A Useful Approach to Setting and Making Progress on Your New Year’s Goals

As we reach the end of 2022, many of us will probably be reflecting on the past year and spending some time setting some goals or intentions for 2023.

Given that when the clock strikes midnight, we’re not likely to become a completely different person, it’s important to make your goals or intentions realistic, sustainable, and relevant to your actual priorities in order to give you the greatest chance of success in the long term. 

Not everyone sets goals for the new year, but I’m a sucker for rituals and I appreciate the excuse to reflect, recalibrate, and realign. 

Start with a question

When determining what my goals would be for 2022, I asked myself what I wanted more or less of in my life. 

The answers to this question could be tangible things (like more money or less clutter), something less tangible (like more connection or less stress), or a personal trait you’d like to work on, such as developing more patience or being less judgemental. 

I brainstormed using this question for a while and filled up a note in my phone with what came to mind. I ultimately identified three themes that a lot of my wants fell under. 

I wanted less waste. I wanted more energy. And I wanted to be making more tangible progress toward our next steps, like moving out of Florida to a more preferred destination. 

Brainstorm the “how

While a lot of goal-setting advice will tell you to make your goals very specific, I prefer to keep my goals broad. And instead, get specific on the how, creating a menu of options that could help me reach these goals.

This method helps me be creative in how I might approach getting more or less of whatever it is, allows for a more holistic approach, and gives me options that I can move between throughout the week while still making progress, which leaves room for imperfection. 

For example, rather than setting a goal to exercise 4 days a week, my intention for the year is to have more energy. I can accomplish that by, yes, exercising, but also by incorporating any of the following practices or habits into my life:

  • Exercising or stretching
  • Drinking enough water
  • Not drinking alcohol
  • Being in bed by 10:30 pm
  • Not skipping meals
  • Eating plant-based and homemade meals
  • Foregoing TV and using that time for more creative pursuits
  • Spending time with people that give me energy 
  • Taking my vitamins

Having brainstormed ways that will help me keep my energy levels up, rather than having a strict exercise 4 days a week goal, I can instead just focus on checking a few of these low-lift things off each day and enjoy the benefits. 

If you have a goal related to improving your financial picture, your menu could include options like:

  • Ingest some type of financial education media (read a blog post or book chapter or listen to a podcast)
  • Send $50 or more to an investment account or high-interest savings account
  • Categorize expenses and give dollars jobs in YNAB
  • Complete a buy-nothing day. 
  • No-eating-or-drinking-out day.
  • Sell something I’m not using or no longer want to earn a little extra cash
  • Apply for a job with a higher salary
  • Pay more than the minimum on a credit card balance

Ask what seems reasonable when setting your expectations

Next up is to determine what feels reasonable to expect from yourself as you’re starting out the year.

For me, I listed 9 tangible things up above that I believe will help me have more energy. Given that some of them are pretty basic (drink water, take vitamins, go to bed on time, etc), I think it’s pretty reasonable to expect myself to check off 4 out of the 9 each day, knowing that consistency is more important than perfection.

If I find after a few weeks that I’m consistently hitting my 4-a-day goal but only checking off the low-hanging fruit, I might raise it to 5 a day and see how I do.

If you were working off of the example list for a financial goal above, you may start off trying to complete 3 or 4 items a week. For my goal of making progress on our plans to move out of Florida, I’ll probably have a goal to complete 1 or 2 items a month (primarily hitting our monthly savings target with some other logistical and research-related items thrown in there). 

Make your goal a verb not a destination

The adjustment and adapting I mentioned above is key to the sustainability and success of your goals. Just because I’m setting a goal for 2023 in January doesn’t mean it has to stay static for the whole year. You should spend some time every few weeks reflecting and adapting based on what’s working, what’s not, and if it’s still serving you. 

Again, let’s say you were using the menu related to a personal finance goal above – halfway through the year you may have paid off all your credit cards, and now want to change that item to be to pay extra on a student loan, or some other item entirely. Or maybe you find your enjoying learning more about personal finance and so you make a change to a have a daily target to read some kind of personal finance education content, but are sticking with a weekly or monthly target for the other tasks. 

For me, this will look like creating a note on my phone with those 9 things, and checking off each day how many I complete. If I hit my goal of 4 in a day, I’ll make a mark on my calendar so I can track consistency, and try not to miss two days in a row. 

Making this a quick daily check-in keeps me engaged in the process, lets me acknowledge my progress, and is likely to help me stay motivated. Because my goal isn’t about the result, but about the daily process, I’ll be much more likely to stick with it.

I can follow this same structure with my other two intentions of being less wasteful and making more progress toward our next steps as well. 

If you plan to make any goals or resolutions for the new year, try using this structure and let me know how it goes. You can also check out this older post about how to help stay motivated when working towards goals.

2 thoughts on “A Useful Approach to Setting and Making Progress on Your New Year’s Goals

  1. I like the bit about making your goal a verb. So many people are destination based, like they want to drop down to a certain weight and think everything is over once they’re there. But it’s more about a lifestyle you adopt more than anything. Thanks for this, and wishing you the best for 2023!

    Liked by 1 person

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