New Year’s Resolutions: How To Make It Happen

This year, I decided to take a more thoughtful and focused approach to my New Year’s resolutions. First, I realised I fell short in achieving some of the goals I set last year. Second, having worked extensively and successfully with clients on goal setting recently, I wanted to apply those techniques to my own resolutions. As a result, I’ve crafted a plan to leverage established goal-setting methods, aiming to maximise my chances of success and minimise any potential frustration.

So, if you’re committed to setting meaningful and achievable New Year’s resolutions, you’ve come to the right place. This “How To Make It Happen” guide is tailored for you and could be just what you need at this moment. I hope you join me in this experiment.

As we embark on this journey together, I’ll guide you through each step, revealing not just the hows but also the whys of effective goal setting. This isn’t just another list-making exercise; it’s a transformative process that will change how you approach goals forever. Get ready to discover insights and techniques that could make this your most successful year yet.

The Unique Nature of New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are essentially goals that we set for the upcoming year. What makes them special? To start with, they’re a tradition, similar to how we might decide to make a change on our birthday. The transition from one year to the next carries a significant psychological impact, like moving from one chapter to the next in a book. Although it’s part of the same story, starting a new chapter creates new expectations.

Therefore, if New Year’s resolutions are basically goals for the following year, we should treat them with the same seriousness as we do with other important goals in our lives.

There are many approaches one can take, but I’m going to share how I’m tackling it this year. This isn’t just me making things up as I go; it’s based on goal-setting principles that have been thoroughly tried and tested.

Prepare for Success: The Importance of Time Investment

Before we dive in, let’s get straight to the point: to really achieve your New Year’s resolutions, you need to put in the time in the preparation. Don’t expect a quick 30-minute goal-setting session for 2024 to be enough and to lead anywhere. Be ready to spend several hours, spread across days, to properly work on refining your goals and how to achieve them. Now, with that clear, how do we tackle this? Let’s embrace the festive mood and make setting these goals fun and engaging.

Reflect on Past Resolutions

First, if you made New Year’s resolutions last year and have them recorded somewhere, now’s a good time to review them. Ask yourself: Which goals did I accomplish? Which are still in progress? Which ones did I not follow through with? Rate each on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of achievement. Then, reflect on why you did or didn’t accomplish them. Do this honestly, without being too hard on yourself. Write down these reflections for each goal. You can even make this a shared activity with a friend or family member if you’re comfortable discussing personal matters. Personally, I start this process alone and later involve my wife and son. Reviewing our notes from last year was enlightening. It felt like revisiting stock market predictions that we often overlook. The level of achievement wasn’t what I had hoped for, showing me that my goals weren’t as well thought out as they should have been.

This initial audit can immediately raise our awareness and help us create better-crafted and more thoroughly considered goals for the next year. If you made New Year’s resolutions last year, this first step is crucial. Regardless of the goal and the level of achievement you’ve reached, ask yourself: Is this goal still important? If not, reflect on whether or not this goal was aligned with your values. If it is still important, include it in your resolutions for the upcoming year and think about how to improve it, thereby boosting the chances of success. This leads us to the next part of our process.

Your ‘2024 New Year’s Resolutions’ Notebook

Now that we’ve reflected on last year’s resolutions, it’s time to focus on our new New Year’s resolutions. For this stage and beyond, it’s beneficial to dedicate a notebook specifically for this purpose. I prefer the old-fashioned way of using pen and paper, as a screen can sometimes interfere with the brainstorming process. Additionally, the act of writing by hand increases engagement. After completing the process, consider transcribing your notebook into a Word or Notes file; this can further reinforce your commitment. Start by giving your notebook a title, with something like ‘2024 New Year’s Resolutions’ or ‘My Goals for 2024’ – or whatever inspires you.

Begin by writing ‘GOAL IDEAS’ on the first page. Spend the next few hours jotting down whatever comes to mind. Remember, this isn’t your final list. The aim here is to let your imagination flow freely and generate a broad range of ideas. You can break this process into several sessions – start today, reflect on it overnight, and continue tomorrow.

Identify and Prioritise Your Top 5 Goals

Once you’ve gathered your ideas, turn to a new page and write ‘MY TOP 5 GOALS’. Review your list of goal ideas and select the 5 that resonate with you the most. After you’ve made your choices, leave a blank page – I’ll explain why later. Selecting these 5 goals means prioritising and making some tough decisions, so take your time with it. Remember, any goal you don’t include now can always be revisited later. Not choosing a goal for your top 5 doesn’t mean you’re abandoning it; it simply means that it’s not your current focus.

Start Simple: Build Confidence with an ‘Easy Goal’

From your top 5 list, select the easiest or least challenging goal and write it at the top of a new page. This could be something like a hobby you wish to develop. To give you a personal example: ‘Master 5 jazz standards on the guitar by the end of the year.’ Leave a couple of blank lines below this – there’s a reason for that, which I’ll explain shortly.

Understand the ‘Why’ Behind Each Goal

Next, write ‘WHY?’ This is where you’ll explore the reasons behind wanting to achieve your goal. Consider what the goal means to you. How will you feel once you’ve achieved it? Imagine what you might share about this accomplishment with your wife, kids, parents, siblings, and friends. This stage is crucial, as pursuing a goal without a strong ‘why’ can lead to a lack of motivation, clarity, focus, and ultimately, a lack of sense of achievement. If your ‘why’ isn’t anchored in your core values or genuine interests, you might end up feeling dissatisfied or regretful, even upon reaching your goal. Ask yourself: Does this goal fulfil a personal desire for satisfaction, self-improvement, or internal fulfilment (an intrinsic goal)? Or is it driven by external factors like rewards, recognition, or approval from others (an extrinsic goal)? Perhaps it’s a combination of both.

Take your time to ponder over this. Don’t rush. If you need to, step away and return to it later. This isn’t a waste of time. This is where you get crystal clear about the essence of your goal, what it means to you, and how it aligns with your life. This foundational work will pay many times over.

Apply the SMART Framework

If, through this exercise, you discover that your ‘why’ is not strong enough, it might be time to either revise that goal or drop it altogether. Once you have done this, move on to writing a SMART analysis. What is that? SMART is a tried and tested technique introduced by George Doran in 1981, and it has been refined over the years. The aim is to provide a clear, structured, and effective framework for setting and achieving your goals. While there’s plenty of information available online about SMART goals for those who wish to delve deeper, I’ll outline the essentials for you to use immediately. Ensure your goal is:

  • Specific: It should be clear and specific to provide focus and direction.
  • Measurable: Establish criteria for measuring progress and success.
  • Achievable: Your goal should be challenging yet realistic. Give your goal a reality check.
  • Relevant: Ensure your goal aligns with your broader values and objectives. This essentially ties back to the ‘Why’ of your goal, which we’ve already explored.
  • Time-related: Set a defined timeline for achieving your goal.

The Critical Role of the ‘Why’ in SMART Goals

So, why did we start with the ‘why’ if it’s already a part of the SMART analysis? The reason is simple: the ‘why’ is the most crucial part of the equation and should be the starting point. Without a strong ‘why’ – or relevance, as it’s referred to in SMART terminology – the rest of the process loses its effectiveness.

Reword your Goal

After completing the SMART analysis, it’s often necessary to reword our initial goal to ensure it aligns with the SMART criteria, making it more meaningful and achievable. That’s the reason we left a few blank lines after the goal title. Go ahead and cross out your original goal, then write your revised, SMART-compliant goal underneath.

So, if your original goal was for example “I want to get fit while cycling” it can turn into “I want to train over the next 3 months to complete a 20-kilometer cycling route in under 1 hour by June 30th, to enhance my overall fitness and cycling proficiency”. And in my goal which was “Master 5 jazz standards on the guitar by the end of the year”, my SMART goal is now: “I aim to master 5 jazz standards on the guitar, each with at least 3 different types of improvisations, and receive positive feedback from a professional instructor, as part of my broader goal to become a proficient jazz guitarist for performing in local clubs, achieving this by the end of 2024.”

Make it a Learning Goal to Increase Engagement and Motivation

Now that we have our SMART goal with a strong ‘WHY’, we must acknowledge that there are still obstacles along the way. One of these obstacles is engagement. A powerful method to increase our engagement and motivation is to transform our performance goal into a learning goal. This approach ensures that every time we work on our goal, we learn something, thereby achieving something. The idea is that we don’t have to wait until our goal is achieved to start reaping its rewards. I have written an article about learning goals versus performance goals, which you can explore if you’d like to know more. The key idea is to investigate what we will learn along the way and create a second version of our goal as a learning goal. Typically, this learning goal is more detailed. For example, my learning goal might be: “My goal is to develop and deepen my understanding of cycling techniques and fitness over the next three months, aiming to complete a 20-kilometer cycling route in under one hour by June 30th. During this period, I plan to learn about effective training methods, cycling mechanics, and endurance-building strategies. Each week, I’ll focus on a specific aspect of cycling, such as pacing, breathing, or stamina, to progressively improve my performance. This process will not only help me achieve the target of enhancing my overall fitness and cycling proficiency but also ensure that I gain comprehensive knowledge and skills in cycling, contributing to my long-term development as a cyclist.”

Next, write ‘HOW?’

We’re almost there. Now it’s time to figure out our approach. This final stage, although subject to revision, requires a solid plan. Think of it as preparing for a battle: you know your target and the terrain; now you need a strategy for action.

This is the stage where you develop your strategy. Consider how much time you can dedicate to this goal, the resources you’ll need, and potential obstacles you may face. What are your strategies for overcoming these challenges? Initially, your plan might resemble a general’s approach in battle, adaptable and responsive to changing circumstances. If you keep a journal, use it to track your progress and tweak your strategy over time. Remember General Patton’s words: ‘A bad plan is better than no plan at all.’ Don’t worry if your plan isn’t perfect; it’s meant to evolve. Treat your initial strategy like a startup entrepreneur would treat a minimum viable product – ready to adjust and pivot as needed. The key is to stay committed to your goal while being flexible and adaptable in your approach.

Streamline your Goal

Even when working on the ‘how’ of your goal, you might realise that you can’t dedicate as much time as initially planned, or you may encounter unforeseen obstacles. It’s perfectly okay to adjust your goal in response. For instance, with my goal of mastering 5 jazz standards, I might find that achieving this requires 7 hours a week. But balancing it with other life commitments, I can only realistically allocate only 4 hours. In this case, I could modify my goal to mastering 3 jazz standards, thus maintaining the essence of the original goal but setting myself up for success with a more achievable target.

Advance to Your Top Goals: Mastering the Process

Once you’ve successfully applied this process to your first goal, it’s time to tackle the most challenging goals on your list. Start with your number one goal and repeat the same process. Why did we begin with a simpler goal, such as a hobby? It’s like learning to ski: you wouldn’t start on a black slope. Goal-setting, too, has its learning curve. While it’s relatively quick to grasp, becoming proficient still takes a few hours. That’s why it’s beneficial to start with an easier goal for your initial goal-setting exercise. It’s a chance to practice your chops on the easy stuff before tackling more complex goals.

Balance your Time: The Art of Goal Management

One final hurdle in goal setting is time allocation. As you progress, you might realise that finding time for your goal is challenging due to commitments to other important goals. It’s essential to assess how much time your current goal requires and consider reallocating some time from lower-priority goals if needed. Remember, all your goals are interconnected, drawing from the same pool of time and aligned with your overarching values. They both complement and compete for your attention and effort. Striking a balance is key. This requires an iterative process, constantly adjusting and reassessing your priorities to ensure effective time management across all your goals.

Finalise Your Goals: Quality over Quantity

Finally, after working through your goals, you may have set some aside or eliminated ones that don’t meet the ‘health check’. Indeed, through the process of exploring the ‘Why,’ conducting the SMART analysis, and planning the ‘How’, it becomes apparent which goals are truly a priority. If you’ve set aside some goals, feel free to revisit your initial list of goal ideas to potentially top up and reach 5 goals. However, it’s perfectly fine if you end up with less than 5 goals, even just 1 goal is fine! What matters is that each goal on your list has been thoroughly vetted and meets your criteria.

Conclusion and Feedback

I wish you the best of luck with your New Year’s resolutions and goal-setting.

I’m eager to hear about your approach, so please share your experiences in the comments on the LinkedIn post of this article.

Further Reading