Setting goals: Advice from Elder John A. Widtsoe still relevant more than a century later

By Caresa Alexander

Deseret News

Published: Monday, Jan. 2 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

Members of the BYU Board of Trustees on commencement day 1933. From (L to R) BYU President, Dr. Franklin S. Harris, Church President, Heber J. Grant, Church counselor Anthony W. Ivins, Senator and Member of the Council of Twelve, Reed Smoot, David O. McKay, later President of the Church and John A. Widtsoe, both members of the Council of Twelve. Deseret News Archives

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Every year millions of people resolve to do a little better than the previous year. Gyms are frequented more often, fresh fruit and vegetables are purchased and even scripture study increases. But sometimes those good intentions may result in resting treadmills, spoiled food and dusty books.

It has been said that a goal not written is just a wish. Perhaps the lack of planning is one reason that resolutions are not kept. Life, some say, just gets in the way and many become discouraged when their New Year's resolutions become memories. But life is what you make of it, and a life centered on Jesus Christ will result in a life of achievements.

"Realizing that happiness in life is only obtained by having a pure heart, a clear conscience; and fearing the Lord and keeping his commandments I lay down the following regulations by which I shall try to conduct my life hereafter; to which end may the Lord Almighty, my Creator, help me."

These are the words of 19-year-old John A. Widtsoe, who would later become an apostle. More than 100 years ago, he penned 17 resolves that served him well throughout his life. These regulations are still relevant today as we plan our lives and use our time wisely.

John Andreas Widtsoe was born in Norway in 1872 to John A. Widtsoe and Anna Karine Gaarden. After the death of her husband in 1878, Anna Widtsoe moved young John and her newborn baby boy to Trondheim to be near relatives.

It was there that Anna joined the LDS Church and in 1884, she and her sons migrated to Logan, Utah. At the age of 17, John enrolled at Brigham Young College in Logan and he graduated in 1891. On Jan. 1 of that year, he wrote the following on lined paper:


"1st. That religion, the science of sciences, be made my chief concernment throughout life.

"2nd. That I will daily pray to God in secret.

"3rd. That I will daily reflect upon God and his attributes and try to become like him.

"4th. That I will receive Light, Wisdom or Knowledge, wherever or however it may be offered.

"5th. That I never be ashamed to acknowledge my principles, beliefs and religion when I once become fully convinced of their correctness.

"6th. That I never lose one moment of time but improve it.

"7th. That I maintain strict temperance in eating and drinking.

"8th. That I never do anything that I would not do were it the last hour of my life.

"9th. That I daily read the word of God, that I may learn his will and that I may be comforted, strengthened and encouraged by so doing.

"10th. That in any narrations I speak nothing but the pure and simple verity.

"11th. That I always do that which I think is my duty and for the best good for my fellow beings.

"12th. That I live with all my might while I do live, that I may not die a living death.

"13th. That I never by word or manner try to force my opinions on others but that I simply state them and offer my arguments against others!

"14th. That I seek to overcome the habit of being quick tempered, loud speaking, impatient motions and whatever might offend my fellowmen and hurt me.

"15th. That I never for a moment forget my duty towards my mother, she who has made me who I am and who will make what I will become, she who has spent the better portion of her life in my behalf and to whom I owe all the honor, respect, and affection that I can give; also that I always remember my duties toward my brother and all my friends and relations.

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