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Make Your New Year's Goals Stick

December 29, 2018 George Abitante

Will your new year's goals stick? Find out how to make any new year's goal work out well for you at HealthyPlace.

Every year, I take time to reflect on my experiences and identify goals I want to pursue. Inevitably, some of these new year's goals fall by the wayside, regardless of how passionate I was about them at the start of the year. For a long time, I couldn't figure out why I stuck with some of my goals but not others. Eventually, I realized it was for a simple reason: some of my new year's goals set me up for failure

Often when I set new year's goals, I focus on the big problems in my life that I want to change, but for a long time, I didn't think about the underlying causes that created those problems. Whether it’s anxiety, weight gain, or relationship issues, these challenges rarely develop overnight and are the result of numerous habits and behaviors that we've accumulated over time. Consequently, the process to create substantial, sustainable change requires us to reverse this process by focusing on small, manageable pieces and developing them over time.

Whether your goal is to reduce anxiety, improve your relationships, or change careers, you can use this process to achieve meaningful change. 

How to Create New Year's Goals that Stick

  1. Set your goal. This is the step that we all do well: identifying what we want. This goal should be as specific as possible ("Tips for Achieving Your Mental Health Goals"). For example, my goal is to lose weight this year but saying "I want to lose weight this year" is not specific enough. Instead, I can say "I want to lose 10 pounds this year." This provides enough specificity for me to measure progress over time. 
  2. Identify a major obstacle. Whenever we set a goal, there is some degree of resistance to it because change is really tough. Because of this, it's important to identify a major obstacle standing in the way of your goal. My major obstacle is stress eating; when I have a lot of projects going on, I eat way more than I need and often find sweets to munch on. Although there are other areas of my life I could improve as well, stress eating is the one that contributes the most to my weight, and consequently, this is where my efforts need to be devoted.
  3. Don't challenge the obstacle: identify a manageable alternative. So, we've identified that my weight gain is primarily caused by stress eating. Ideally, I'd like to just stop my stress eating, but that's not a realistic goal -- my stress eating is the result of (likely) years of habit formation and is a huge habit to break. Instead, I want to insert a daily habit that can reduce my stress eating just a little bit. For example, whenever I feel the urge to stress eat, I can drink a large glass of water first. The most important things about this habit are that it uses the same cue (feeling hungry) as my stress eating and it is very easy for me to accomplish repeatedly. 
  4. Add new habits. Let's say I've spent the last month working on my water drinking habit and I'm feeling great about it. The next step is to cultivate more habits that counteract my stress eating. These could be habits that reduce my stress, change what I eat when stressed, or that further reduce how much I eat when stressed. The important thing is that I cultivate these habits slowly over time so that they are sustainable.

The steps I've provided above may feel counterintuitive; when we see obstacles to our goals, our first inclination is often to get rid of the obstacle right away. However, it is important to remember that the obstacles we face today are the result of years of habits and experiences. Cultivating sustainable change requires patience and the perseverance to make many small changes before seeing the result we want.

Share your goals below.

APA Reference
Abitante, G. (2018, December 29). Make Your New Year's Goals Stick, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, April 21 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/treatinganxiety/2018/12/make-your-new-years-goals-stick



Author: George Abitante

George received his Master's degree in Clinical Psychology from Northwestern University and is pursuing his PhD in Clinical Psychology at Vanderbilt University. Find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @AbitanteGeorge.

Lizanne Corbit
January, 1 2019 at 1:12 pm

I absolutely love that this read addresses obstacles! Then you go one brilliant step more and say don't just address the obstacle, acknowledge it and decide on some alternatives. Setting goals can be such an empowering experience. Wishing you a wonderfully fulfilling 2019!

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