5 Goal Setting Techniques More Effective Than New Year's Resolutions
New Year’s resolutions are notoriously ineffective. How many times have you set out with well-intentioned resolutions only to have them fade away by the end of January?
It’s not your fault. Resolutions aren’t kept because they are designed to fail. They are often vague, ambiguous, and unattainable. Popular New Year’s resolutions include,
- Lose weight
- Save money
- Get organized
- Reduce screen time
- Quit smoking
- Eat better
But how? What does losing weight actually look like? How much weight? By when? What steps will you take to achieve that goal? Is your goal reasonable? Is your goal attainable in the time frame you’ve set?
If you want to eat better this year, what does that mean for you? How will you eat better? What does success look like? How do you measure whether or not you are eating better? How do you reach your goals throughout the year?
To reach your goals any time of the year, we suggest you ditch the New Year’s resolution in exchange for these proven goal setting techniques.
1. Break Down Goals
Setting big goals for yourself is often exciting. If your goals surround losing weight and being more active, you may find yourself daydreaming about what you’d look like 30 pounds lighter, which can be very motivating. The downside is it’s difficult to keep that visualization in our heads as the days, weeks, and months tick by without a significant difference to our appearance.
Really big goals aren’t accomplished overnight. And many of them take weeks or months to accomplish. To get there, you’ll need to break down your goals into smaller attainable milestones.
Ryder Carroll, creator of the Bullet Journal method, says, “Breaking down long-term goals into smaller, self-contained goals can turn what seems like a marathon into a series of Sprints. Sprints cover the same ground, just in shorter, more manageable intervals.”
By dividing up your big goals into several micro-goals, you give yourself the opportunity to succeed along the way. It’s easier to stick with a big goal when you’re consistently accomplishing micro-goals toward it.
Divide that big, daunting goal into a bunch of micro-goals that you can accomplish over the course of the year. Your big goal won’t be as intimidating, and you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment throughout the year.
2. Build Habits
It’s hard to break a bad habit. Think about how hard it is to stop biting your nails, or how hard it is to stop checking social media when you’re supposed to be working. But on the bright side, it’s just as hard to break good habits once they’ve been formed.
Habits are long-lasting, and the right habits will help you achieve your goals.
What habits can you form that will help you reach your goals? Just make sure you set specifics around the habits you want to build.
If you want to stop sleeping in, try forming these specific habits:
- Turn off your phone and leave it outside of the bedroom every night
- Stop blue light exposure 1 hour before bed
- Prep your morning the night before
If you want to lose weight, try forming these specific habits:
- Drink 2 liters of water every day
- Don’t eat food 3 hours before bed
- Use a standing desk for 2 or more hours every day
Track and measure your habits to keep them defined and grounded. Without tracking your habits, you won’t know how well you’re doing, where you need to improve, or when to celebrate success.
Remember to allow yourself ample time to form habits: “On average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic,” so it will take steady, consistent effort to form a good habit. But once you do, it will be forever encoded in your brain.
3. X Day Challenge
A challenge that spans a specific number of days has a defined goal and a defined timeframe.
Take NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), for example. Over the month of November, participants challenge themselves to complete a short novel by writing 1666 words a day, reaching 50,000 words by the end of the month.
The overall goal is clear, and it’s broken down into smaller, achievable goals for each day.
Challenging ourselves to accomplish something over a certain number of days helps us visualize how far we are from achieving our goal. We know the challenge won’t go on forever. And, hopefully, by the time you reach the end, you’ll have formed a healthy habit.
4. Connect Goals With Rewards
Reward your success! Celebrating a job well done and noting small goals along the way raises dopamine levels in your brain. The release of happy chemicals like dopamine and endorphins are crucial to our motivation.
When we accomplish a goal but skip the reward, we deny our body the release of happy chemicals. This consistent denial trains our body to feel neutral about success. This neutrality leads to a lack of motivation; if there’s no reward for accomplishing your goal, what’s the point?
Celebrate as often as you please, but make sure the reward matches your goal. If you like, you can write down a series of goals and match them with a reward, so you can always see exactly what you’re working towards. Did you run 5 miles? Celebrate with a slice of pizza. Write 20,000 words? Treat yourself to a movie marathon.
Successes are easily forgotten if we don’t take the time to celebrate them. Keep your motivation high and stave off burnout by connecting your goals with rewards.
5. Make Decisions Based on Your Goals
Choosing what you want most from the year will help you make wise decisions all year long. You can’t change everything all at once, so what’s most important for this year?
You may decide that reorganizing your house is what you want most from the year. From there, break down specifics for how you can realize your goal. What steps do you need to take throughout the year to achieve this? When you’re deciding what you’re going to do with your time, consider how your decision will help you get what you want from the year.
This may mean saying no to social requests more often, so you have time to clean out your closet. You might choose not to make a purchase because it would add to the clutter in your house. Make decisions based on what you want most from the year and celebrate it too. Each day, week, or month, you can assess what you did to work towards your goal.
Prioritize anything that helps you get what you want most from the year. Be patient. Large goals take time and can only be accomplished one step at a time.
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