New Year – Resolutions, Goals and other ways to make this your best year yet

 In Goal Setting

It’s here – a new year full of promise and a chance to start over. What a perfect time to get stuck into goal setting and finally figure out how to be more productive! With the clock ticking over, now’s our opportunity to become the person we want to be, build the business we’re dreaming about, achieve our career goals or whatever personal successes we’re dreaming of.

What’s that? The new year is just another day and dates are all arbitrary anyway? Yes we all know this, but it’s still as good a time as any to take a step back and reflect on the direction we’re heading.

Of course, the most common form of goal setting at this time of year is New Year’s Resolutions. In fact, it’s estimated that around 40% of Americans make New Year’s Resolutions. But the start of a new year is also great for other kinds of goal setting and new approaches to working or living.

Goal setting and self-improvement is a subject that fascinates me, and at this time of year I’ve been devouring ideas from the best productivity leaders I follow. Different styles suit different people, so I thought it would be useful to summarize the different approaches that you might want to try out.

Even if you dislike the idea of resolutions, don’t miss this opportunity to reflect and set some new goals for the year ahead. Yes, it can be done any time, but often what can be done any time, is done no time.

Here are the top 7 ways to plan for the new year…


New Year’s Resolutions

New Years Resolutions are a popular thing to talk about and it’s exciting to think that come the turn of midnight, you’ll never do something, or always do something differently to before. But as we all know, most of these resolutions are doomed before we even reach the end of January (research shows only 8% of people achieve their New Year’s resolutions).

The reason they fail, is because they are usually binary, black and white commitments. There is no ramping up of skills or recognition of smaller progress.

Of course, this type of ‘clean slate’ approach suits some types of people and there are certainly plenty of examples of people that have made big changes overnight. The constraints of this “all or nothing” mentality can actually be useful in some situations.

The other problem with New Year’s Resolutions is that they’re usually too big. Not really too big to do over the course of a year, but too big a step from where we are currently. With the goal so big and far away, it’s hard to really believe that we can actually do it. Plus, the consequences of not doing that thing seem a long way off.

Which is why the vast majority of new year’s resolutions fail.


The most common types of resolutions are;

  • Diet or eat healthier
  • Exercise frequently
  • Lose weight
  • Spend less and/or save more
  • Learn a new skill
  • Quit smoking
  • Read more
  • Find another job
  • Drink less alcohol
  • Spend more time with family and friends

If New Year’s resolutions don’t grab you, you might like to try a different approach to goal setting…

One Word Themes for the Year

A recent trend has been to define each year with a single word or phrase. The idea is to come up with a word or phrase that inspires you and will keep you on track throughout the year.

goal setting one word

Choosing one word for the year can be a great way to tie together your goals or to reflect a new approach that you want to remind yourself to take in several areas of life. An online group I participate in recently did this and some of their one-word themes included;

  • Deliberate
  • Nourish
  • Thrive
  • Cultivate
  • Step-up
  • 80:20
  • Abundance
  • Execute
  • Inspire
  • Growth
  • Perseverance
  • Epic
  • Accelerate
  • Focus

Chris Brogan takes a slight deviation from this approach and chooses three words as his theme for the year. Here, he explains this ritual in detail, as well as the three words he’s chosen for the last 13 years(!).

Vision Boards

A vision board is also a popular and effective way to literally visualize the things you want to happen in the next year. Visualization has been shown to be highly effective in many circumstances – including a compelling study that compared athletes that did actual skill-based training versus athletes that visualized their training, and another group that did no training. Unsurprisingly, the group that did no training performed the worst, but the best group was the one that visualized their training.

As the experts explain, our mind can’t tell the difference between a thought based on our current situation, and a thought based on an imagined situation. So when we consistently feed ourselves thoughts of the things we want, and imagine ourselves doing the things we want to do, our brain internalizes this and helps us take the action we need to make them a reality.

goal setting vision boards

Vision boards are usually highly visual with pictures of people and things that you want in your life. They can work equally well for business goals though. Think about including an image of the number you want to see in your bank account, a client you want to win, a magazine you want to be featured in, or some representation of the impact you want to have.

19 for 2019

goal setting 19for2019

This trend started last year as “18 for 2018” and was the brainchild of Gretchen Rubin (author of the Happiness Project and host of the Happier podcast). It began when she listed 35 things she wanted to do before turning 35, but then it was adapted and widely adopted by thousands of people. Some of items include things like;

  • Fix my headset (runs out of batteries really fast)
  • Decide on a cause to give to as a family
  • Take daughter to get her contacts checked
  • Plan a perfume field trip with a friend

Others include things like;

  • Learn how to roast a chicken
  • Keep a reusable cup in your car
  • Start composting
  • Clean out the garage
  • Sell old bikes
  • Start using Twitter
  • Put together a mastermind group

This approach seems to be effective because you can include some small and large items on the list.

Maybe there are a few niggling things in your life that you’d love to get fixed but never quite get around to them. The simple act of identifying and putting the spotlight on these types of problems can often mean that the solutions become evident or you’re more motivated to tackle them. Make a 19 for 2019 list and see how many of them you can tick off.

Search the hashtag #19for2019 on Instagram to see lots more examples.

30 Day Challenges

Another approach is similar to the idea of resolutions, but to only do it for 30 days. Matt Cutts (formerly from Google) created a powerful TED Talk where he encourages us all to take on 30 day challenges of our own. He argues that his life and even his identity has changed because of these types of 30 day challenges.

goal setting 30 day challenge

Some of the challenges Cutts has done include 30 days of;

  • Walking 10,000 steps each day
  • Taking a photo each day
  • Cutting out sugar for 30 days
  • No social media for 30 days
  • Bike to work each day

Others you might like to consider could be;

  • No alcohol for 30 days
  • Go vegetarian for 30 days
  • Write 500 words each day
  • Reach out to a contact each day
  • Do some form of promotion each day
  • Start work at 8am each day
  • Finish work by 7pm each day

I’m a big fan of these types of short-term challenges as the timeframe is short enough for something to seem achievable, but long enough to make a habit stick. Plus, the cumulative effect of succeeding in one challenge leads to more confidence that translates to bigger and more impactful challenges.

Instead of goal setting, if you’re more focused on changing habits, this approach can work really well.

Yearly Goals for each area of Life

Many goal setting programs take a holistic approach to life and ask you to think about different areas or roles in life and then make an assessment of your satisfaction with each area. Some of the areas usually include; family, business, finances, personal / hobbies, health, friends, key relationship, self-worth, spirituality, etc. You might have seen diagrams like this before;

Goal setting self assessment

You can also do this type of assessment on your business and use it to think through which areas need more focus.

Proponents of this approach include Marie Forleo, Mel Robbins, Michael Hyatt and Stephen Covey. After doing an assessment, they recommend making goals in each of those areas by thinking about what would it take for you to give that area a higher score.

This approach to goal-setting is great because it results in a very balanced approach – although sometimes a lot of different goals. In my opinion, it’s great to think through each of these areas, but you shouldn’t feel obliged to set goals in each of these areas. For example, if business is great but family is suffering, set goals in those areas. If family is great but business is struggling, focus your energies on business.

The other problem with this approach is that the goals usually end up being too big or articulated as resolutions. For example, these types of goals are typically;

  • Family: have a games night once a week
  • Finances: save enough for a new home
  • Relationship: make time for a weekly date night
  • Health: reduce to 20% fat
  • Health: run a marathon
  • Personal: start painting

These types of goals are not specific enough, and for most people, the timeframe of a year is too long. However, they can be great if you are going to back them up with other goal setting approaches that are more focused on the nearer-term (eg 30 day challenges, short-term goals, etc).

Short-Term Goals

Although they don’t sound as sexy, short term goals are actually a great way to make real progress. They can tie into bigger goals, yearly themes, and of course, can be aided by tools like vision boards. In fact, you may like to think of them as milestones along the way to your bigger goals, however, I find it’s more effective to distinguish them as goals in their own right.

goal setting short term goals

Short term goals are usually anywhere between 30 days and 6 months. Longer than that and they seem too abstract and there is no urgency to start working towards them. When you define them like this, short term goals can also fit into the SMART framework (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-framed).

The more you can turn your goals into actual actions, the more likely you are to achieve them. (Yes, of course, I’m all about actions, but that’s because it’s what works!)

Customize Your Goal Setting Approach to suit Your Needs

You can mix and match these goal-setting approaches and use several types together. For me, I’m using the 3 words theme, vision board, and short-term goals for my serious goals. Plus, I’ve got a fun “19 for 2019” list and have a couple of ideas for some 30 day challenges I’m planning to try – most of which should also work towards my bigger goals.

What approach are you taking to goal setting this year? Have you heard of others that aren’t listed here? Let me know in the comments or by email.

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