Rethinking New Year’s Resolutions

It’s that time of year again…what are your New Year’s resolutions? Are they the same ones you set last year, or even the past several years? If so, you’re not alone.

According to Forbes Magazine, 92% of people don’t achieve their New Year’s resolutions, and 80% of people fail by the end of February. The good news is, you can beat the statistics. It requires a different way of thinking about goal setting. Read on to learn more.

Know your “why”

As you contemplate a goal for the new year, take a step back (or two, or three steps). Dig down deep inside yourself to discover the honest, underlying reason why you want this goal. Here is one way to get to your “why”:

The 5 Whys Technique: Ask yourself a series of five questions that dig deeper into why this goal is meaningful to you. Here’s an example for someone who has a goal to lose weight:

“I want to lose weight.” Why?

“Because I want to look good, be strong and healthy.” Why do you want that?

“Because when I look good and I’m strong and healthy, I’m more confident about myself.” Why do you want to feel more confident?

“Because when I’m confident about myself, I’m willing to take bigger risks.” Why do you want to take bigger risks?

“So I can grow and learn and make the most of my life.”

After these five questions, answered honestly, the real “why” behind this goal emerges. It’s not about losing weight – it’s about building confidence and self-worth.

Understanding your “why” will help you stay focused when the going is tough and you’re tempted to give up.

Think process, not outcome

Most of us set goals based on a vague outcome: lose weight, exercise more, eat healthier, get more sleep.

The two key problem words here are “vague” and “outcome.”

A vague goal is one that’s not specific or measurable. How will you know if you’ve attained it? For instance, what does “lose weight” look like? For most people, it’s a number on the scale – which might be okay, and might not, depending on where you’re starting from. What does “exercise more” or “eat healthier” look like? You get the idea.

The second problem word is “outcome.” Outcome-based goals are often problematic, for several reasons. One, if you don’t achieve that particular outcome, you experience failure. And nobody wants to fail. Or worse yet, you become so locked into that outcome that you can’t discern if or when that outcome wasn’t the best choice after all.

A goal is not always meant to be reached; it often serves simply as something to aim at.

Bruce Lee

Although it’s a rather extreme example, when I think about outcome goals I’m reminded of the disastrous expedition to ascend Mount Everest as told in Jon Krakaur’s Into Thin Air.

The climbers, and their leaders, were so invested (mentally and financially) in the outcome goal of reaching the summit, most of them lost their lives.

Outcomes may often be tied, in whole or in part, to circumstances beyond our control. This means that no matter what else we do, we may not achieve that outcome because something else we couldn’t prevent from happening got in the way.

An outcome is also only one part of a goal. An outcome is like a destination – we need a map and a plan to reach it. Without this, the goal is just a dream or a wish.

A goal is pure fantasy unless you have a specific plan to achieve it.

Steven Covey

The map or plan to reach a goal is built on small, incremental steps or changes. These are referred to as “process” goals. They’re the best kind of goals to set, because:

  • They should be completely within your power to achieve
  • They should be small and easy at first
  • They can create lasting habits that become a part of your daily life

With process goals, it’s best to start small, simple and short-term. Pick an action or behavior for which you have at least 90% confidence that you can do or achieve, consistently, over the next two weeks. Once you succeed, add another small change and work on it, plus the first one, for another two weeks. Every process and every step is helping you build new, permanent habits that will get you to closer to your goal.

Examples of small, simple and short-term incremental process goals for weight loss might be:

  • Week 1: Drink 64 ounces of water each day for the next week.
  • Week 2: Drink 64 ounces of water each day and have a small salad with lunch and dinner each day for the next week.
  • Week 3: Drink 64 ounces of water per day, have a small salad at lunch and dinner each day, and walk for 20 minutes three times during the next week.

Your process goals will be unique to you and your current circumstances. Just be sure to make yours achievable, no matter how small they may seem. Every action, every success builds confidence and provides a subconscious reward – and is one more step toward your ultimate destination.

Remember, outcomes are often not within our control, but our own behaviors are.

Plan, plan, plan

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

Benjamin Franklin

Whether you use a paper planner, a phone app, or a chalkboard, map out and write down your plan at the beginning of each week. Block out the time to complete those small, yet meaningful processes or actions that will move you closer to your ultimate goal.

This weekly approach keeps it manageable, and helps you feel more in control by allowing you to adjust and prioritize when the unexpected inevitably occurs. It also keeps you on the path to your ultimate destination, reminding you of your “why” and moving you forward on your journey.

The New Year represents a fresh start, and it is a great time to set new goals. Let this be the year that you finally make your goals a reality. Know your “why” and keep it simple by focusing on the small actions, behaviors and processes to get you there.

Laurie Kelly is a virtual Fitness and Nutrition coach who helps clients build strength, confidence, and healthy habits that last a lifetime.  Contact her here or follow her blog at

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