation (Results if you succeed, if you quit, why you should persevere)
  5. Choice (Decision on if the resolution results are worth the time and resources)
  6. Systems and Structures for Success (Create automatic actions for success)
  7. Assessment and Accountability (Integrity and feedback)

Main reasons for failing:

  1. Lose focus on the result, benefit, and commitment felt at the time of setting the resolution. There is science behind the benefit of writing your resolution result and plan plus reading regularly to remember and internalize.
  2. Never truly get started because they do not plan for the hours and times to invest, which includes appointments with self and others, plus identifying what to reduce to make time for the new priorities. If you need 5-10 hours per week to get something done and do not plan for or implement that time commitment, most fail and often never know why. This often requires new habits or at least re-defining balance for awhile. An Olympic athlete or a working professional going back to school at night for a few years usually chooses to invest more time in the bigger goal and less time in less important activities like excessive tv, social media, or hanging out (note: “excessive” because some of those can be good unless it gets excessive and shifts from good renewal to excessive escapism). The average person spends over 20 hours weekly watching tv—the dedicated Olympian or parent going to school to make a better life makes better choices—at least until the resolution is completed.

Stories of Succeeding using this Method:

Writing books. Col. Stretch Dunn (USA Retired, 1943-2017) and I wrote two books, Professionalism Under Stress and Patriotism in Action, on time and budget using my 7 Step Method. We used the plan template to outline what we wanted to do, why, and how, then decided together and signed the accountability partner agreement. If you want to keep a promise, ask a West Point graduate trained in doing “the harder right” to be your partner😊. If you have a big enough “why” and internalize the importance to you and others you value, plus outline a plan with potential to succeed, then persist, you can do most anything.

Graduating school. I finished my doctoral dissertation and graduated a year faster than most in my class mainly because I realized early on I needed to invest more hours in the main thing that final year–research and writing on my dissertation. Like most students, I felt motivated and busy though an honest assessment of how I was spending my time motivated me to make changes in time priorities that made the difference.

Stopping bad habits. A grandmother attended my weekend workshop. She confessed, she had tried to quit smoking for years. Question 4 helped her finally succeed: Motivation. She wanted to live to see her grandchildren graduate school. I suggested she post a photo of her grandchildren on her mirror and ask daily, which is most important: “my grandchildren or my cigarettes?” She grinned at the suggestion, paused, thought, agreed, then she quit smoking. She internalized her big “why” and that made the difference.

This and more content are provided for you in the planbook. To see or print a complimentary copy of the planbook you can use to outline your goals for the 7 Areas of Life, plus plan an achievable resolution:

7 Steps to Set Achievable Resolutions

Courage to Dream

Many of us hold back, sometimes unconsciously, on pursuing dreams–because of fear. We sometimes dwell on possible negative outcomes like failure or embarrassment.

Seminar students often say, they stay in their “comfort zones” too much because of “what people might think” if they tried something special. They also admit they hesitate instinctively when seeking goals outside their comfort zones.

When that happens, we need a bigger vision, a “why” to expand thinking, actions, and expectations. When we expand expectations of ourselves, that expanded vision becomes part of our new comfort zone, which our instincts will strive to fulfill.

Fear of embarrassment is a self-induced barrier. We sometimes let the fear of what people will think if we try and fail hold us back. But, the truth often is, they likely admire us more if they see our courage to try and persist through adversity. 

What percentage of the time will you succeed if you do not try? 

Consider the people you admire–they likely have tried, failed, and kept trying to fulfill ideas in which they believe, even if others could see their flaws and failures. You likely admire their courage. Success stories usually include recollections of desire and dedication–not successes at goals requiring little effort or risk.

Follow the example of those you admire. Allow yourself to try and sometimes fall short as you give yourself more chances to succeed as well as grow capacity in courage and commitment.

Just do your best, learn and improve from failures and successes, and enjoy the freedom that comes with courage.

May you PLAN and LEAD your LIFE and share with others. –David

Source: adapted from an excerpt in Suggestions for Successful Living: Positive Ideas for the 7 Areas of Life by Dr. David Dyson (1994). Author web site:

Definite Purpose+Burning Desire

“There is one quality which one must possess to win, and that is definiteness of purpose, the knowledge of what one wants, and a burning desire to possess it.”

Napoleon Hill, author of The Law of Success and Think and Grow Rich

To identify one’s calling not only provides greater clarity on purpose but also gives us a greater sense of calling, which means better inspiration, direction, action, and, more likely, results. Planning should be more than to do lists and long-range plans. The process of planning can help us identify our purposes.

Plans help us improve “definiteness of purpose” and “knowledge of what one wants” plus adds fuel to our “burning desire.” Once we understand our purposes and possible results while creating the vision, we will be more likely to persevere and less likely to let disappointments hold us back.

Investing 1% of our time in planning adds significance to the other 99%. The 1% can help us focus on better priorities and feel more inspiration to take action.

Napoleon Hill, as a young journalist interviewing Andrew Carnegie, learned common denominators of doing our best exist, make a difference when learned and implemented, and should be taught at home and school, as well as places of work and worship. Often they were not taught or used (in many schools and other key places, still not taught, which we can fix). Plan for School and Life Initiative

Carnegie saw Hill was inspired and offered to introduce him to scores of the world’s most prolific people, including U.S. presidents, business leaders, and scientists such as Thomas Edison.  Hill studied and compiled their common denominators into a list of principles and practices published in essays and books.

If you read more of Hill’s work, you will see his emphasis on writing your “definite purpose” and internalizing it as a key to building desire and action. This process and plan can become a great source of motivation, habits, accountability, and results.

My research and coaching affirms, people with an “A” awareness of calling and choices are much more likely to demonstrate “A” level of “courage” and “commitment.” Without a plan, courage, commitment, and confidence average “C” level, which holds people and their organizations back. In most cases,”A” or “B” is attainable and should be developed.

I first read Hill’s books as a college student in a summer job selling Bibles door-to-door. The ideas plus the summer experience planted the seeds of my calling to help people learn and use best-self leadership. Hill’s work influenced mine and is a reason why I emphasize so much to students, professionals, and families alike that we should write plans to help us discover purpose, focus, and internalize what’s most important.

May you Plan and Lead your Life, David

Daily Questions to Inspire You

  1. Did I make someone a hero today?

  2. Would our Lord say, “well done my good and faithful servant…?”

  3. Would my mama be proud?

Col. Stretch Dunn (USA Retired) asked himself these three questions at the end of the day to help make sure he stayed on the right path. He spoke of them when mentoring others and at annual Life Leaders seminars designed to help people improve plans for life. He asked his wife, Joan, to help him be accountable to “be, know, and do” as his best-self.

Most years for two decades during the Life Leaders Plan for Life Seminar he shared his updated page of goals for the 7 Areas of Life so others might benefit from this annual ritual and to help “hold him accountable” privately for what he stated publicly. For actions he considered extra special, such as some of those that led him toward his three questions, he called them “rituals” because they took on even more significance than “habits.”

Joan helped me confirm the updated list of questions he was using at the end of his life. He had edited the list over time, adding the second question. He also believed in a concept called “The Harder Right” that he used on his list a decade or so earlier.

Professionalism Front CoverAfter the “911” attacks on America, when Stretch and I were writing Professionalism Under Stress (about common denominators of true professionalism in college, combat, corporate life…), he told me of “The Harder Right” and its roots for him at West Point.

The core message: take the ethical action even when our instincts tell us this option will be “harder” and we may “lose” short-term.

When we do the harder right, such as admit a mistake or take ownership for paying restitution even when we could “get away with it” we usually benefit instead of lose. Our integrity gets stronger and our trust with others gets stronger because they see us tell the truth and take fair action even when it’s “harder” to do so. Many citizens and corporations, even leaders in the public office tend to “distance themselves” or “protect themselves” from bad results. In case studies on major disasters, companies and individual leaders who admit the problems and take action to fix the problems with accountability usually lose profits short-term as they pay restitution though long-term gain market share and trust in the marketplace resulting in positive gains.

The United States Military Academy (West Point) believes in “The Harder Right” and include the term in the “Cadet Prayer.” This takes a stand and increases the chances of internalizing ethical action by making it a habit to cite the concept as part of the prayer.

West Point Cadet Prayer:

“Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong”

Why Questions of Assessment Help

Why should we assess our actions? A principle of leadership and management is, “what gets measured tends to gets repeated.” At the very least, if we have a target and internalize it we are more likely to aim and have a better chance of hitting “bulls eye.” Another principle of management science is to identify and do those practices that “increase probability ” for us to fulfill the mission.

Stretch wrote, reviewed, stated intent, and updated regularly his Goals for the 7 Areas of Life, his Big 3 Questions, and his Mission and Vision for Marriage with Joan. Because of these rituals, he was more likely to aim at and succeed at making others “heroes,” being a “good and faithful servant,” and making his “mama proud.”

Motivating question that may influence whether a person will take action on this article: Are goals like these or the people who would be affected important enough to you to make it worth a few minutes of your time daily to write a vision or questions and assess if you took action? 

One more step we can take to make plans, actions, and results better

Plan how we can answer the questions positively. If we are going to answer important questions, we can do better if we outline plans for our time and action aimed at creating positive answers. For each question, outline a goal and action to create desired results.

For example:

  1. Help someone: one idea is to keep on your calendar a daily appointment with yourself to call someone and offer to help. If like Stretch, you can ask, “How can I make you a hero?” or “What can I do for you, Sir?” Or, you can just do something for someone you believe is needed. [It’s good to confirm what we think adds values is actually valued by the person important to us.] Your action could mean either a one minute call or a longer block of time to add value for them by “lightening their load” through service or “encouraging their perseverance” on one of their resolutions.
  2. Be a good and faithful servant: part of the core of “faithful” is to identify and fulfill our callings, gifts, and talents. When we Pray. Listen. Act. Now. (PLAN) on our callings as well as our choices, we become better stewards of our faith.
  3. Do the harder right: for many, increased awareness of instincts when you feel pressure of possible embarrassment or other loss and how you believe your best-self should respond will improve behavior. Challenging “why” you do certain things can help you stop doing bad habits that may have been taught to you by well-intentioned adults or you may have adopted as habits from peers when immature. If never challenged, bad habits can live on even for well-intentioned adults. When you have a seemingly tough choice to make, imagining a special person “watching you” can help you do the harder right and form good habits until your personal integrity gets strong enough to guide you automatically.
  4. Make your mother (or someone else important) proud of you: as we plan intentions and assess actions, a partner or board can often inspire us to improve ourselves more so than the motivation for personal gain. In addition to parents, people often choose accountability partners, children, or other family members as sources of motivation.

Principles and Best Practices Supporting these Suggestions

My best practices for Best-Self Leadership 1-3, tested and taught since 1987:

  1. Lead Your Life
  2. Plan for Life
  3. Have an Impact. 

Dr. Stephen Covey’s Habits 1-3 in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

  1. “Be Proactive”
  2. “Begin with the end in mind”
  3. “First Things First.”

Both sets of practices and habits suggest we can do better if we decide to take action, envision desired results, let that vision inspire and guide goals and actions, and assess if we are having impact with priorities.

Personal Application Example

I took inspiration from Stretch, used his list, and adapted my own. I share it here in case two examples may serve you better:

  1. Did I help a person and an animal live better today?
  2. Did I improve my ability and attitude to help others?
  3. Did I Pray. Listen. Act. Now. (PLAN) for my callings and choices?
  4. Did I improve my plan for life?
  5. Did I live my priorities?
  6. Did I do my best joyously?
  7. Did I make my family proud?

Three questions are easier to internalize. Or, after you develop your seven you could summarize into your Big 3 to remember and share with others more readily.

Have an Impact

Stretch’s upbringing with parents Lieutenant General Carroll Dunn (USA Retired) and Retha Dunn, education at the U.S. Military Academy (West Point ’66), and training in the US Army influenced him greatly. He intentionally planned for and took action to live the core teachings of his parents and honor the “code” of West Point. He invited his wife, Joan, to give feedback on his stated “intent” and be an accountability partner for his actions.  If we do these things, we will come closer to “walking our talk.”

Question for those who want to walk our talk: are we planning for life, leading our lives, and living our priorities focused on the people and principles we say are most important?

Thanks Stretch for helping people to adopt ways to lead our lives closer to our best-selves.


Stretch died unexpectedly this 2017. We honor our friendship and lessons learned with him by sharing positive principles and practices with you and those important to you. We invite you to subscribe or support if you value this article or the 7 Callings we serve.

To learn more of Stretch Dunn

To learn more of Life Leaders

To recommend or request:




10 Habits Of Mentally Strong People

 I read this article about “mentally strong” with interest for two reasons: the habits align with best practices and lessons written by Col. Stretch Dunn and me in our book Professionalism Under Stress; and, my colleague and friend of 25 years, Stretch, died unexpectedly a few days ago. The reminders of demonstrating “grit” when you don’t feel like it encouraged me today so I share them with you.

Habits of mentally strong people (summarized from the article):

1. You have to fight when you already feel defeated.

2. You have to delay gratification.

3. You have to make mistakes, look like an idiot, and try again—without even flinching.

4. You have to keep your emotions in check.

5. You have to make the calls you’re afraid to make.

6. You have to trust your gut.

7. You have to lead when no one else follows.

8. You have to focus on the details even when it makes your mind numb

9. You have to be kind to people who are rude to you.

10. You have to be accountable for your actions, no matter what.

You are invited to read the article expanding the habits by Dr. Travis Bradberry

May you Plan and Lead your Life as your best-self.


P.S. Focus now on your priority callings and relationships.

Thanks, Stretch, for showing so many people what it takes to be a “true professional.”


Cowboy Up + Hard Work + True Professionalism = GRIT

2017-01-27-11_03_47-photos2017-01-27-11_06_53-photosProfessionalism Front Cover

Lead your Life is the #1 best practice to Plan and Lead our Lives (1 of 7).

Is your Mindset optimistic and action-oriented or do you feel entitled or defeated?

Is your instinctive response to tough situations: complain or think solutions?

Most of the time, to change our results, we need to improve or even change the way we think. Those who envision, write plans, and mentally rehearse do better.

My resolutions include at least one for developing my capacities. How about you?

May you Plan and Lead in Life, David

Shepherd and Sheep Dog: are you ready to be both?

Sheep Dogs Life Leaders.png

Highlights from the Life Leaders seminar on “Sheep, Shepherds, and Sheep Dogs–When and How to be all 3” led by Col. Stretch Dunn (USA Ret):

Most people are born as sheep. Far too many remain as sheep–productive when they need to be though often get themselves in trouble and often do not help fellow sheep. Sheep need shepherds to plan for them and protect them.

Shepherds need sheep dogs to help take care of the sheep.

Most of us will find times when we need to be sheep dogs to protect. It might be as military, first-responder, or a home invasion. It more likely will be providing emotional, spiritual, or financial protection when a predator is taking advantage.

The call to prepare to be shepherds and sheep dogs is a call to altruism–to care more about others instead of just be a sheep, or worse, a wolf in sheep’s clothing (preying on others).

We are called to be sheep dogs–and to mentor more sheep dogs–while remembering who is our Shepherd. The speaker and group agreed, “The Lord is my shepherd….”

We can develop as better shepherds and sheep dogs by thinking about the needs of those close to us, writing one or more ways we could be better or do better. We might need to listen better, encourage more, or take better care of ourselves physically and emotionally to set an example. Look in the mirror, you will see ways you want to improve and inwardly hear how you could watch out for others and be there when they need you.

Col. Dunn co-authored with me Professionalism Under Stress: 7 Lessons for Professionalism, Stress, and Gunfighting in Military and Civilian Life where some of the ways we can prepare for the call to serve are mentioned–

Professionalism Front Cover


Know When and How to be a “Sheep Dog”

Sheep Dogs Life Leaders

People tend to be born–and many continue–to live with the mindset of sheep. They need to be fed and protected or they may die. Sometimes, it’s fine to be sheep–eating, sleeping, being part of a herd. Sometimes, we need to be Sheep Dogs–the one or one of those who accepts the call to serve, protect, lead, or provide for others.

Many think first of our military and first responders, which is good. They are protectors and they provide service and sacrifice. We should also think of leaders in families, communities, and places of work and worship.

For the veteran or civilian who has chosen alcohol or narcotics or anger to cope with PTSD, moral injury, or other pain, the inner “Sheep Dog” can come out and develop to take care of self better to boost capacity to care for others. The enemy of our loved ones is not always a predator or terrorist–sometimes the “Goliath” we need to “Master” is within our choices.

Part of our purpose on this planet is to Plan and Lead in Life as our best-selves. 

Life Leaders is hosting a public service seminar in the Birmingham Area to help us know better when and how to be a Sheep Dog, led by Col. Stretch Dunn (USA Ret), co-author of Professionalism Under Stress: Lessons for Professionalism, Stress, and Gunfighting in Military and Civilian Life (Dunn & Dyson).

Life Leaders hosts monthly events focused on Planning for the 7 Areas of Life, Best-Self Leadership, Patriotism in Action, and Freedom to Flourish. And, we provide educational and community development program and project leadership. To receive an invitation or information:

Best Practice 2 for True Professionals

2. Earn empowerment rather than wait for it. Admit that you are more responsible for your performance and career growth than is your supervisor. Identify your desired results and actions in your professional plan. Anticipate what your supervisory leader needs to trust you have earned empowerment. Help your manager serve as a mentor by stating your intent through your plan and seeking coaching. Proactively seek to develop higher levels of trust in your competence and character for the seven levels of empowerment: (1)Tell  (2)Teach  (3)Direct  (4)Coach  (5)Support  (6)Delegate  (7)Empower.

Dyson Empowerment Model Gold

Professionalism Front Cover

The Honor Guard at Arlington prepares and serves even when no one is watching.