New Thoughts on Goal Setting

If you’re like well, almost anyone, at some point in your life you’ve proclaimed goals and resolutions for a new year. As January 1 approaches, many of us are making lists full of all the things we’ll accomplish in the coming year. Gyms will be full, register lines long as we shop for smaller-sized clothing, tables full of homemade meals instead of takeout and bucket list items checked off all over the world. Or will they?

A recent study showed only 9.2 percent of those who make resolutions feel they were successful at keeping them.1 Considering that more than half us make resolutions, that’s a whole lot of unattained goals.2 Here are five ways to improve your chances for success this year:

Select for success.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but when you’re planning goals, you can shoot too high. Applying some realism to your planning process and choosing changes you can achieve within a reasonable amount of time boosts your motivation and decreases the time you’ll wait for feeling a sense of accomplishment. For example, if you’re committed to getting regular exercise, schedule and keep three weekly appointments for a month instead of planning to work out daily and indefinitely. As you succeed, you may opt to expand your goals.

Plan for permanent change.

Goals and habits are stored differently in the human brain; goals are considered by the brain to more like wishes, while habits are so ingrained they occur almost on autopilot.3 One trick to goal achievement is changing a wishful goal into a routine habit that we do automatically. So how do we do that? There’s only one way: consistency. Doing something over and over and over (think brushing your teeth) ingrains it in your brain in a way that’s tough to break.4 If your resolutions involve reading more books, make reading a habit. Pick a time of day you enjoy reading most, schedule it and do it. Or fill a long commute with the books you’re missing out on. If you stick with your appointments, your brain will soon associate reading with those times of day, effectively making your goal a habit.

Change your surroundings.

Have you ever wondered why elementary teachers often change seating arrangements in their classrooms? Sure, it likely has to do with breaking up chit-chatty groups of pals, but there maybe another idea at work. Studies show that a simple change in environment helps form new habits.5 Sitting in a different chair in the evening can make it easier to complete a stack of paperwork on your to-do list. A vacation atmosphere may help ease you into a new habit of waking earlier. Consider changing your location to increase your chances for success.

Keep it quiet.

This is an interesting one. When you’ve committed to a new goal, it feels right to share it with supportive friends and family. It seems appropriate to proclaim it; the thought being that if you do, your motivation will grow and you’ll be less likely to let yourself fail in the eyes of those around you. However, some experts believe the opposite happens. Once you share a goal, and receive a figurative pat on the back for your admirable plans, your brain goes to work producing feel-good chemicals.6 It’s almost as if you’ve believed you’ve achieved your goals before you’ve achieved them. For many people, this leads to feelings of success and, in turn, decreased motivation.7 Try an experiment this year: when you set your next goal, don’t say a word and pay attention to how your silence impacts your success.

Remember, the New Year isn’t the only time of year it makes sense to set goals – the right time is when a change is right for you. Start by choosing a goal that is attainable, so you can feel successful sooner rather than later and as a result, grow your motivation. Turn your goals into habits and keep them to yourself to stay on track.

Cheers to the change your aiming for in 2018!


1,2 “New Years Resolution Statistics.” Statistic Brain, Statistic Brain, 1 Jan. 2017.
3,4,5  Ryback, Ralph. “The Science of Accomplishing Your Goals.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 3 Oct. 2016.
6,7 “TED Talks: 'Keep Your Goals to Yourself'.” SUCCESS, SUCCESS, 1 Feb. 2017.