We’re a few weeks into January, and those well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions you made at the strike of midnight are probably starting to feel more unachievable than ever.
When the nights are darker, the mornings are colder, and the days feel low on energy, the motivation to get things done can dwindle faster than you can say
If you’re committed to making positive changes this year, goal-setting experts say that we can’t rely on sheer willpower alone. What you really need is a well-defined plan.
“There’s a lack of clarity when it comes to resolutions,” says holistic life and self-development coach Nichola Henderson. “You might have a fleeting thought about ‘being healthier’ or ‘drinking less’ on the train to work, but unless you sit down and map out what you’re hoping to achieve this year, you’re likely to continue in a demotivating pattern of failing to change your lifestyle.”
Still trying to figure out where to start? To help set you up for success, we’ve found a handful of goal-orientated tips to help you set and achieve your 2023 ambitions.
1. Define your big yearly goals
The first step in setting personal goals is to work out what you want to achieve in the next year. Setting yearly goals gives you a sense of direction and a clear path of where you need to go.
“Dr Lock is one of the original experts on goal setting and motivation; his research found that it’s helpful to make your goals not just clear and specific, but challenging too,” says Henderson
“If you don’t make your yearly goals a little bit tough, you won’t be motivated enough to do the work to get there. We want to find the sweet spot between difficult but still achievable.”
It can be helpful to split your goals between clearly defined categories, such as: career, relationships, finances and life.
2. Break your goals down into monthly micro-goals
Huge goals can feel overwhelming. Henderson says that we’re more likely to achieve time-sensitive goals that are broken down into smaller, more achievable chunks.
Having short-term objectives for each month can keep us on track to tick off those bigger goals in December. When we achieve small goals, it can also motivate us to work towards a larger behaviour change.
“Studies proven that if you break larger goals down into smaller, more manageable ones, it’s a lot more achievable. Small habits build up to big changes. I like to think of micro-goals as a short-term plan that will get you to a long-term vision,” says Henderson.
For instance, if your goal is to train for a fitness challenge, you could break your training down into smaller milestones for each month. Or, if you’re planning to take some time off to travel, you could set a goal to save a certain amount of travel money each month. Keep a goal tracker so you can chart your progress over time.
3. Use the SMART mnemonic
Use the acronym SMART to make your goal specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. Making sure your goals contain all five of these characteristics means you’re much more likely to achieve them. This approach sets deadlines, eliminates guesswork and keeps you accountable.
A good example of a SMART fitness goal could be running a marathon. Wearing a fitness watch on your runs means you can measure your progress while giving yourself six months to train is achievable. Running the marathon is relevant to your overall fitness and health goal, and signing up for the race means you have a time-bound deadline.
4. Hone in on habits
Studies have found that about 40% of our daily activities are not conscious actions, but second-nature habits – meaning that learning positive behaviours (and eliminating negative ones) can have a profound effect on the likelihood we’ll achieve our goals.
In his book, Atomic Habits, habit researcher James Clear says that all habits are made up of four key components: cue, cravings, response and reward. The cue triggers a craving, which motivates a response, which provides a reward. This satisfies the craving and leads us back to the cue.
If it’s practised long enough, this neurological loop can become an ingrained behaviour, so our goals get easier and closer over time.
5. Be realistic
Many of us have an all-or-nothing mindset when it comes to goal setting. When you set unrealistic or impractical goals, Henderson says you quickly get bored or burn out. You’re more likely to stick to a goal if you feel you’re succeeding at it.
“You need to be flexible with it too, “ says Henderson. “Just because you wrote something down in January doesn’t mean it will continue to serve you throughout the year. It’s okay to adjust your goals in-line with your personal growth.”
6. Set a morning routine
We’ve all been there, rushing out the door with minutes to spare with a random snack to have for breakfast because we woke up too late. It might not seem like a big deal, but how you spend your morning can influence the rest of the day.
“Having a morning routine sets you up for the day, making you feel more motivated and productive to complete the tasks you need to get done,” says Ed Johnson, CEO and founder of mentoring platform PushFar. “When you have a routine that suits you, you’re improving your chances of doing the work to meet your goals.”
Getting a good night’s rest is crucial for a productive morning, yet almost 1 in 5 people in the UK aren’t getting enough sleep. Make time in the morning for gentle movement, meditation and a mindful breakfast, as this can lower stress and help you to feel in control.
It can also be useful to stick to a sleep schedule, unplug from devices at least an hour before bed and make your bedroom a restful environment to relax in. If you’re struggling with sleep, a nootropic supplement (such as Form ZZZZ’s) may be useful, but speak to your GP if your insomnia lasts longer than four weeks.