How to set goals instead!

Resolution versus goal setting

A resolution is a decision to do something (or not do something). Many resolutions fall flat because a decision, by itself, is not enough to sustain long-term behavior change.

A goal is a desired result. Goal setting is associated with higher self-esteem, self-confidence, and success—but only when certain conditions are met, such as creating an action plan to achieve your goal.

Make habits to achieve goals

A goal without habits is just an abstract wish. Focusing on the goal alone can reduce the happiness you feel right now. When your singular focus is on achieving an outcome goal, you’re essentially saying, “I’ll be happy as soon as I achieve X.” When we fail to achieve an end goal, we often feel bad about ourselves, even if we’ve made immense progress.

Turning your goals into habits, however, can shield you from their potential negative effects. A goal with built-in habits and systems is much more likely to result in success.

Enjoy small wins on the road toward your goal

Focusing on smaller habits, rather than the goal itself, will help you to enjoy the day-to-day process of working toward a goal.

Focusing on smaller habits, instead of on a particular outcome, also lets you notice and appreciate “small wins”: incremental steps toward achieving your bigger goal. “Write one page a day” or “walk 15 minutes per day” is much more manageable than “write a book” or “lose 30 pounds.”

This way, you’ll still get results—probably even better ones than if you’d committed to an abstract goal instead of a habit or process. And even if you don’t achieve your ultimate outcome, you can still appreciate the progress you’ve achieved along the way.

Understand outcomes versus inputs

Resolutions are typically outcome goals like “I’ll lose 30 pounds this year” or “I’m going to squat my bodyweight for 10 reps this year.” You can’t directly control what the scale says, how many inches you’ll lose from your waist within the next six months, or how much weight you’ll be able to add to your barbell squat. Those are all outputs: measures of results.

What you can control is your inputs. These might include focusing on eating mostly whole foods, exercising regularly, and practising barbell squats twice a week.

If you set an outcome goal for yourself to provide direction, make sure you have corresponding habit goals in place. These will be your inputs—what you’ll do to achieve your outcome goal. For example, if your goal is to perform your first unassisted chin-up, your habit goal (and your main focus) could be to practise chin-ups three days a week for six months.

Remember: start gradually, focus on small wins, and set yourself up for success this year!