For many of us, New Year’s can feel like Groundhog’s Day.
We set New Year’s goals and resolutions year after year, only to see them fall by the wayside.
It’s not our fault. So often, we set New Year’s goals with the hope that our willpower alone can help us succeed. But in reality, goals are some of the most challenging things we can pursue, and we need strong plans and strategies to help us succeed.
So if you’re determined to make your New Year’s goals stick this year, take a look at these proven goal-setting strategies to ensure you power through and reach success.
Create good new year’s goals the S.M.A.R.T. way
Want to make sure your new year’s goals stick? Then create SMART goals. SMART is a goal-setting acronym that stands for:
If you want to set yourself up for success, make sure your goal meets the SMART criteria.
Vague goals are harder to achieve because you don’t have a specific target to reach. It’s also easier to give up on vague goals when we don’t have a deadline or a way to measure our progress.
Here’s how you can turn a vague goal into a SMART goal:
Vague goal: Eat healthier
SMART goal: Eat a side of vegetables for lunch and dinner for the next 90 days
Vague goal: Write a screenplay
SMART goal: Write the first draft of a 100 page screenplay in 3 months
Vague goal: Exercise more
SMART goal: Run 3x a week for 20 minutes by the end of the month
Vague goal: Be more organized
SMART goal: Set aside 10 minutes in the morning and at night to declutter a space for one month
Vague goal: Be more connected with family
SMART goal: Schedule a weekly call with parents
Vague goal: Improve public speaking
SMART goal: Sign up for a public speaking course by the end of the week
Keep a journal to measure your progress
Take a cue from professional athletes and maintain a journaling routine to help you stick to your new year’s goals. A daily log can let you know if you’re improving and making headway on your goal.
So if your fitness goal is to run 3x a week, make sure to record the date, time, and length. After a few weeks, you’ll start to notice little improvements, like improved running time or endurance. These are small, but significant changes that might’ve gone unnoticed had it not been for your log.
If you want to see how you’re improving, refer to old entries and compare them to current pages. How are you doing? What changes can you incorporate to continue advancing?
When you have a visual record of your progress, you’ll be more excited to stick to your goal and continue your efforts.
Stick to new year’s goal by sticking with what works
Another good thing about keeping a log or a goal-setting journal is that you have ample data to examine and derive lessons from.
If you had a great workout, write about that experience in your journal. Be as specific as possible so that you can emulate these favorable conditions again. Did you eat a nutritious breakfast that gave you tons of energy? Did you have plenty of water? Did you listen to a fun playlist? Identify the variables that set you up for success, and re-create them to help you stick to your goal and be consistent.
Let go of what doesn’t work
Your journal entries can also shed light on what’s not working with your goal setting strategy.
To go back to the workout example, it’s important to not only write about your successful workout sessions, but your “bad” ones too. Did you have a workout where you only gave 50%? Or a run where everything in your body hurt?
Take note of the conditions. Did you get enough sleep the night before? Did you snack on something? Did you try a different route?
Reflecting on the challenges can help you a) approach your goals with more gentleness and compassion and b) identify the obstacles and find solutions to overcome them.
Maybe after your journaling session you realized that you didn’t have a snack beforehand and that’s why you felt sluggish. Then the next time you go for a run, you’ll be prepared to snack on a granola bar or a banana to fuel your workout.
It may not seem like much, but this kind of insight can help you stay committed to your goals. Instead of quitting when things get tough, you’re problem solving and making things better for yourself.
Give yourself a hard deadline
There’s a reason that there’s a Time Bound element in SMART goals. Deadlines put a fire under us. They give us a reason to start, rather than waiting for inspiration to hit or for the perfect conditions to present themselves.
Deadlines inspire us to follow through and cross the finish line on our goal.
Have you been wanting to write a book but haven’t gotten around to it? Look up writing contests. Submitting your work is a great way to work towards a deadline.
Want to run more? Sign yourself for a 5K.
Looking to improve your public speaking? Volunteer to give a presentation at the next company meeting.
You can even have an accountability partner like a friend or coworker and tell them you’d like to finish your goal by X date. You’ll be more motivated to meet your deadline when you know there’s an outside party you have to check-in with.
Give yourself regular pep talks
Reaching success with our goals relies heavily on our positive outlook. Oftentimes, we have to be our own coaches and motivators, and when failure or boredom strikes, we have to encourage ourselves to get back out there.
Even Roman Emperors encouraged themselves through journaling.
Use your journal writing sessions to reflect on inspirational quotes or make a list of things you like about yourself or to celebrate your wins or to write about how good it will feel when you reach your goal.
These pep talks can help us power through and move forward during challenging moments.
Make your new year’s goals stick with stretch goals
I once read that big goals are so scary because they challenge our own perceptions. We think we know what our limitations are, but in reality, we don’t. Who’s to say we can’t run a marathon or sell a screenplay or become a successful entrepreneur? We’ll never know unless we try.
What is so empowering about goals is that they ask us to learn, grow, and move out of our comfort zone. A stretch goal challenges us in a similar way, but even more so. It’s an opportunity to challenge yourself and see if you can exceed your own expectations.
So if you want to have fun with your new year’s goals, make them challenging and give yourself stretch goals every now and then.
So if your new year's goal was to run for 20 minutes 3x a week, set a stretch goal and see if you can run for 30 minutes 4x a week.
If you usually write 500 words a day, see if you can write 1,000 words a day.
If your goal is to land 3 new clients this quarter, see if you can aim for 6.
The great thing about stretch goals is that even if you fall short on your target, you’ll likely meet or slightly exceed your original goal.
A stretch goal can be a fun thing to pursue in the first or last quarter of the year. In the first quarter, it’s still early enough in the year that you have plenty of time to experiment and adjust course if necessary. And the last quarter is an optimal time because it’s the end of the year and you have nothing much to lose, but you have everything to gain if you meet your stretch goal.
An important thing to keep in mind with stretch goals is that you may experience more failures or rejections because you’re taking more risks. So ask yourself: are you willing to experience some failures in the short run, to potentially achieve success in the long haul.
Feel free to adapt any of these strategies to help them work for you. What are some of your favorite ways to stick to your New Year’s goals?