How to Set Goals for the New Year That You’ll Actually Reach
There’s a good chance that the new year has made you think about how you could improve your life in the following 365 days. Whether or not you set new year’s resolutions, many of us have probably overindulged during the holidays and could use a reset of sorts. That could be setting a health goal, financial goal, working to reduce stress, quit a bad habit, or working on self-improvement in another area of your life.
Before committing to what you’d like to work on in the new year, take the time to look back to see where you’ve been. Acknowledge what you accomplished in the previous year. Some of us may struggle with patting ourselves on the back as we reflect on the previous 12 months, but it’s paramount that you revisit your successes so you can harness those feelings when you plan for the future. Here’s how to review the last year and praise yourself for what you have achieved.
Use data from health trackers to see how far you’ve come–literally. Did you average 7,500 steps a day? Research finds that this could slash your risk of premature death.1 You did your body and mind good by prioritizing movement.
Scroll through your phone’s “favorites” photos folder to remind yourself of many good times with loved ones.
Reflect on your career. Did your boss sing your praises during a review, did you get a promotion, were you tasked with an important project, did you hit your goals or come close to them? Achieving these benchmarks requires dedication and tenacity.
Remind yourself of all the beautiful, healthy foods you enjoyed and shared with loved ones. While we all could improve our nutrition at times, you probably made a few conscious decisions to eat healthier at times throughout the year.
Perhaps you worked on your mental health and happiness in 2022. Did you read a self-improvement book? Did you spend time on extracurricular activities that would make you feel relaxed and happy? Did you make an extra effort to connect with loved ones–in person or online? All of these steps add up to a more balanced life.
As you look to the future, you probably have a few ideas you’re kicking around in your head that might make good goals. Research finds that an approach-oriented goal is more likely to be successful than an avoidance-oriented one.2 (Think “eating five servings of fruits and vegetables daily,” over “avoiding sugar all year.”) Here’s how to decide what you want to focus on and how to take the steps to hit your target.
Best Practices for Effective Goal Setting
What should you keep in mind as you set new goals? Achievable goals are thought to require the following components–being achievable, believable, and committed (ABCs).
You probably heard of SMART goals (Specific. Measurable. Attainable/Achievable. Realistic. Time-bound.) as well as SmartER goals (which include Evaluative and Rewarding), but you might need a new goal-setting strategy to watch your intentions come to fruition next year.3
Here are some other types of goals to consider:
What it is: This is considered a difficult or expensive task, the outcome of which is expected to have great significance, according to a Harvard Business Review article. The idea is based on the U.S. President John F. Kennedy declaring, “This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth,” according to that feature. It’s the simple belief that entrepreneurship and creativity can solve the world’s most pressing and complex challenges. A moonshot goal should inspire, be credible, and be imaginative.4
An example: Some moonshot goals that came about include DNA fingerprinting and driverless cars. Fun fact: Viome was our founder Naveen Jain’s moonshot goal. As he says on his site’s homepage, “Dream so big that people think you’re crazy.”
What it is: A bold vision is one that is daring. It acknowledges where you are today and where you want to go in the future with a goal that challenges and excites you. It’s about embracing innovation and taking a fearless, confident approach when it comes to addressing change.5
An example: A bold vision as a health goal might be to go from walking 5,000 steps a day to 10,000-plus steps. Or it could be to go from leisurely jogging to committing to a marathon. Perhaps it’s to reduce body fat to a certain amount or reverse a health condition like a prediabetes diagnosis.
As you think about the best practice to follow when it comes to setting goals for the new year, overall, it’s important to know yourself. What didn’t work? What tools are available to you that might make your resolution more likely to stick this year–and in the future?
Here are some factors to consider before deciding on a goal-setting strategy.
We’ll use the example of committing to eating a healthier diet.
Will you benefit from publicly declaring your goal? Yes, this requires bravery! If you share your goal of eating more fruits and vegetables on social media are you more inclined to follow through? Alternatively, some people might find that keeping their goals personal and private is a better tactic until you’re further along in the process. Some research finds that declaring goals publicly makes the person feel like they are making progress toward that goal when in fact, they haven’t really accomplished anything yet. Think of it as premature confidence on reaching that goal when you need to put the work in, too.6
Are you more likely to follow through when you put money behind something? This goal-setter might be motivated by signing up for a healthy meal delivery kit. They might want to learn more about their gut health or overall health through a test right now so they have starting data to improve upon.
Will temptation bundling work for you? This involves writing down a task you should be doing–like meal prep or strength training–and pair it up with a task you want to do–like watch a favorite series on a streaming service (instant gratification). Only let yourself watch the show when you’re working on your other, less-desirable task and you’ll make progress on your goals. The term “temptation bundling” was coined by behavior researcher, Katherine Milkman, PhD, in 2014. In her study, she gave study participants iPods with an audio novel they wanted to listen to and only let them have access to them when they were exercising. The participants’ time working out at the gym increased with this entertainment incentive.7
Do you need an accountability buddy? Would you benefit by enlisting a health coach? Will enlisting a partner to commit to eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day help you stay on track?
Will you benefit from activation triggers? An “if/when” trigger can help you redefine your behavior. For example, “If I am hungry, I will eat vegetables or fruit before anything else.”
Are visual reminders important to you? You might find that a note on your fridge helps remind you to snack on fruits and veggies first. Or perhaps blocking out time in your calendar for healthy meal prep twice a week or to pick up your dumbbells (with reminders beforehand!) will act as a “cue” that reminds you to stay on top of your goals. The more you do this, the more you are automating the behavior, according to research.8
1 Far fewer than 10,000 steps per day can boost health. (n.d.). Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. hsph.harvard.edu.
2 Oscarsson, M. (2020). A large-scale experiment on New Year’s resolutions: Approach-oriented goals are more successful than avoidance-oriented goals. PLoSOne. PubMed Central.
3 Chowhurdy, M.R. (2019). The Science & Psychology Of Goal-Setting 101. PositivePsychology.com.
4 Anthony, S.D., Johnson, M. (2013). What a good moonshot is really for. Harvard Business Review. hbr.org.
5 Warrell, M. (2017). 5 Steps to Set and Achieve Bold Goals.Success Magazine. success.com.
6 Gollwitzer, P.M. (2019). When intentions go public: does social reality widen the intention-behavior gap? Psychological Science. PubMed.gov
7 Milkman, K.L. et al. (2014). Holding the Hunger Games Hostage at the Gym: An Evaluation of Temptation Bundling.Management Science. PubMed Central.
8 Berkmann, E.T. (2018).The Neuroscience of Goals and Behavior Change. Consulting Psychology Journal. PubMed Central.