How I Set (and Actually Achieved) My New Year’s Resolutions

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One January, several years ago, I found myself reviewing the previous year’s goals and feeling disappointed that I had once again failed at maintaining any sort of regular exercise regimen. My success rate for other goals (such as meditation, affirmations, hosting parties, etc.) was also less than stellar. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, chance are good that it does. According to research done by the University of Scranton, only 8% of Americans actually succeed at achieving their resolutions. After taking a long hard look at several years of less-than-stellar success, I was determined to be part of that 8%.

The method I developed ended up working so well that not only did I exercise “more,” I exercised, meditated, wrote, and studied a good book every single weekday (and more) for the entire year. Never, in my entire life, have I been that consistent with goals. But my success didn’t stop there. I beat 11 out of my 13 goals with an average success rate of over 130%. I wrapped up the year healthier than ever before, with more money than ever before, more social than ever before, and wiser and more experienced than ever before. Come November, I was literally craving the opportunity to sit down, reevaluate my direction for the next year, and do it all over again.

At its core, I believe much of my success was due to the fact that I set myself up to win. I played to my strengths and planned for my weaknesses. I got real about what wasn’t working and found ways to make it work. While I don’t believe there’s a one-size-fits-all method for setting and achieving goals, I do know that the steps and principles I use are highly effective.

So without further ado, I present to you my tried-and-true goal-setting (and achieving) method.

Step 1. Figure out what you want to have, achieve, and be.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” “I don’t much care where –” “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.” Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Step one is getting a vision of your long term goals. It’s making sure you have your ladder up against the right wall. It’s making sure you know what you actually want in life so you don’t go through all the effort to set and achieve goals, only to realize that you actually wanted something else.

Now I’m not saying that you have to know exactly what you’ll want 10 years, five years, or even one year from now, because you won’t. Things change, so simply work with the knowledge and experience you have at the moment.

There are a hundred different ways you can tackle this. I’ve tried dozens, but the following two have worked particularly well for me.

Create a Vision Board

If you’re not familiar with the concept, a vision board (or dream board) is a collage of photos and text that illustrates what you want in life. This could include possessions, relationships, experiences, hobbies, etc. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, as long as it inspires and excites you. I created mine in Photoshop (though you can use free options such as this or this), printed it out, and posted it up on my bedroom wall. I also set it as the lock screen wallpaper on my iPad.

How to Set and Achieve Goals

Set a 100-year goal

Where will you be in 100 years? Well for starters, you’ll be dead. Sorry. But, this is still a valuable exercise. Write out what you would like people to say about you when you’re gone. This puts an interesting perspective on life. As an example, here’s what I wrote last year:

100 Years: “Michael was creative, driven, and passionate.  You could tell he always strove to give you his full attention when he was with you. He genuinely cared about the people he interacted with.  His coworkers knew he genuinely cared about them and their success, and his family knew they always came first.  He loved, cherished, and honored his wife – he treated her like a queen.  He was strategic in business and expected 150% from himself and everyone who worked for him.  He successfully found balance between living in the moment and consistently improving himself.  He knew how to have a good time and regularly hosted great parties.  He and his wife made a notable difference in the world. They were an unstoppable team in life.”

This is a solid exercise for determining what’s most important to you, and will provide more grounded direction as you begin setting your shorter-term goals.

Step 2. Evaluate your current position.

Now that you have a rough idea of where you want to go, you need to get clear about where you’re starting from. I like to do this by evaluating how I’m doing in each the following five areas:

  • Physical (health, weight, exercise and eating habits, etc.)
  • Spiritual (feeling of connection to God, the universe, or other higher power; a sense of purpose in life)
  • Professional (current career path, responsibilities, and opportunities)
  • Financial (income, expenses, savings, debt)
  • Social (relationships with family and friends; dating or marriage; social activity)

I give myself a score between 1 and 10, then add a few bullet points underneath each explaining my reasoning. I sometimes include subcategories if applicable, and jot down thoughts or ideas that come up for possible goals. Here’s how this might look:

How am I doing in the following areas?

  • Physically – 4
    • I want to exercise more frequently; probably 3-5 days per week
  • Spiritually – 4
    • I could benefit from learning to meditate and better “let go” of stress in my life
    • I want to spend more time reading books that will strengthen my spirituality
  • Professionally – 7
    • I would like to earn a promotion to __________
  • Financially – 7
    • I’m doing well at saving, but I want to set up specific accounts for a home, rainy day fund, etc.
    • I would like to make $________ this year, whether from my current job or a combination of that an another income
  • Socially – 6
    • Possible goal: go on 1 date per week
    • I’d like to host more dinners with friends
    • I’d like to get outdoors more and take advantage of all that my city has to offer

Step 3. Set specific, measurable goals.

Now it’s time to figure out what you want to change in each of those areas over the next 12 months. To best ensure success, it’s important to draw a distinction between Goals and Resolutions:

Goals: what you want to achieve

Resolutions: what you’re committed to doing to actually achieve it

Goal Resolution(s)
Save $5,000 by January Save $417/month
Have six-pack abs by June Do ab exercises 3 times/week
No sugar until June
Read 12 business books by January Read 1 book/month

Your goals provide long-term vision and motivation. Your resolutions provide concrete actions that you’ll take on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.

ProTip: Start small. If you’re not exercising at all right now, don’t set a goal to exercise for an hour a day, six days a week. Instead, consider 20 minutes, three time per week; or even five minutes, three times per week. Once you establish the habit, it will become easier to increase the duration and frequency. I speak from experience.

Write these goals & resolutions out next to each category. Using my earlier example, this might look like the following:

Goals & Resolutions

  • Physical
    • 5x/week: Morning Exercise of 20+ minutes
  • Spiritual
    • 5x/week: Morning Spiritual Alignment
      • 15 minutes studying a good book
      • 5 minutes meditation
    • 30 minutes/week: [second resolution]
    • 2x/month: [third resolution]
  • Professional
  • Financial
    • $______ saved for home down payment by January
      • Save $______/month
    • $______ saved for home furnishing by January
      • Save $______/month
    • $______ saved for emergency fund by January
      • Save $______/month
  • Social
    • Go to lunch with a friend at least 2x a month

Step 4. Stack the odds in your favor.

Now that you have vision, goals, and a basic plan for achieving those goals, it’s time to rig the game. Learn from past failures, play to your strengths, and set yourself up for success. What can you do to make achieving these goals as streamlined and easy as possible?

Automate everything

If you have a savings goal, set up automatic transfers to your savings account after every payday. As long as you keep a steady income stream, this is an excellent way to automatically hit your savings goals with virtually no effort.

If you’re wanting to read more books, consider signing up for an Audible.com membership (they’re currently offering a free 30-day trial and 2 free audiobooks) and listening to them on your commute to work or school. This is how I far exceeded my goal of reading 12 books in the year.

If you’re wanting to hit the gym more frequently, commit to go with a friend and agree on a set time each day. It’ll keep you more accountable and immediately lessen your ability to flake out. (Alternatively, check out my all-time favorite gym/fitness app: FitBod. It makes going to the gym super easy, as it automatically creates workout plans for you based on what equipment you have available, which muscles are freshest, your goals, your time, etc.)

Learn from your past

If you’ve been unable to stick with these resolutions in the past, figure out why. What got in the way? How can you work around that? When I asked myself these questions last year, I identified two main obstacles to my plan to exercise and meditate regularly. First, I noticed that my willpower progressively weakened throughout the day. Second, I noticed that work, errands, or other commitments often cut into my evenings more than I expected. My solution? Do the most important things first, no matter what. I set up a morning routine that ended up completely transforming my life.

Break it down (then post it up)

Make sure your goals and resolutions are clear and top of mind. They should be in your face, every day. I accomplished this by segmenting my action items by days, weeks, and months, then posted them by my bedroom mirror:

Step 5. Set up a Goal Tracker.

When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates —Thomas S. Monson

The final step is to set up a way to record and see your progress. I set up a Google spreadsheet for tracking and reviewing my success and committed to updating it each week. It automatically calculates my average and total completion rates, changes cell colors based on values, and includes charts and graphs on a second sheet. Because it’s in my Google Drive, I can access and update it from my phone, iPad, or any computer:

Updating this sheet – and seeing my progress – quickly became one of the most satisfying parts of my week. I literally check it multiple times a week to appreciate my current progress and make sure I’m on top of things. If I notice a weekly action that I haven’t completed yet, I immediately schedule it in to ensure I have the satisfaction of checking it off on Sunday.

Your goal tracker doesn’t have to be as techie as mine, but you must have one. You can create a more basic version in Excel and print it off, buy and dedicate a calendar to the cause, or even hand-draw something and hang it in your room. Just make sure you have a central place to track your progress on each resolution—it will be critical to your success.

UPDATE: I’ve created a 2020 Goal Tracker template based off of the goal tracker pictured above. To make a copy you can edit and personalize, make sure you’re logged into your Google Account, open the sheet, then hit “File>Make a Copy.”

One last thought…

I find significant joy and satisfaction in making consistent progress, and this method provides a solid way to achieve that. It has worked so well that I felt almost obligated to spend the 10+ hours it took to write this post and share it with others. And yet—everyone is different. You may find that you need to tweak and adapt this method to fit your needs, personality, and lifestyle. You may even find that none of this jives with you at all. Whatever the case, and however you approach it, do set goals and do write them down. I can tell you from personal experience that setting and actively pursuing worthwhile goals will rapidly accelerate your growth and success, and quite literally transform your life.

What methods do you use to set your New Year’s Resolutions?

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1 thought on “How I Set (and Actually Achieved) My New Year’s Resolutions”

  1. Last year I printed up a year at a glance calendar for our family scripture study. Each day we read we would mark that day off. Sometimes when things were crazy I would remember to read simply because I didn’t want to break our streak. Lol! It was a wonderful experience and we all benefitted from it!

    I’ve been reading the talk “What lack I yet?” by Larry Lawrence. I love his counsel to ask God what you should work on. When making goals and resolutions I had never thought about that before!

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