It’s a new year, and you’re ready to do things differently. Ready to start afresh. So, naturally, you make a New Year’s resolution or two. This time, in the hope that at least one of them makes it past February.
It makes sense that we use a new year to set resolutions. After all, our brains seem to love that transition from one time point to another to start something new.
Perhaps you’re already wondering if there's any point in making resolutions. And all this "new year, new you" hype makes you cringe. After all, what became of the resolutions you set last year? You can’t break a resolution you never made, right?
While this is technically correct, we mustn't get caught up in all-or-nothing thinking, so how about we get better at setting goals?
This post is split into thee parts:
The difference between goals and resolutions
Resolutions tend to be less thought out and vague. You set them at the start of the year, and it’s quite open-ended as to how you go about keeping them. Whereas goals are more action oriented and specific. You need to make a plan and have a clear idea of what the outcome will be. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that resolutions are pointless. They come from a place of wanting things to change for the better. However, setting a resolution without having a plan of action is, in my opinion, pointless. What I’m proposing is that you use your resolution as a starting point. Maybe you want this year to be the year that you stop obsessing about how much you weigh. That’s great, but how would one actually go about that? With more focused exploration, you’ll probably unearth a goal that sounds different from the original resolution. But the goal is likely to give you more clarity on how you can work towards that same desire.
Resolutions can be so tempting for those of us who often get caught up in black-and-white thinking. They are all or nothing by nature. So once the resolution has been broken, what do we tend to do? Whereas goals encourage us to evaluate and monitor our progress.
4 ways to make your goals stick
The first thing is to make sure the goal is based on something that is important to you. Understanding your "why" is what is going to keep you going on the days where you feel stuck or demotivated.
Secondly, make the goal SMART. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. SMART goals encourage you to think about the goals you’re setting. For example, if I set myself the goal of writing more blog posts in 2023, I would need to think SMART.
Specific: Which blog posts am I referring to? For my blog? Guest blog posts? Do I mean just any blogs or are there specific topics I’d like to focus on?
Measurable: How many blog posts am I aiming for? How long are these blog posts?
Attainable: Am I asking myself to do something that is doable for me? Goals can challenge us but we need to be able to figure out a way to achieve them. Going after a goal haphazardly is akin to getting into a car and driving until you get somewhere. Sure, you’ll definitely get somewhere, but wouldn’t it be more helpful if you reached a destination of your choice?
Relevant: Why would I write these blog posts? Is this a priority? Where does this goal fit in with my future aspirations or desires?
Time-bound: When do I want to complete this? Daily, weekly, monthly? Am I doing this for the next 3 months? A year?
Once the goal has gone through the SMART process, it might look more like this: write, edit, and publish one blog post of at least 500 words for my website every Sunday.
Thirdly, try not to overwhelm yourself with too many goals at once. Focusing on too many things will just dilute your attention. Pick out one or two goals that are based on things that are most important to you. That way, you can devote all of your time and energy to them.
Break down larger goals into smaller goals if that makes you feel more at ease.
Lastly, write your goals down. Writing your goals down helps you to visualise and remember them. Think about a time when you needed to remember something really important. You probably wrote it down somewhere. Whether it was a key point from a meeting, course notes, or even the need to remember that you must take your food out of the office refrigerator before you leave work. You will scrawl it somewhere, usually in a way that only you understand.
Writing your goals gets them out of your head and puts them somewhere you can easily revisit them. Would you be more likely to work toward your goals if you read them regularly? In fact, that’s a good litmus test for whether a particular goal is something you really want. You’d be able to "look it in the eye" every day until you achieved it (or at least weekly).
Journal prompts for goal setting
Journal prompts can help challenge the robustness of your goals. This is why New Year’s resolutions fall by the wayside. We often set them when our motivation is high and rarely give them much thought beyond "I want to change this." I think it’s a great place to start. However, with enough exploration and reflection, we can get a better understanding of what we can do to make our goals stick. Taking them from the surface to something that we work towards until their completion.
Here are some of my favourite prompts for goal setting.
31+ journal prompts to help formulate your goals:
What life lessons did I learn last year? Try to name at least three.
What would I like to do more of this year? Think about the different areas in your life. Perhaps some areas have been neglected.
What would I like to do better this year? What skills would I like to build?
If I could focus on one or two goals, what would they be? Check and describe what makes these goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound (SMART).
How can I break these goals down into smaller goals? Smaller goals can also be SMART.
What are the first 3–5 steps I can take to work towards my goal?
Is there a resolution that I keep setting that I could reframe as a SMART goal?
What would I need to do less of to achieve my goals?
What would I need to do more of to achieve my goal?
What keeps me motivated? Am I willing to pursue this goal regardless of wealth or external validation?
What will I need to remind myself of when I feel like giving up? Explain why this goal is important to you.
What limiting beliefs will I need to let go of in order to achieve my goals? How far back do these beliefs go? How can I reframe these thoughts so that I can work towards moving past them?
What old patterns are keeping me stuck? What are some small changes I can make to create new patterns?
What resources do I already have that can help me achieve my goals? Is there anyone I can ask for help or accountability?
Do I know anyone who has achieved this or a similar goal? What can I learn from their journey? What characteristics or qualities does this person hold that I admire? You don’t have to know them in real life.
What can I do to make achieving this goal fun? I’m thinking milestone rewards and sticker charts (it's never too late to have one of these).
Think of a time you fell short on a goal. When did you realise things weren’t going according to plan? What could you have done to change this? Was there anything else that anyone else could have helped you with? Were there things you did that helped you? Describe what you learned from that experience and how it has made you more resilient today.
Think of a time that you achieved a goal. Write about it in detail. How did it feel when you realised you had completed it? What obstacles did you need to overcome? What did you do when you felt stuck? What were the key things that you did consistently to achieve this goal? Describe what parts of that experience give you confidence today.
How will I know I’m on the right track? Describe it in detail.
What are the little things I can do to contribute towards my goal when life gets in the way? Are there any low effort tasks you could think of?
What are the signs that I need to take a break or slow down?
What self-care practises can I use to help keep the balance?
How does the idea of not meeting my goal make me feel? What internal and external resources do I have to help me navigate those feelings?
What fears come to mind when I think about accomplishing my goals? What words would I offer a friend or loved one who had these same fears?
What would be the best way to divide my time so that I can balance working towards my goals with spending time with loved ones and having fun without sacrificing my mental or physical well-being?
What are my strengths? Write about things you feel you do well, or perhaps someone has said you do really well. Maybe you’re very resourceful, organised or reliable. How might your strengths help you achieve your goals?
What is really going well at the moment? What are you thankful for? This can be any area of your life.
What quotes, affirmations, or mantras can I use to help motivate me towards my goal? Decoratively write them out.
What ways can I show myself more self-compassion? No matter where you are in achieving your goals, you always deserve self-compassion.
How does taking action help me cultivate more self-confidence? What else do you gain from taking action?
What goals am I holding onto that no longer align with my values or vision of my future?
You now have lots of journal prompts to help you set meaningful goals. You may not need all of them. Start with one or two for now, give them a try. You can always come back and do more. The most important thing is that you make a start!
Want to take your goal setting to the next level this year? Download your free 10-page goal setting printable workbook.