Set Yourself Up for Goal Setting Success

How's that New Workout Routine Going?

Ah, January. The month of new beginnings, resolutions, and self-improvement plans, launched with great intentions. So many new goals start in January. 

It’s the time you decide to focus more on your health, by eating more vegetables, or giving up the late-night junk food habit.

To wake up earlier and run.

Drink more water. Meditate more. Get a promotion. Write that book.

Yet so often, those best laid plans of January just don’t last. New Year’s resolutions can fall apart before you know it, melting into nothing, like that snowman you built on New Year’s Eve. It’s hard to set yourself up for success with goal setting, and easy to fall off track.

There are many ways to set yourself up for goal setting success.
Set reachable goals that won't overwhelm you, and visualize your success.

Sticking With New Goals Isn't Easy

The Key: Set Reachable Goals

Per some estimates, 80% of people fail to keep up with their resolutions by February. 

There are many reasons why people fall short of their new year’s resolutions. They make them too difficult, or too broad. 

One key to success? Setting reachable goals that won’t overwhelm you, and will make it less likely you’ll quit.

Say for example you want to start the year off planning to run a marathon this year. But if you’re not a runner yet, start with a 5K instead. That’s an achievable goal. 

If you’re new to exercise overall, don’t just say “I’m going to start exercising this year.” Target something specific and trackable instead, like “I’m going to go to the gym for 30 minutes 3 times a week.”

At the end of the day, creating resolutions is the easy part. The challenge is in sticking with them. After all, you’re really rewiring your brain for new habits. You may be forming new feedback loops—cue-craving-response-reward—for different behaviors you want to pursue, or breaking existing bad habits that have been delivering bursts of dopamine you’ve grown to crave.

With new habits, goals and resolutions, there’s some serious brain physiology at play.

It can take a while for the psychological benefits of a new habit to kick in. It’s a process. Success isn’t built overnight. It may take time before the results show up. And it can take some willpower to stick with resolutions or habits during this time.

So how do you set yourself up for goal-setting success, whether with New Year’s Resolutions or habits overall? Consider these tips.

Start With a Positive Mindset

A positive outlook helps in so many aspects of life. Studies show that positive thinking has a huge range of health benefits, from lower rates of stress and depression to improved cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cancer and heart disease.

The dawn of a new year offers a great opportunity to take a fresh approach to your mindset. 

Optimism helps you to create and maintain new habits, whether you are adopting new behaviors or letting go of harmful ones. 

People with a positive mindset are more likely to take risks, feel confident and have greater success than those with a negative outlook.

Studies show that setting goals with a positive mindset creates a shift from focusing on problems that arise, to solutions. This can be the difference between giving up on a resolution when a challenge arises (“Raining out? Guess I’m skipping my run.”) to sticking with it instead (“It’s raining, so I’ll just do 20 burpees inside instead.”)

A glass-half-full mindset is a powerful tool indeed.

Positive thinking often starts with positive self-talk. We all have an internal thread of thoughts in our heads, chiming in throughout the day. Sometimes, those thoughts become negative. This can happen in response to things like work stress, anxiety about the future, a bad night’s sleep, or when you’re just downright hangry.

By channeling your internal dialogue away from negative emotions, toward thoughts that provide positive reinforcement, you can improve your self-esteem, stay calm, gain motivation, and better feel in control of your life.

Like the little engine who could, it’s key to think you can, and think you can. Believing in yourself helps keep New Year’s resolutions on track.

Visualize Your Success

Two tactics you can use to help strengthen your mental mindset? Affirmations and visualizations.

Affirmations are statements you make to yourself that reaffirm specific points of value.  Studies show they work. By repeating these statements to yourself, you can build up your foundation of self-worth, and combat that negative self-talk that can creep in during moments of stress.

Create (or search online for) a list of statements like “no matter how hard it is, I can do it” or “I’m prepared to be successful.” Read and recite them to yourself regularly for a positive impact. You can easily create affirmations to match any of your new year’s resolutions, too.

Visualizations are similar. The practice involves imagining yourself in a certain situation, and picturing your actions on the path to success. This can be something like repeating your sales pitch in a hotel room mirror before a big meeting, seeing yourself crossing the final line of a marathon, or envisioning the look on your customer’s faces as you walk them through their dream house.

Athletes often use visualization training to imagine themselves in competitive situations, and think through how they’d navigate times good and bad. This added level of preparation helps build mental muscle memory, and creates automatic responses to different scenarios that come up. 

Olympic swimming legend Michael Phelps famously used visualization in his training, to prepare himself for whatever situations would arise. Visualization wasn’t the only reason he won 28 Olympic medals, including 23 gold. But it didn’t hurt.

Write Down Goals and Track Your Progress

When you’re starting a new resolution, habit, or goal, write down your objectives at the start. Take some time to think it through: what are your objectives? Why are you starting this new behavior? Write down your whys and reread them now and then.

Then, create a timeline for checking on your progress. This can be daily, weekly or monthly, depending on your goal. Whether you’re adopting a new habit or dropping an old one, keep track of your progress. This will give you some trackable benchmarks of how you’re progressing toward your goal. 

It won’t always be evident how much progress you’ve made on your goals and resolutions—or how far you’ve already come in your journey. We don’t always see the new muscle we’re built after 3 weeks at the gym, or remember how many days it’s been since we stopped biting our fingernails.

There are many ways to track your progress. You can use a spreadsheet on your laptop, or goal-tracking apps on your phone. If you want a highly-visible reminder of your progress, try a whiteboard with post-it notes that you can move to mark key milestones. Even just a notebook can work. 

The key is to use a method that works for your organizational style. Whatever system that you’re most likely to keep using, use that.

With a tracking system, you can monitor how you are sticking to your new program or habits, keeping tabs on your incremental gains. You might not see progress if you measure your biceps every day, but you can count the number of reps you take and days each week you work out.

Reward Yourself

Along with tracking your progress, create a reward system that’s triggered when you reach certain benchmarks.

This is a great way to gamify your resolution.

  • If you’re hitting a fitness goal, treat yourself! How about a shopping trip for new workout clothes after you’ve met your 3-times-a-week goal for a month?
  • Saving money by eating out less? Have a splurge meal on a special occasion instead.
  • Teaching yourself new skills? Show off a bit, by posting videos on social media of you playing the piano or doing 10 pull ups, and soak up the well-deserved praise. You deserve it. 
  • Quitting a bad habit, like smoking or overeating? Stash the cash you’d normally spend on a pack of cigarettes or bags of chips and reward yourself with a weekend getaway, spa day or concert tickets at the end of the quarter.

By adding a layer of fun reward to your resolution, you’ll give yourself something to work toward, and a happy pat on the back for your job well done.

Don't Let Your Goals Stress You Out

Finally, don’t be too hard on yourself when it comes to setting new goals. As important as it is to be positive about New Year’s resolutions, stay realistic, too. 

The surest way to fall short of your goal is to make it unattainable. For instance, resolving to start going to the gym 6 days a week when you haven’t worked out in years, or to never, ever, ever eat cake again might be setting yourself up to fail. 

Instead, strive for a goal that is attainable. Small victories count too.

At the end of the day, you don’t want to let your goals get you down. That’s counterproductive for your mental health, and your work output too. 

When you’re establishing new habits, goals or resolutions, take it easy on yourself. 

And don’t forget to celebrate your wins. You deserve it.