Skylar Hom

A new year comes with a fresh outlook on life, which is often considered one of the greatest benefits of the upcoming year. One of the most common traditions with this spirit in mind are New Year’s resolutions. We are inspired to change things that we perhaps feel dissatisfied about with our current lives, and bring an attitude of change into the new year.

New Year’s resolutions are remarkable. We become aware of a certain wish we have and imagine our future as being, having, or doing a certain thing that we perceive ourselves as not having now. When that desire is identified, we then vow to behave or think in a way that is different from our current selves. Just the fact that we are able to come up with these resolutions is a huge feat.

However, it is also commonly known that New Year’s resolutions do not often come to fruition. Even with the thought and care that we put into self-improvement, New Year’s resolutions often remain unreached.

The truth is that a New Year’s resolution at its core is simply a goal, just like any other goal made at any other time of the year. Goal setting is an extremely difficult task which involves many steps and mental hurdles. It is completely understandable that we have difficulty reaching our goals, even if we have the motivation to do so. The following article aims to lay out the goal setting process to help make your New Year’s resolution more attainable, as well as inspire you to continue with your goals.

Step 1: Come up with your resolution

The most vital step to make an achievable goal is to come up with a clear and specific goal. Many goals lack specificity. An uncertain goal is difficult to achieve for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is difficult to track progress on a goal that is not clearly defined. It is also easier to lose motivation and interest with a goal that has no end in sight. As such, stating a clear goal is essential for proper goal setting.

One way to set goals follows the SMART criteria:

S – Specific (or Significant)

M – Measurable (or Meaningful)

A – Attainable (or Action-Oriented)

R – Relevant (or Rewarding)

T – Time-bound (or Trackable)

It is good to include all these aspects in your goal. It might be helpful to think of your goal as a sentence rather than a short phrase of one or two words. For example, an inefficient goal may be to “read more books”. A much more powerful goal would be:

“I want to read at least one book every month in 2020”.

This goal has a clear and attainable sequence of steps. If one book is read in the month of January, then the individual has reached their goal for that month. It is difficult to quantify when the goal of “read more books” has been achieved.

Another important aspect to remember is to set realistic goals within realistic timeframes. While a goal to read 500 books is obtainable, it is likely not obtainable in one year. When setting lofty goals, it is important to also set an appropriate time frame.

Step 2: Break up your goal into smaller goals

The idea of reading one book a month helps with motivation. A smaller and easier to achieve victory helps with obtaining the end goal. While it also helps to have a clear end goal, coming up with steps to achieve on the way to the final goal provides direction and structure to the goal achieving process.

One way to come up with these steps is to make temporal goals. A temporal goal is one that is to be completed by a certain time. For example, making an optimal goal to achieve for the end of each month, can not only help structure goals at equal distances from each other, but is also easy to remember.

Step 3: Stay motivated
This is likely the most difficult step to maintain. Motivation to continue striving towards one’s New Year’s resolution is very easily lost, and there are a couple primary reasons why.

1. The all-or-nothing mentality

This black-and-white thinking is particularly characteristic of New Year’s resolutions. With the start of the new year, it is easy to consider the entire cause lost after one setback. For example, not reading one book during the month of January feels as though the entire plan has failed. When failure happens, we are quick to give up. The new year has not started as it should have, and now there is no need to continue trying to maintain a change.

While this is an easy mentality to assume, it also is not conducive to meeting your goals. Not only is it unhelpful for meeting your goals, but it is also a harsh way of considering your own actions. Failure is something we all experience in our lives, in both small and big ways.

It is important to appreciate one’s own efforts. Even if you did not meet your goal, the effort you put in to do so is still worth commendation. It is also likely that you still achieved progress towards your goal, despite not actually reaching it.

2. Losing interest

It is common to begin losing interest in topics we once found interesting. It is a natural process. When it comes to achieving our goals, however, this tendency can become troublesome. In order to combat it, it is good to make a habit of thinking about your resolution fairly frequently. How frequently is up to you, but an example could be once a day. 

Even with the dawn of 2020 behind us, it is never too late to make a New Year’s resolution. Goal setting does not have to start at a certain time — the best day is today.

Remember to challenge yourself with your goals, but most importantly be kind to yourself. Celebrate your achievements and reflect on times when you failed to achieve your goals. If you find yourself without goals at the moment, that is fine too. There is always time to figure out your goals!

MindTools: “Personal Goal Setting”