New Year, New You? 5 Top Tips for Goal-Setting Success


8 min read

Author: Anna Glynn

The prospect of a New Year can be both exciting and daunting. On the one hand, you have the opportunity to ‘start afresh’ with a positive mindset and a commitment to being your best. On the other, the very same situation can leave us feeling lost, directionless or flat because we’re either unsure about what to focus on, or overwhelmed by a never ending list of things we want to accomplish.

So how can we better set ourselves up from the beginning, to increase our chances of achieving our goals in the long run? This article covers the steps to successful goal setting, the type of goals we should strive for and how we can best stick to our goals.

Why set goals?

Goals help us to clarify what we’re aiming for, and can support us to live the life we truly want. They can influence our actions, help us prioritise what’s important, assist our decision-making, and support changes in our behaviour.

Achieving goals can also provide us with a sense of satisfaction. It can be incredibly empowering and rewarding to accomplish a vision, and often this motivates us to set and reach other goals.

Without goals, we may be limiting our growth and development potential, or worse, increasing our chances of failure.
When we reach goals, we feel a sense of accomplishment; our brains are flooded with dopamine, which makes us feel good. And this all happens no matter the size of the goal – it might be as simple as ticking off an item on your to-do-list, or as big as graduating from university.

Additionally, research has shown that it’s not just achieving our goals that enhances our wellbeing – the journey to get there offers us joy too!

What are the key steps for successful goal setting?

#1. Re-focus your efforts on goals, rather than committing to ‘resolutions’ that start in January and are forgotten by February. According to Forbes, only 8% of people ever achieve their New Year’s resolutions. The reason why so many of us aren’t successful in making permanent changes is because they’re often vague and unrealistic, which makes them difficult to achieve and our focus ultimately ends up elsewhere. Aiming for goals (not resolutions) tends to be more successful as they’re more specific, focused on a particular achievement and a specified timeframe.

#2.  Work out which goals to set by setting aside time at the start of the New Year to reflect on what has taken place over the past 12 months. Ask yourself, what have been your learnings this past year? As challenging as it was, we all still achieved a lot! There’s no doubt that we have all grown new skills, been stretched and developed in some way having gone through what we have.

#3.  Once you’ve reflected, ask yourself what you’ll do with the learnings from those reflections? What will you take forward? How do you want 2022 to be different (or not)? Perhaps it’s a new purpose to pursue with an understanding of what truly brings meaning to you. It might be a re-shuffling of priorities or new thoughts of where and how you want to spend your time including your work.

#4.  To make room for new goals, what will you be leaving behind? We can’t commit to adding more to our already full lives without crossing something else off the list. It might be the letting go of the need to constantly be busy. For many, the pandemic caused us to slow down, which helped us realise that the pace we were used to operating at was no longer sustainable. Or it might be thinking about what was previously on the list that we no longer wish to do.

#5.  Have FUN with the process! Goal setting shouldn’t be boring but exciting. If you’re not enthused by the process, perhaps you’re not dreaming bright enough! This is the time to be optimistic and dream like a child would. Consider what your best possible self looks like 12 months from now (King, 2001). Consider your life the way you always imagined it to be like. You’ve performed to the best of your abilities and achieved everything you set out. And don’t be put off by any fears, challenges or roadblocks that you come up with – they’re just unnecessary distractions! Next up? It’s time to consider how to make this life a possibility …

What goals should we strive for?

Researchers have identified which goals are more likely to be achieved and those that will boost our wellbeing (even better)! They call these self-concordant goals – those that are aligned to our values, needs and interests. Self-concordant goals are true to ourselves, and not based on someone else’s wants for us, or motivated by looking good to others. These are the goals that help us achieve the vision we have for our best possible selves (as mentioned earlier). Even when we are faced with hurdles, we’re still motivated to pursue these goals, which is why we’re more likely to reach them!

Self-concordant goals aren’t driven by external sources (e.g., money, social status or an impressive job title) but rather meet our three basic psychological needs according to Ryan and Deci’s Self-Determination Theory. Just as food, water, sleep and shelter are important for our physical wellbeing, Ryan and Deci suggest that we’re more motivated when our goals satisfy the following:

1. Competence – we want to learn and grow whether that’s building new knowledge or developing new skills
2. Autonomy – we want to have choice over our actions and control the direction of our lives
3. Relatedness – we want to strengthen our connections with others and feel as though we belong.

By building these three needs into our goals, we create the energy required to persist, we’re more likely to achieve what we set out, and we experience greater wellbeing as a result. So when reflecting on or defining your goals for 2022, it’s best to consider how they meet these needs.

How can we stick to our goals?

It seems willpower will only ever get us so far. Research tells us that when it comes to change, even positive change, it’s best to start small and specific. In working towards your goal (big or small), consider the tiniest thing you could do each day to get closer to your goal? This will optimise your chances of succeeding; which will build momentum, grow your confidence and boost your motivation.

Working out a ‘prompt’ is also imperative. What will tell your brain every day to take that action? Your prompt might be a particular time of day, a location, another behaviour, or when you’re with a certain person.
And don’t forget to write them down and keep your goals somewhere visible!

What about goals at work?

Goals also play an important role in boosting performance within workplaces. What’s more, when workers are aligned to the goals of their organisation, they’re more inclined to achieve them. Traditional ‘carrot and stick’ approaches to motivate team members are no longer acceptable.

Involving workers in the goal setting process can enable them to have a stake in contributing to the organisation’s objectives. Additionally, it’s important that workplaces frequently and clearly communicate their goals to their teams, so everyone knows what they’re aiming towards particularly when many teams are still operating remotely. So if productivity or motivation has been lacking within your team lately (a common issue over the past 12 months), perhaps it’s worth considering how your employees’ psychological needs of competence, autonomy and relatedness are being met.

Are your teams being offered independence and ownership of their tasks in order to prove themselves? Are they being provided with interesting and challenging work so they’re engaged in personal growth and development? And how is a sense of belonging and connection amongst the team and stakeholders being created?

Don’t forget to celebrate!

And when you reach your goals – be it at work, or personally, be sure to give yourself a round of applause. You created a goal, you did the work, and you achieved it! Make sure you celebrate your success – it’s not only the best part, but a great way to increase your chances of achieving your next goal too.

By Positive Psychology & Workplace Wellbeing expert Anna Glynn.
Anna is also a member of the Maxme Advisory.