Re-thinking resolutions: how to set more meaningful goals and actually keep them up

1 February 2021

January. The month of new beginnings, fresh starts and New Year’s Resolutions. Every year on January 1st, many of us take the opportunity to reflect on the last 12 months and decide what we want to achieve in the year ahead. We set goals, change our attitudes, and start again, with the promise of a new and improved version of ourselves on the horizon.

Some set small, achievable goals such as cooking a new recipe every week; while many of us set more time-consuming resolutions to improve a particular area of our lives, like our career, or our fitness. 

But February is here (January went by quickly, right?), and we want to know how many people are already struggling with their goals. 

If your resolutions were slightly harder to stick to than you thought, don’t worry – you’re not the only one. Did you know that 80% of people who make New Year’s resolutions give up by the second week of February?

This blog will explore ways to set more meaningful, realistic goals and how to actually achieve them. 

Set yourself up for success

The most important thing to understand about goals is that we set them to drive long-term change. Achieving your goal will take time, so to increase your chances of success, it’s important to set a goal that motivates you. Consider what value you will gain from the end result and whether you’re prepared to apply the effort that’s required to accomplish the goal. 

If your goals are ambiguous and lack a clear outcome, they become so much harder to achieve. For example, a goal to progress into a management position is vague, ambitious, and will take time. To achieve the goal, it needs to be more manageable and contain multiple, smaller objectives that will contribute to the overall outcome. What skills do you need to attain the promotion? Do you need additional resources? How long will it take you? A better example would be ‘to complete a leadership course by the end of the quarter’. This is an example of a SMART goal. 

SMART goals are common in the workplace at an individual, team or company level. But they are great for personal goals too. With research showing that 92% of people fail to achieve their goals, how can you increase your chances of success?

Let’s break down the acronym, alongside the New Year’s resolution of improving your fitness – how do we make this goal SMART?

Specific: Well-defined goals will give you a sense of direction. Take into account what you want to achieve, why you want to achieve it, who will help you achieve the goal, and when will you accomplish it?

Here’s an example, ‘I want to run 5km in under 30 minutes to improve my fitness. I will run with a friend three times a week so we can keep each other motivated. I will give myself eight weeks to complete the goal.’

Measurable: Indicate what you will measure to determine if you have achieved your goal. Defining the measurement of success will allow you to track your progress and keep you motivated.

There are plenty of ways you can measure your fitness that will allow you to monitor your progression. For example:

  • Keep a log of how long each run takes so you can track timings and celebrate your personal bests
  • Write down how you feel after each jog – did you find it difficult? Does each run feel easier than the last? Are you tired or out of breath? Do you feel energised? As you get fitter, exercising will feel easier and more enjoyable.

Achievable: What resources do you need to achieve your goal? For example, are there any courses at your disposal that will help you gain the skills you need? Do you have enough time? If there are any limitations, take the opportunity to reassess your goal before you start working towards it – executing achievable milestones will contribute to your success. 

How can you make your goal easier? Such as, scheduling your exercise at a time you know will work for you – will running before work prepare you for the rest of the day, or can you use it to wind down after a hard day’s work? Do some online research to ensure you are exercising safely and not doing too much too soon. Is there an online challenge you can participate in to drive your motivation? e.g. the NHS Couch to 5km.

Relevant: Think about how much your goal means to you, and does it align with any other objectives you may have? Reaching your goal can require a substantial amount of time and effort, so ensure you have the long-term capacity to dedicate to the cause. 

Are there other reasons why you want to improve your fitness? For example, do you want to enter a charity run, lose weight or improve your general wellbeing? If so, great! Setting time aside to reach your main goal will help you achieve all of these things.  

Timebound: Setting yourself a realistic time limit is essential for reaching your target. Too short, and the process is likely to become stressful, overwhelming, and the desire to drop-out will seem more and more appealing. Too long, and there’s a chance you will start to postpone because you have ‘loads of time’ and ‘the deadline is months away’. Map a timeline to get an idea of how long each phase of the goal will take you and set smaller deadlines throughout to sustain your momentum. 

Improving your fitness takes time. If you rush into exercise and overdo it, you could cause yourself an injury.  But to see improvements in your fitness you need to have a routine, rather than sporadic periods of lots of exercise followed by none. So, set yourself a realistic timescale to achieve your fitness goal and work towards it slowly but surely, at a pace that works for you.

Now you know what they are, and how to set them, it’s clear that SMART goals form manageable benchmarks. They transform ambiguous aspirations into meaningful motives. SMART goals provide a clear pathway to achieving your resolution in a stress-free way because they align with your timescales and expectations.

If you are not looking to improve your time, or train for a specific event, these SMART goals may not be for you – and that’s ok! If your goal is to simply get moving each week and nothing more, that is still a great goal. Find a way to build it into your routine and you are already on the path to success.


How to stick to your goals 

Everyone has good intentions when they set out their goals for the year ahead. January is packed with motivation, positivity and the desire to do better. But the days soon run away with us, life gets in the way, and our goals return to an ideological state. So how can we make sure we stick to our goals and succeed?

  • Put pen to paper! Studies show that ‘you are 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down’. Once written down, it becomes tangible. It gives a clearer sense of direction and enables you to monitor your progress. When you assess what you have achieved each day and compare it to your goal, you can see how far you’ve come. Display your written objectives where you can see them every day as a regular reminder of your journey.
  • Make a plan of action for how you will achieve your goal. Prepare a realistic timeline of events that will provide structure and consider what support and resources you need to complete each stage without a hitch. Review and tick each objective as you work through your timeline of events – we all know how satisfying that can be!
  • Turn goal-setting into a habit. Allocating a small proportion of time to your goal, every day, prompts constant improvements – even if it’s just 15 minutes of reading. Although forming a habit can take a few weeks of groundwork, once it’s a part of your daily routine, your goals become bitesize and manageable. The great thing about habits is that they continue for a lifetime – they outlive your goal. So you may reach the milestone of stepping into your dream job, but the habit of reading industry-related news means you’re always on the ball and enables you to be a proactive employee. 
  • Reach out for support. Telling a colleague or a friend about your goal will hold you accountable and increase your chances of success. It also means you have a like-minded confidant who can support you and keep you on track.

Take the next step toward your goals

It’s not too late to revisit your goals from January 1st and make them meaningful, make them SMART and most importantly, make them stick. 

If your 2021 goals include giving back more, or improving your company’s social impact, get in touch and we can help you achieve them.

Structured, realistic goals build the pathway to success, and will make a positive impact in the workplace or your personal life. Whatever you wish to achieve. Good luck!

Written by Holly Moore

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