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How To Make Effective New Year’s Resolutions

At the end of every year, we reflect on the past year and think about the year ahead. What goals do we have for our businesses and personal lives? What do we hope to accomplish in 2023? What held us back in 2022 and how can we overcome it this coming year? After choosing our new year’s resolutions or goals, how can we increase our chances of success? How can we plan with success in mind for the new year? What does the research say about planning and its relation to achievement? Below we examine research-based strategies for goal achievement that we can all use as we move forward to greater success in 2023.



“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” ― James Clear, Atomic Habits

Create approach-oriented goals

A 2020 research study found that “approach-oriented” new year’s resolutions were “significantly more successful than… avoidance-oriented goals” (Oscarsson et al., 2020).

  • Approach-oriented goals are focused on “achieving positive outcomes” (Wang et al., 2021).

  • “Participants with approach-oriented goals were significantly more successful in sustaining their New Year’s resolutions compared to those with avoidance-oriented goals” (Oscarsson et al., 2020).

  • Goals that are focused on achieving positive outcomes are more likely to be achieved than those that are focused on avoiding negative outcomes.

  • Consider how you can turn avoidance-oriented goals into approach-oriented goals.

Approach-oriented goal

Avoidance-oriented goal

I want to eat a full serving of vegetables per day

​I want to avoid junk food

​I want to increase employee retention

​I want to decrease the number of employees who quit or leave my company

​I want to spend more time with family

​I want to decrease my stress levels at work


“A goal without a plan is only a dream.” - Brian Tracy

Monitor your progress

A meta-analysis from the Psychological Bulletin, 2016, identified that monitoring goals increased “goal attainment when the outcomes were reported or made public, and when the information was physically recorded.” They suggest that “interventions that increase the frequency of progress monitoring are likely to promote behavioral change” (Harkin et al., 2016).

  • Monitor your new year’s resolutions and goals throughout the year. Ask yourself monthly or even weekly how you have made progress on your goal so far. Examine what you can intentionally do to increase your goal attainment regularly.

  • This research also indicates the power of a coach as a source of accountability and motivation. Are you monitoring your clients’ goals regularly? If so, how and how often?

  • When appropriate, sharing goals in a peer group setting can also be beneficial for goal attainment. How can you incorporate this into your peer group meetings?


Break it down

Large, overarching, and vague goals can seem intimidating as opposed to encouraging. According to Harvard Health Publishing, “small steps move you forward to your ultimate goal.” Making a to-do list of small and progressively larger tasks that ultimately support your overall goal can increase your “confidence to tackle - and succeed at - more difficult tasks” down the line (Harvard Health, 2020) Breaking down your goals also increases your ability to monitor your progress throughout the year.


Coaches can assist their clients in breaking down large business goals such as increasing profitability, improving workplace culture, and decreasing turnover by asking questions such as:

  • What steps do you need to take to achieve this goal?

  • Who do you need to get involved to achieve this goal?

  • How do you plan on working towards this goal this next week/month/year?

  • What do you need to achieve this goal?


The Ivy Lee method

According to Charles E. Hummel, the “Ivy Lee method” focuses on “daily planning” and “prioritizing activities” on a daily schedule (1997). This method of goal setting was created in the early 1900s by Ivy Lee and consists of 5 steps:

  1. Create a selective list of “tasks that are most important to get done” either by the end of the day or the next day. Users are encouraged to pick a maximum of 6 tasks.

  2. Order the list of tasks “in order of importance,” doing the most important tasks first.

  3. Start your day with the first task and only move on to the next after it is “completely finished.” Users are encouraged to “minimize” distractions, focus only on one task at a time, and not skip tasks or complete them out of order.

  4. Check each task off your list. If “using pen and paper this may mean crossing it out” or “striking through” your task. “Each time you do this” the brain releases dopamine, encouraging a positive association with task completion and encouraging you to complete more tasks.

  5. Repeat; if there are unfinished tasks on the list, move those to the next day and repeat the process again (Landau from HourStack, 2022).

The Ivy Lee method assists in the completion of goals once they are broken down into smaller tasks (as discussed above). Using this method can help executives, coaches, and business leaders alike move daily toward their new year’s resolutions.


“When you set a goal, your brain opens up a task list.” - Mel Robbins

Make it visible

New Year’s resolutions and goals are often easily forgotten. However, research indicates that having a visible reminder of your goals can serve as a reminder and motivation to work toward your goals.

  • 2018 research from the Sports Psychologist journal indicates that athletes who “looked at their goal” more frequently “the more likely they were to practice their skills” (Weinberg et al., 2018).

  • Consider where you can visibly post your goals for a daily reminder and encouragement: mirror, desk, laptop, fridge.


“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don't adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” - Confucius

Be adaptable

According to McKinsey & Co, we shouldn’t view goals as a “stagnant” unchanging pursuit, but instead a “dynamic and evolving” goal that corresponds to “environment changes” (Chowdhury & Hioe, 2017).

  • Failure to “revisit goals can be demotivating” due to the changes that can take place within a year’s time (Chowdhury & Hioe, 2017).

  • Changes to goals should be strategic and a direct response to environmental changes.

  • Coaches can assist their clients by revisiting their goals on a quarterly or monthly basis and by asking questions that examine potential needs for change.

    • How has your goal been affected by current challenges and/or changes?

    • Have your steps to achieving this goal changed? If so, how?

    • How can we better increase your likelihood of achieving this goal today?

    • How can we make the achievement of this goal more effective?


Consider your strengths

When considering what goals to adopt and how to best achieve them, consider your strengths. Accordion to Gallup, “A strengths-based goal is focused on positive outcomes—and is created to cater to your natural talents while still challenging you to use those talents in new ways.”

  • These goals “complement your natural talents” while also addressing “what’s important to you,” “how you want to grow,” and the “changes you want to see.”

  • An example of a strength-based goal is: I want to use my leadership strengths to improve the culture of my workplace.

  • Coaches can ask their clients questions such as, “how can you use your strengths to help you achieve this goal?” to help clients identify and create strengths-based goals.


“A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.” - Harvey Mackay

Have S.M.A.R.T goals

According to Gallup, goals should be S.M.A.R.T:

  • S- Specific

  • M- Measurable

  • A- Achievable

  • R- Realistic

  • T- Time-bound

Having SMART goals makes it easier to monitor goal progress through measurable outcomes, ensures that the goal is indeed attainable and realistic per an individual’s environment and strengths, and also provides a timeline for individuals to measure their progress against.


A word of caution

While goals are an important part of the self-improvement and achievement process, it is important to note that research also suggests that the rumination on too many unachieved goals can have a negative effect on individuals. According to Moberly & Watkins “ the combination of low goal success and high goal importance was associated with the highest levels of negative affect” among study participants (2010). Researchers Jones et al. (2013), also point to Strauman (2002), stating that “chronic failure to achieve or make progress toward goals is associated with continued distress and the development and maintenance of mood and anxiety disorders.” While making new year’s resolutions, keep this in mind. Stay tuned for a future insights article where we examine the specifics about the dangers of too many incomplete goals. In the meantime, consider how you can make your current goals more attainable using the strategies above.


“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act.” - Pablo Picasso

Main takeaway

When setting goals and new year’s resolutions, consider how you can set yourself and your clients up for success. Some strategies to increase goal attainment include creating goals that are approach-oriented, monitoring progress throughout the year, breaking down large goals into smaller ones, working daily towards larger goals, creating visible goal reminders, being willing to adapt to changes, considering current strengths and skills, and having goals that are S.M.A.R.T.


“Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines, practiced every day.” - Jim Rohn

References

Chowdhury, S., & Hioe, E. (2016). How effective goal-setting motivates employees. McKinsey & Company. https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/the-organization-blog/how-effective-goal-setting-motivates-employees.


Gallup, Inc. (n.d.). How to Set Goals Using CliftonStrengths | Gallup. Gallup.com. https://www.gallup.com/cliftonstrengths/en/358019/set-goals-using-your-strengths.aspx.


Harkin, B., Webb, T. L., Chang, B. P. I., Prestwich, A., Conner, M., Kellar, I., Benn, Y., & Sheeran, P. (2016). Does monitoring goal progress promote goal attainment? A meta-analysis of the experimental evidence. Psychological Bulletin, 142(2), 198–229. https://doi.org/10.1037/bul0000025.


Harvard Health. (2020, November 24). Seven steps for making your New Year’s resolutions stick. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/seven-steps-for-making-your-new-years-resolutions-stick.


Hummel, C. E. (1997). Freedom from Tyranny of the Urgent. Amsterdam University Press.

Jones, N. P., Papadakis, A. A., Orr, C. A., & Strauman, T. J. (2013). Cognitive Processes in Response to Goal Failure: A Study of Ruminative Thought and its Affective Consequences. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 32(5), 482–503. https://doi.org/10.1521/jscp.2013.32.5.482.


Landau. (2022, September). How To Use The Ivy Lee Method To Quickly Prioritize Your Tasks. HourStack. https://hourstack.com/blog/how-to-use-the-ivy-lee-method-to-quickly-prioritize-your-tasks.


Moberly, N. J., & Watkins, E. R. (2010). Negative affect and ruminative self-focus during everyday goal pursuit. Cognition &Amp; Emotion, 24(4), 729–739. https://doi.org/10.1080/02699930802696849.


Oscarsson, M., Carlbring, P., Andersson, G., & Rozental, A. (2020). A large-scale experiment on New Year’s resolutions: Approach-oriented goals are more successful than avoidance-oriented goals. PLOS ONE, 15(12), e0234097. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0234097.


Strauman TJ. Self-regulation and depression. Self and Identity. 2002;1(2):151–157.


Wang, H., Xu, M., Xie, X., Dong, Y., & Wang, W. (2020). Relationships Between Achievement Goal Orientations, Learning Engagement, and Academic Adjustment in Freshmen: Variable-Centered and Person-Centered Approaches. Frontiers in Psychology, 12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8596568/.


Weinberg, R., Morrison, D., Loftin, M., Horn, T., Goodwin, E., Wright, E., & Block, C. (2019). Writing Down Goals: Does It Actually Improve Performance? The Sport Psychologist, 33(1), 35–41. https://doi.org/10.1123/tsp.2018-0064.


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