The third week of January is roughly the time that most resolutions made at the turn of the year tend to be dropped. We would like to propose to our readers to not give up on their resolutions and goals quite yet, accomplishing them is not as daunting as it seems, but it does require a bit of strategic thinking. Alternatively, if you are one of those readers who is feeling pessimistic about the future and finds nothing but futility in setting goals this year, this article is definitely for you. Remember that while life may seem to stand still due to the pandemic, there are still many positive changes you can enact in your life for your mental and physical well-being.
In our productivity-driven culture, it is a common practice to set goals and resolutions for the new year, especially if pertaining to health, career and hobbies. A susceptibility for wishful thinking would make you believe that setting the intention is sufficient of a magical incantation to set things into motion. Considering the high rate of dropouts among resolution-setters, it would be safe to conclude that the intent itself is valuable, but the method of accomplishing the resolutions is defective. For one, it is helpful to set intentions for the new year ahead, but it need not be done at the turn of the year and sealed with a toast. Our readers can set intentions any time of the year, but the new year is a powerful moment to the extent it is associated with the potential for new beginnings and renewed energies following the holiday month of December. As such, even in the middle of January it is still very timely to consider the resolutions and goals for the year ahead.
Experience or ‘trial and error’ are the best teachers and it is best to consider that there is no ‘one size fits all formula for setting and accomplishing yearly goals. There are many unpredictable events or challenges that could hinder the fulfillment of a resolution in the course of a year, so flexibility and openness to everything life has to offer would be one those positive attitudes to enter the goal-setting process with.
Without further ado, here are the top tips and tricks to set your resolutions and goals in 2021 and stick to them.
Take stock of the previous year
British therapist Marisa Peer recommends that prior to setting any goals, it is important to review the year gone by. This is possibly the most important element to start the goal-setting process with, yet easily the most overlooked one. In a state of perpetual need to feel productive, we keep pushing forward without looking behind, missing out on the valuable lessons from our personal history. It could also make us oblivious to those moments when dreams came true. Were these moments the result of chance, fate and fortune, or were they opportunities we created through conscious decisions and actions? Was the previous year very miserable or unhappy? Were the circumstances within your control or outside of it? Did you like how you reacted to the challenges? What would you do differently if the same situation presented itself? What were the most important lessons learned? Do you like the individual you turned into? What change would you have liked to see in yourself, but didn’t? What habits helped you most in your goal accomplishment in the previous year? What habits hindered you? Were you happy with the state of your health? If there were deficiencies, what did you do about it? What healthy habits did you build on? Did you build healthy social relationships? Do you feel grateful for the people that came into your life? Did you communicate your needs effectively? Did you set in those boundaries with the people you identified as ‘toxic’? Did you read those books you wanted? What did you learn from them? Did you learn that new language? Did you take that vacation you dreamed of? Did you save as much as you hoped to?
The above is a relatively short list of questions our readers can ask themselves and take the time to elaborate on the answers, especially those who feel exceedingly happy to have left the year behind due to the unfortunate personal circumstances that may have befallen them and refer to the previous year as a bad memory.
It is important to acknowledge all the events in the previous year and the way they shaped individual experience and character in order to set oneself up for success.
Just like in the example provided by Marisa, you may also be one of those individuals whose current goals would need to be realigned based on the result of the reflection and elaboration upon the experiences of the previous year. Give yourself credit for all the amazing things you have accomplished, willingly or not, and try to see in which areas of life you would like to make improvements.
Specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-oriented (S.M.A.R.T.) goals are not just a productivity philosophy you learned about in university or the workplace.
The SMART principle can be applied to any type of objective as it is the quickest way to gauge out the most relevant aspects related to your goal or resolution.
The insights you gain into your own goal need not be the most intricate or deep with this principle, as it is designed for simplicity. You can actually use it when breaking down a major goal into actionable objectives.
Be specific. When you ask yourself what you want to do, formulate the goal in a way that reflects most accurately the desired outcome or result you would like to observe. Instead of ‘I would like to travel more’, the goal could be formulated as ‘I intend to increase the number of short-distance travels to new destinations this year’. The first sentence is vague and open to interpretation, while the second one lends itself to questions for which concrete responses can be provided, usually with quantifiers, which brings us right to our next step.
Make it measurable. Can your goal be quantified in any way? Can you ascribe a frequency, duration, cost, deadline, standard of quantity or quality? Taking the previous example, the sentence could be continued as follows: ‘I intend to increase the number of short-distance travels to new destinations this year by undertaking four-day stays in distinct locations once per quarter, each within the budget of XXX euro.’
Make it achievable. Based on your current life circumstances, skills, qualities and personality, as well as on external factors, can the goal be achieved? Considering the previous example, we may find that due to the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, increasing travel frequency by going to new locations might not be feasible. Such a goal would then have to be reconsidered or altered to factor in external circumstances.
Make it relevant. To paraphrase Michael Crichton, sometimes we are so concerned to figure out what we could do, we don’t even stop to think if we should. Building again on the first example, just because you would like to travel more, given the current circumstances, it would not be the most advisable goal to set about accomplishing. Consider also the hurdles generated by numerous restrictions which would end up causing it a great deal of dissatisfaction. What is the reason, the primary motivation behind your intention. In the case of our example, would travel be a means for you to see a new location, to learn about a new culture or because you want to tick a location from your bucket list? How about learning a new language instead or exploring locally or going out in nature? Would accomplishing your goal bring your fulfilment? Seek out those goals that would contribute to your sense of well-being and happiness. Consider your most relevant needs in order to set yourself up for more success in the future, the motivators are sure to follow.
Be time-oriented. It is relevant to know if based on the parameters up to this point, your goal can be accomplished at all this year or if you can set yourself an earlier deadline to see a result. Is it a weekly, monthly or quarterly goal? When speaking of habits, there would be no deadline, it would rather be a matter of carving out with regularity the time in a given frame to perform a certain activity that is conducive to your goal or a resolution onto itself.
It is salient to note that not all goals can be screened with the SMART principles, especially when talking about the accumulation of experiences or simply setting an intention out of a place of intuition rather than practical-mindedness. More holistic, abstract goals should not be invalidated just because they cannot be formulated the SMART way, they simply require a different type of focus.
The SMART method would also enable you to see obstacles ahead of time and counter them, as through its structure, it enables you to consider all facets of your intention, but it may become ineffective if sudden life-altering events intervene.
Keep it simple
Have you ever drifted through a year, waiting for things to happen to you? Not setting goals is a guaranteed way to leave you with a lackluster view of a given year, in which you would not be able pinpoint to any concrete achievements. You would be like a supporting character in your own story, fretting your hours upon the stage and enduring the slings and arrows of fate. Shakespearean metaphors aside, having no intentions leaves you without discipline and less inclined to take action when the need arises or less perceptible to opportunities. On the other extreme, setting too many goals and resolutions could end up overwhelming you and generating unnecessary stress, which in turn could open the door to various health issues. It is also much easier to drop ‘inconvenient’ resolutions and goals on a whim, just because there is still a long list of achievable ones. Here we mean those goals that require extra work, dedication and discipline, but which also have the highest payoffs. These would differ from person to person, but an example can be that of the individual whose intention it is to develop their own business or change career. These are example of goals with considerable time investment, potential for disruption and stress, that require sustained effort and discipline, making them susceptible to abandonment, in the cases of weak wills and long lists of unrelated goals. The takeaway here is simplicity. Having no goals at all, as well as having too many can leave behind a pervasive feeling of dissatisfaction. Consider your own example. Do you have years in your life where you cannot pinpoint to any concrete accomplishment that you willed into existence? How do you feel about those years that went by with no powerful lesson or memory?
We recommend our readers who are new to goal setting to set at the very least one intention and a maximum of five, preferably that are in some way connected and that build upon current personal circumstances. It would be ideal to write them down and keep that paper or notebook somewhere you are likely to see it frequently.
A few questions to consider: Is/are your goal/s SMART? What are the actions you need to take now in order to set yourself up for the goal accomplishment? What can you do on a daily basis to bring yourself closer to your goal? Does performing these actions make you feel drained and tired, or motivated and fulfilled? Can your goal still be accomplished even if unforeseen events occur? What are your contingencies? Does any long-term or life goal depend on the successful materialization of your intentions this year?
Goal setting is not without its useful instruments to ensure resolutions don’t spend the time at the back your mind. Any intentions and goals you have are best written down and kept somewhere you can refer to them, as this enables you to track your progress or inspire alternate courses of action. Tracking your goal creates and maintains a connection to your inner landscape of wishes, in addition to acting as a powerful motivator, as it attunes you to your needs and wants, while showing you all the aspects that complicate your life unnecessarily and hinder you on your life journey. Depending on your personal style, there are several visual cues to help you track your progress.
If you like things succinct and brief, you would most likely favor writing down your goals in the format of to-do lists, where SMART qualifiers (if you would need them at all), timelines, actions can be listed underneath. Crossing out something accomplished does have a certain satisfaction about it, so if this is something consistent with your personality, have a go at it.
If quite the opposite, you like elaboration and detail, you would most likely find journaling your preferred tool to track your progress. In fact, it is one of the favorite tools in the arsenal of productive persons, as it serves the dual purpose of recording daily occurrences and providing a therapeutic outlet for overwhelming emotions. When it comes to goal setting, elaborating on intentions could actually create a story-like structure in which major motivators and actions are detailed, providing insights and solutions to potential challenges. It acts as a sort of script, where you are the writer, director and protagonist. Additionally, the process serves an important backdrop for self-assessment and it will be easy to see how far you have come along in your life journey or at the very least, how much you have progressed within a year.
Creative and spiritual types may feel more at ease creating a vision board, which is a tool that expands on your current reality and it is meant to lead you to a place of attunement with your emotions.
It draws heavily on law of attraction principles, primarily visualization and creating a certain inner state of gratitude, abundance and fulfillment that would in turn manifest in the physical realm. Naturally, material things can be included among the intentions, but the tool works best with metaphysical pursuits.
When it comes to creating habits, the best tool at your disposal is the good old calendar. As current technological advancements enable data syncing between your devices, you can add your habits, such as walking, workouts, hobbies etc. in dedicated timeframes, and keeping them as strict appointments with yourself. Many persons who would accept a social engagement to the detriment of a passion, hobby or sport do so not out of negligence, but because there is no set commitment in the form of a fixed time in the calendar to dedicate to that activity. Using the calendar and its reminders compliments all the other tools, as setting time for yourself can impact the sense of accomplishment greatly. Try it for a week, having a full calendar will already make you feel busy and productive, even if you only list day-to-day tasks.
It’s all about the habit
Speaking of day-to-day tasks, we are trained since early infancy to carve out temporal spaces for habits, such a brushing one’s teeth before bed or showering in the morning. Habits are also notoriously difficult to form especially if they are related to health and even more difficult to break, mostly if we speak of vices. As such, it is no wonder that many resolutions involve breaking a habit (Dry January, anyone?) or creating a new habit. It can take anything from 21 days to half a year to form a new habit. The stronger the discipline and determination to create and keep a habit, the more difficult it will be to break it, because that would mean undoing all the progress and sliding back into old patters, which is something many of cringe at the prospect of.
SMART principles can easily be applied to habits, as they usually are simple, they serve a purpose in everyone’s life and you can set a certain frequency of performance. And yes, you should absolutely include self-care here, whether it is bubble baths, mindfulness, meditation, reading or simply being by yourself. The important thing is to set the timeframe for the habits you wish to include in your daily routine. If your ambitions in life are loftier, you can even gen inspired by the morning routines of millionaires and their habits.
Breaking a habit is about perseverance and learning the power of ‘no’.
In fact, when it comes to quitting substance addiction, such as alcohol or nicotine, professional help and support groups should best be sought. Powerful incentives work in the case of lesser negative habits, but for permanent results, the best thing is to consult professional, especially where your health is concerned. Complete eliminations are not always feasible but substituting a bad habit for a productive one could foster an easy change. For example, those who wish to limit exposure to screen time before bed, could include journaling or meditation in the half hour before bed. Those who wish to reduce their gaming time could go outside for walks with an audiobook for a set period of time, maybe even explore nearby parks or streets in the neighborhood. We could go on, but this is a subjective experience, and we would like to hear what habits you are looking to rid yourselves of. Or tell us in the comments how you kicked a bad habit as part of a new year resolution. Was it permanent, what improvements motivated you to keep going?
Keep yourself accountable
Accomplishing a goal is a reward unto itself, but if you are having a particularly difficult time staying on track with your resolutions, make sure you have a positive reinforcer or a system of rewards in place. Consider creating a list of all the good things that achieving your goal will bring into your life, or all the positive changes it already influenced at an intention level. You can journal your trials and challenges or you can take to helpful groups on social media to brainstorm with like-minded individuals. Or you can seek support from a friend or family member to give you a pep talk when you feel ready to give up – make sure that the person in question supports you fully in your goals and aspirations. This is why keeping a visual cue is important, writing down your goals and motivations behind them will help push you forward at times when it seems improbable that you will go through with it.
Find powerful motivators and you will have an easy time keeping yourself accountable.
What about you? How do you keep yourself accountable or motivated?
Bonus tip: the secret to health-related goals
Probably many health-conscious individuals would have flocked to the gym in the beginning of January to shed the extra December pounds. However as this is the first year that sees gym and sport centers closed in January, it is advisable to direct that motivation to stay fit to your own home. There are many coaches who offer training plans for home workouts, many nutritionists who can be contacted online, as well as many dedicated channels or apps with fitness routines for home with minimal or no equipment. Where there is a will there is a way and you can set as much time as possible for your exercises before or after work without having to worry about a commute.
The best health-related goals are not the ones where you turn numbers or vanity into resolutions, but where you focus on how you feel when you make healthy choices.
If you are already athletic and you are looking into breaking personal records, then this section does not apply to you, but rather to our readers who are interested in becoming more focused on their health and wellbeing in 2021. Consider that basic fitness reduces to good nutrition and movement. If you are starting out and you are at a loss where to begin, consider reading articles on Health magazine or similar publications, you will start to understand what a healthy lifestyle is all about and how to adapt your habits. To make it simple, here are a few tweaks to your weekly routine to consider if you have no means to work out or you have no special dietary requirements: learn to cook healthy, nutrient-dense foods, walk instead of taking the car or public transport wherever possible, take the stairs instead of the elevator, bike a few times per week, pace indoors when you feel like reaching for the chips, cut the mindless snacking in front of the TV, dance when the mood strikes, learn breathwork, stretch, get off your chair every hour and pace around for a few minutes… Don’t worry about the number on the scale, focus on the healthy choices you make and take it slow, enjoy having more energy or relish the sense of accomplishment when you perform short exercises or long walks. If you become more serious about your fitness, discuss it with a professional to help yourself get started.
Bonus: Resolution inspiration
- Take 10,000 steps daily (you can use a phone or fitness tracker)
- Start a journal and write every day in it or until you run out of pages
- Learn to cook or prepare your meals
- Start to meditate
- Set yourself a sleeping schedule
- Drink more water
- Learn a language
- Learn a new skill (many classes on Skillshare)
- Volunteer or donate
- Quit products with added sugars
- Read a non-fiction book every month
- Learn how to draw or paint
- Monetize a hobby or skills
- Go on a social media detox (live without Facebook or Instagram for a month)
- Pay yourself compliments every day
- Quit gossiping – bring that focus to your life
- Try new self-reflection techniques
- Be more positive
- Talk less, listen more
- Redecorate or rearrange your home
- Create a green space in your home
- Put aside 20% of your salary in a savings account
Unless top secret or overly personal, what are your goals this year? Better yet, what tips and tricks kept you on track to achieve your goals?
We hope our article on the top tips and tricks on setting and sticking to goals this year this year was of interest to you and that it contributed even in the slightest to your determination to formulate or maintain your goals.
We wish you the best of luck in the accomplishment of your resolutions and, of course, stay healthy and safe!