Not Into New Year’s Resolutions? Try Setting One of These Attainable Goals Instead

published Jan 16, 2022
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Even if New Year’s resolutions aren’t your thing, you’ve probably set a few goals in your life, from professional to financial to personal. Some may have worked out better than others, but you should try to see your prior success rate as a learning opportunity rather than a failure. For true success, it’s best to focus on both where you’ve been and where you’d like to be, then set realistic goals with an attainable progress plan to make those dreams a reality. 

If you’re looking to make a change in your life, even a small one, here are a few helpful tips from productivity experts and life coaches to help make goal-setting easier and more productive. 

Look back at what’s gone well and go from there.

Oftentimes our goals start from a negative place, but leadership coach and author Darcy Eikenberg says reframing this thinking can be a great jumping-off point. “Our brain tends to dwell in the negativity of what’s undone, so we have to counterprogram that tendency with reflecting on all that we did do in the year past,” she says. Eikenberg recommends looking at the previous year’s calendar, emails, and to-do lists and noting both where you spent the most time and the things you’re proud of. These can be key to either starting new goals or continuing existing ones. “Setting goals to continue and expand where you’ve already been successful tells your brain ‘you’ve got this’ and helps you keep on track longer.”

Think SMART.

Alyssa Mairanz, owner and executive director of Empower Your Mind Therapy in New York, says to stick to the tried-and-tested SMART method when setting goals. If you’re not familiar, SMART is an acronym for specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-based. “This allows us the energy to figure out what our goals are, how to reach them, and how to make time for it in our schedule without feeling overwhelmed,” Mairanz says.

“The major cause of our roadblocks comes from feeling overwhelmed when we start to think about goal-setting. This can lead to anxiety and stress, which then manifests as a lack of motivation and inability to work on figuring out and achieving our goals,” Mairanz explains. “The pillars of SMART goal-setting helps us structure our goals in a way that evaluates the relevance of them in our lives and gives us concrete steps to achieve them.” If you have a few goals in mind but aren’t sure how to get started, thinking through the pillars of SMART can be a great first step.

Shake up your routine by setting a few goals at once.

When you need a real kick to get you moving on your goals or habits, consider setting a few at the same time to shake things up. Forensic psychologist Naomi Murphy suggests four to six small goals at once. “You won’t achieve all of these but by aiming for this level of disruption, you will shake up your daily schedule enough so that you don’t just fall back into your bad habits,” she says. “It’s generally easier to start a new habit than kick a bad one.”

Think outside the to-do list box.

If list-making makes you break out in hives, try something different when planning out your goals. “If you hate detailed to-do lists, make a vision sketch instead,” says career coach David Wiacek. “This can be a simple drawing on a napkin, notepad, or even your phone. It can be a chart. The format isn’t so important — what is key here is to make concrete your overall vision for this task or goal.” Maybe you’re drawing a dream office space or visualizing a vacation you saved up for. It’s totally up to you and your creative forces. 

Once you have a vision sketched out, Wiacek says to write down just one task that can bring you a bit closer to your vision that you can do that day. If you’re stuck, call a friend, ask a colleague or mentor for advice, or turn to Google for inspiration.

If you do well with lists, Murphy suggests writing down the reasons you want to accomplish your goals, plus affirmations to inspire you when you’re feeling less-than-hopeful about your progress. “Stick these to the mirror. I know this sounds like a cliched strategy but it can really work,” she says. “You want to see them often enough to make a difference but not so often that you stop noticing they are there. Read the list of incentives every time you see them. Say the affirmations out loud. You might feel a bit dumb but when we hear words that are spoken, our brain doesn’t differentiate as to who is saying the words, so it’s as if someone else is encouraging us.” You can also consider hanging up pictures of people or places that inspire you to keep going.

Schedule time with yourself to work toward your goal.

You’ve got to make time to make change. “Schedule time in your calendar and treat it like a doctor’s appointment. Don’t cancel on yourself, and work around it,” says creativity coach Jessica Abel. Be realistic about timing, too. “Don’t set a hard deadline if you don’t need to, be flexible, keep on forgiving yourself, and keep going,” Abel says.

Lance Herrington, CEO of Unico Nutrition, cites a specific example — the “20 percent rule” from Google’s corporate office — as a strategy to get you started. “This tactic requires employees to spend 20 percent of their time on a particular activity each week, one day a week,” he explains. “Schedule it into your calendar so there’s no excuses, and search for ways to make it fun. For example, if one of your goals is to run a 5K by the end of the year, block off one hour of the week and listen to a podcast while running in the park.”

Figure out when you are most productive and try to schedule your goal work then. “Think about the phases of the day. We tend to have more energy in the first eight hours after we wake,” Murphy says. “If your new goal or habit is going to take some discipline to get started, then this is the time of day that you want to slot it into. This is especially true of anything requiring more mental or physical effort.” If you’re at your best at 11 a.m., try and do a little work on your goal at that time. If 7 p.m. is your sweet spot, make time then. 

Find an accountability buddy.

It’s the oldest trick in the book — finding a buddy to help you stay on track can give you the encouragement and accountability you need when you feel like giving up. 

Your buddy can be anyone from your partner to a friend, family member, or co-worker. “The idea is that you’ll actually feel something if you don’t follow through with your goal. Once you have a list or even one task that you’d like to complete, if you feel the wave of procrastination washing over you, text someone reliable in your life and let them know that you are embarking on goal X or project Y, and that by the end of this week, you’d like to complete task Z,” Wiacek says. “Ask them if they wouldn’t mind checking in with you by the end of the week to make sure you’re on track.” The buddy system can be both a powerful motivator and a great way to connect with someone on a deeper, more vulnerable level.

Tie your goal to a habit you’ve already established.

Murphy suggests adding your habit or goal onto something you already do regularly. Trying to incorporate meditation into your routine? Do it after brushing your teeth. Are you looking to be more active? Do a few push-ups when you let the dog out or after watering your plants. Tying your goal to one of these established habits makes it so much easier to make it part of your daily life.