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Conscious goal setting: The art of following through with NY resolutions

By Mel (ADAVIC Volunteer)

A lot of people (myself included) have trouble sticking to New Year’s resolutions, even when they have the best intentions.  Resolutions are about setting intent for something you want to change or improve in your life, whereas when you turn that intention into a goal it becomes more of a concrete commitment.  The establishment of a goal is the best way to motivate positive behaviour.  Statistically, goals set as part of New Year’s resolutions are more likely to fail, because they are fuelled by temporary enthusiasm.  However, any goal that is worth the outcome is worth setting now! So, how do you overcome the challenge of achieving goals? 

The key is careful planning and staying motivated.  

Choosing goals:

The first step is creating a vision of what your ideal life looks life.  

What aspects of your life would you like to change or improve? It is best to start by channeling your energy into one area of your life.  Areas that you could choose to focus on could be happiness, health, success, wealth, giving, or growth.  When you have chosen an area, it is time to reflect on what you really want to achieve.   Your goal doesn’t necessarily have to be something that is common or expected of you (e.g. weight loss or to drink less), but choose something that is meaningful and important to you, for example, writing a novel, learning how to dance or planning a trip.  Avoid goals you have tried to achieve in the past, but if you are really set on them make sure you have a fresh approach.  Another tip is to settle on just one goal so you don’t get overwhelmed.  


Now that you have an idea of what you want to achieve it is time to finalise the goal and get planning.  It is important that your goal is clear and concise so that you know exactly what you are setting out to accomplish. However, recent research has suggested that goals are more likely to be successful if they are clear, but not exactly specified.  For example, if your goal is to go running it would be optimal to set a numerical range of 1-3 running sessions per week. If you specify exact numbers then it can be discouraging if you do not achieve that each week, whereas having a range allows you to stay motivated as you can sample information in your favour.  Another example is for a weight loss goal, you wouldn’t pick an exact target of weight to lose but rather a range.  

Another important criterion for your goal is to make sure it is achievable and realistic for the time frame you want to accomplish it by.  Further, in order to track your progress with the goal it is useful if the goal has measurable outcomes.  In the running example it could be distance or running speed, or if you were writing a novel it could be number of pages written.  Being able to measure the outcomes of the goal during this process lets you know how you are going in relation to the big picture and how much to reward yourself.  Finally, it is helpful if the goal can be broken up into stages. When tackling a challenge it is much easier to take things one step at a time, with the sense of achievement at each stage a great motivator for continuing success.   

Following through with goals:

When you begin working towards your goal, the first thing you should do is write it down.  Research conducted on Harvard business students in the late 70s found that only 3% of participants wrote down their goals and ten years later they were earning on average ten times as much as the other 97%.  So don’t hesitate to put your goal down on paper!  Writing your goal down will also hold you accountable to work towards it.  Other research has shown that particularly for women, accountability is one of the factors which influence success when following through with goals. This can involve telling friends, family, or co-workers of your intentions. Another option is to find a partner to do goal related activities with.  Both of these strategies ensure that there is someone to answer to if you fall behind your desired timeline for achieving the goal.  Further, you have social support to help motivate you through challenging times.  

Having a plan for how you will tackle your goal is imperative.  This should include a time frame and associated steps of the goal.  As mentioned earlier, it is much easier to approach a smaller task than one large challenge.  As you achieve each step towards your goal don’t forget to reward yourself, and make sure the reward is appropriate to the gains you have made.  Try to move past negative thoughts or self-doubt and focus on the positives.  If you find yourself stressed by this process, try strategies such as breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, going for a walk or mindfulness so that you can stay on track with your goal.  

Remember that sometimes unexpected things happen which may cause you to fall behind in your timeline.  Have realistic expectations on what you can achieve based on the situation.  It has been suggested from research that men are more likely to have unrealistic expectations of themselves and suffer from a macho attitude.  Visualising the outcomes that you want to make happen is helpful in order to make an action plan.  However, it is important to be flexible and modify goals when needed as things come up (as they inevitably do).  Celebrate all of your successes, but if you don’t meet the original plan be understanding and kind to yourself.  

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and best of luck for any future goal setting endeavours!

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