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New Year’s Resolutions or Regular goal setting?

by Cathryn Brady
Founder and Lead Coach - Outcome Coaching
January 27, 2022

With January drawing to a close, I’m just wondering how everyone is getting on with their New Year’s Resolutions. How many people started on January first with all these great intentions which by the end of week 2, or if you’re doing really well, week 3, had been flung by the wayside, and you’re now beating yourself up about it, wondering why you ‘can never stick at it’ and achieve these wondrous results you aspire to! Well, you’re not alone ! Research shows that at least a quarter of people make at least one New Year’s Resolution, generally involving self-improvement issues such as healthy eating, fitness, abstinence from alcohol etc, and a large portion of these good intentions end in disappointment. According to a UK survey around 25% of people who made New Year’s Resolutions in 2020 failed to keep any of them, with only 48% keeping some! So why do so many New Year’s Resolutions end in failure? As a life coach, and an athlete, I am a firm believer in year round goal setting . We should get into the habit of setting effective goals in all aspects of our lives all year round, not just in January. These goals should include long term and short term goals, with milestones along the way to keep us on track. Perhaps one of the reasons so may people fail in achieving their New Year’s Resolutions is because their resolutions are vague ‘intentions’ rather than specific, well defined, measurable goals. Effective goal setting is a skill and it needs to be learned, practiced, and refined until eventually it becomes a habit. I thought I’d kick off my first blog of 2022 with some practical goal setting tips to help those of you who may be feeling a bit disillusioned as regards your New Year’s Resolutions . Don’t worry, there’s loads of time left – still another 11 months to go!!

There are lots of different acronyms used to help us set effective goals. I tend to stick with SMART goal setting ;

Specific :

Be as specific as possible in describing your goals and avoid generalisation or lack of definition.. Think of the Who, What, Where, When, which Why. Consider who else needs to be involved in achieving your goal? Eg your family, boss, coach, partner, colleague? What exactly are you trying to achieve? Be as specific as possible eg “I want to get fit” is a very vague goal. What does that mean to you? How do you know when you have achieved it? Perhaps a better way of expressing this goal might be “I will be able to run for 20 minutes continuously by (……date)” The Where may not always be relevant but do consider it, eg for this same goal; where will you do your walking, running? Consider all options to make it as easy as possible for yourself to stick to your plan. When will you do it? Morning, evening, lunchtime ? Week-ends? You will get more specific about this when we look at ’T’ (Timed/timebound) Which relates to any related obstacles or requirements e.g. you may not have a suitable pair of trainers. So your goal will need to include the purchase of a pair of trainers, or your first mini-goal might be “purchase a pair of suitable trainers by(…date?). Another obstacle could be the weather, what happens if it is bucketing rain, snowing and you can’t get out. Have you a contingency plan? What could you do instead? The Why is a crucial question. This relates to your motivation. Why are you aiming for this goal? Ask yourself “Why is this important to me?” You need to be very clear on your answer. If the answer is not clear to you, you may need to revise you goal. Ask yourself On a scale of 1-10 how committed am I to achieving this goal. If you only rate yourself at a 5 or 6, ask yourself, what would bring my motivation up to a 8 or 9, and incorporate your answer into your new goal eg “I would be much more motivated to go out exercising on those cold winter nights if I had someone with me!”. So first step ; recruit an exercise buddy! Motivation is also very much connected to your values. If you are truly motivated to achieve your goals, your goal will be aligned to your values. Know your values i.e. know what’s important to you.


How will you know when you’ve achieved it? ….”I will be able to run continuously for 20 minutes”. Set measurable milestones along the way eg “by ….date, I will be able to continuously walk one minute/run one minute for 20 minutes


Do you have the skills and resources to achieve your goal? Identify them and include them in your plan. Have a clear step by step action plan as to how you will get to your goal.


How realistic is you goal? It should be a stretch, a challenge, but not impossible. You can make a goal more realistic by breaking it down into smaller goals, or mini-goals (chunking), small steps along the way. Each mini-goal achieved brings you one step further to the main goal, making the whole process less daunting.

Timed, Tangible and Trackable

A specific timeframe or deadline is a key element of effective goal setting. A deadline for achieving you overall goal, but also all the little steps or milestones along the way. This is also a great way of monitoring your progress. Don’t worry if you find you are deviating from your timeframe. Life happens , and sometimes circumstances are completely beyond our control. The key is to continually monitor your progress using your milestones, or mini-goals, and revise or adapt your goal accordingly. A certain amount of flexibility is necessary, as, if goals are too rigid the likelihood of you giving up on them, if you find you are lagging behind ,is much higher. You’ll feel much better about yourself if you finally achieve you goal rather than giving up completely on it along the way!

  I mentioned earlier the ‘Why’, or the motivation , behind a goal. This is also referred to in terms of the validity of the goal. It is crucial that you identify why you want to achieve something because what you state may not really be what you want to achieve at all, or you may believe that your stated goal may be what you ‘should’ want. Too often we are conditioned to believe we ‘should’ or ‘must’ do something, because it is a belief that has been ingrained in us for some time from external sources. But is it what we truly want? This is a pitfall that so many people fall into and a major cause of failure to achieve our goals. We need to get out of the SMOG (’shoulds’, ‘musts’, ‘ought’ and ‘gotta’) and identify and set goals that we really, really want to achieve. Can you relate to the emotion you will feel when you achieve it ? Is it positive ? ie happy, excited, ecstatic, proud ….? My final recommendation, is that you set two types of goals; outcome goals and process goals. Outcome goals represent our ultimate destination, and process goals are the paths for getting there. Going back to our 20 minute running goal. Your outcome goal will be to run the 20 minutes continuously by your target date. Your process goal, however, might be to have completed at least 90% of the sessions on your training plan by your target date. This gives you a much greater chance of success in achieving at least one of your goals, which has a positive effect on our commitment, motivation and self-confidence. So with those tips in hand, why not enter February with a few new SMART goals to aim for. Write them down, make them positive, check in regularly to see how you’re doing and revise as required. Your priorities change at different phases of your life and times of year, so remember to take a holistic view and examine all aspects of your life. If you’re not sure where to start, why not rate yourself on the ‘Wheel of Life’ to identify particular areas that might benefit from some positive change right now (https://www.outcomecoaching.ie/resources) . In the words of Zig Ziglar “A goal properly set is halfway reached.” Remember goal setting is a year round life skill, and there are twelve months in the year. Spring is coming, so embrace it, by pushing yourself outside your comfort zone, and stretch yourself with some exciting and challenging SMART goals. You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve! Good luck!