How to Set Personal Goals and New Year’s Resolutions

Personal goal-setting can change your life!  If you think of personal goal-setting as a fun and creative process, it can take some of the anxiety out of it.  Here are some tips that have worked for me.

1. Begin by telling yourself that the new year will be the best year of your life. Going into the process with this positive attitude may help motivate you through the tougher parts.  That can be the first thing you write down, if you wish.  For example, at the top of my paper, I might write: “2010 Will Be The Best Year of My Life!”

2. Think of — and write down — the good things you want for yourself and those you love. Try not to let anything get in the way of writing these down.  For example, don’t think…yes, but if only I could afford it!  Just write it down.

If you find yourself with a mental block, you can try a number of creative ways to get in touch with your dreams…

  • Take a walk outside and talk it over it with a trusted friend.
  • Look through your favorite magazines.  What articles and photos do you respond to?
  • Get big sheets of paper and markers and make BIG lists.  That’s how I do it!  Post-It makes a great easel sized paper with sticky surfaces to stick on the wall.
  • Get lots of different colors of post it notes, with wishes and goals on each one.
  • Draw pictures of yourself succeeding in your goal(s)
  • If you find you are really stuck, try this imagination-liberating exercise: imagine how you would live your life if you won the lottery.  What would you do?  Write it down.

3. Categorize your goals. This will help you organize your thoughts.  You can dedicate a sheet of paper (or several) to each!  Or use different post-it note colors for different areas of your life.  Or open a notebook (in Mac Microsoft Word) and dedicate a tab to each section.  Whatever method helps you organize your thoughts in a fun and effective way, go for it.

Types of Personal Goals

  • Recreation/fun (e.g., concerts, museums, sports)
  • Artistic/Creative/Writing/Self-Expression
  • Vacation/Trips
  • Education/School/Classes/Self-Improvement/New Skills
  • Physical Fitness/exercise
  • Healthy Diet/food-related
  • Healthy Behaviors/Mindset (e.g. smoking, stress, positive outlook)
  • Personal appearance/grooming
  • Medical/Exams
  • Love relationships/marriage/dating
  • Friendships/socializing
  • Financial/Budget
  • Career/Business/Networking/Professional Associations
  • Home Purchase/Home Improvement/Home organization
  • Auto/Maintenance
  • Environmental/green/recycling
  • Related to Parenting/children/pets/family
  • Spiritual/religious/life purpose
  • Community/neighborhood/causes/volunteerism
  • Etc.

If you get to this point, you will have a whole lot of goals.  You may see a pattern, or one or two goals may leap out at you as the most important.  This will help as you start to write the objectives that help you reach your goals. The objectives are the steps along the way that will help you reach your larger goal, or resolution, for the year.

4. Refine and Elaborate Your Personal Goals. So at this point, you have to do a reality check, and start prioritizing the goals you have identified.  Which are the most important to you?  Which are the most easy to achieve?  There is an acronym that many personal coaches recommend, called SMART

  • Specific. Make the goal specific.  Write it in as positive a tone as you can.
  • Measurable. What would define success for you?  Losing weight?  Or losing fifteen pounds?
  • Attainable. Perhaps you might not be able to buy a new car this year.  But could you save $25 a week?
  • Realistic. Some of your dreams may not be realistic at this point.  That’s okay.  It’s still good to be aware of them.  But stretch your perception of what may be attainable.  You may be able to achieve those dreams, or some version of them.  You may surprise yourself.
  • Time-based. Set a time-limit for your goals, with specific dates.  Be sure to include a few modest goals that can be achieved in a relatively short time-frame. That will build your confidence, as you achieve them.

I like to create big goals for the areas of my life, divided into smaller objectives and steps, which are more like projects that help me meet the bigger goal.  For example, here’s one I did for my “Health” category a couple of years ago.

Health Goal: I will be physically and emotionally healthy this year.

Objective 1: I will get routine medical care.

Step 1:  I will make an appointment to get a check-up in March (I met this goal.  It was easy to remember, because my birthday is in March).

Step 2: I will get a mammogram (I didn’t specify when, so I didn’t actually meet this goal. Setting a date is important!)

There were lots of other steps, such as “I will take vitamins and/or a calcium supplement daily,” but you get the idea.  The goal is the big picture.  Here are some other examples of big goals (that had lots of objectives and steps for each) that I have used in the past.

  • Home Goal: I will maintain a clean, inviting, beautiful, and well-organized home.  There are several steps that go along with that, including organization projects.
  • Car Goal: I will maintain my car and its related expenses.  The habits I built that year have now become second nature.
  • Finances Goal: I will take steps to build my personal financial security.
  • Friendship Goal: I will make friends with fun, intelligent, interesting, and positive people and maintain my current good friendships.  My goal helped me be more outgoing.  As I planned in my specific and dated objectives, I had a Mardi Gras party, and connected with some people I had been meaning to touch base with for a while.
  • Family Goal: I will spend quality time with my son.  This goal involved all kinds of good parenting objectives, like being more structured about meal times and bed times, and planning fun things to do together.
  • Personal Development Goal: I will have fun, learn new things, and take some interesting classes.  This was a fun goal to write that involved all kinds of plans for taking belly dancing, ballroom dancing, going to certain museum exhibits, and travel.  It was an ambitious list and I accomplished most of it.  It gave me a structure for my year.
  • Job Goal: I will work at an enjoyable and satisfying job.  The steps I wrote were very specific, including taking classes to learn specific new skills, attending networking events, and completing certain projects.  The steps helped me go way beyond my expectations for the year.

5. Plan How You Will Deal with Obstacles in Personal Goal-Setting. At some point in the goal writing process (it can be towards the end, or in the middle, but it shouldn’t be in the beginning),  you can also write down the obstacles that may get in the way of achieving the goals, and decide how you are going to deal with them.   This will be an ongoing process throughout the year, by the way, and you may have to adjust, revise, or even abandon goals as these obstacles come up.  And that’s okay!  Sometimes, a goal has to be postponed. I never have anticipated that I will achieve each and every one of my goals, and I never have, but I try to achieve the most important ones, and the most fun ones.  If I don’t meet one goal, there are always others to work on.

The most common obstacles people cite are lack of money, time, and motivation. For lack of money and time, I think it is useful, especially if you are new to personal goal-setting, to set modest goals that don’t cost a lot of money but that will have a big pay-off.  For example, it does not generally cost anything to drink more water, or take a half-hour walk each day, but both of these life-changes can have tremendously positive results for your health.

For lack of motivation, the best thing to do is, again, to set small goals, and remind yourself along the way of your success.  Keep your list with you and read it whenever you can.  I keep a copy in a pocket photo album (they cost about $2 or $3 for this purpose).  Check-mark or highlight the goals and objectives on the list as you meet them.  Proudly review (and share!) what you have accomplished.   It is also helpful to share your goals with a positive and supportive person who can help keep you motivated.

Still, as you go through the year, you will encounter people, situations, and problems that may get in your way.  There will be people, perhaps even some of your friends, or your boss, children, parents, or spouse, who will be less than supportive or neutral about your progress or achievement.  It can be easy to get pigeon-holed into a role, and when you try to break free of that perception people have of you, they may resist it.  (Some people, of course, will be wildly supportive!)  Or perhaps you are in a job that is not helping you move forward in your career.  It could be anything.  At that time, ask yourself: is this person/thing/situation taking me farther from or closer to my goals? You cannot afford to let “vampires” drain away your positive energy or enthusiasm, so find away to overcome these obstacles as you work toward your goals.

You will also have sacrifices to make as you reach your goals.  They may be small or great.  At the very least, you will have to expend effort.  For example, if you want to learn new skills that will help you on the job, you will have to pay for classes, which means that you may have to adjust your vacation plans for the year, or buy fewer new clothes.  Or if your goal is to improve your personal appearance, maybe you’ll spend more money on clothes!  🙂  Just give some thought to what you are willing to give up in order to achieve your goals.

6. Develop a system that works for you. My system, as I mentioned, involves creating goals, objectives, and small steps (dated and specific) in a Microsoft Word document.  I then  format the document with 2″ to 2.3″ inch margins all around.  I cut this and insert it into a 5 X 7 pocket photo album that fits into my purse.  (There are also other helpful lists and photos in this book!)  Now, when I am on the Metro, or waiting in line, I can take out my book and review my goals.

You can keep your resolutions online, or on an index card (if you only have a few).  Whatever you do, write them down!


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