The Psychology of Resolutions – 7 Tips on How You Should be Setting Goals

How are you doing with your New Year’s Resolutions?

Haven’t defined them yet? Don’t participate in that foolishness? Or perhaps it was a not-so-valiant effort?

My perspective on New Year’s resolutions has evolved over the years.  Admittedly, it’s evolved this past month!  Such resolutions can be a great thing.  They prompt us to be mindful –  to think about our values, our ideal selves and to set behavioral goals.

There’s much debate on the type of goal one should set.  Some would argue that the resolutions should be reasonable to avoid negative consequences, while others argue that safe goals won’t inspire or affect change.  So, Job 1 is to decide on what type of goal you’re setting. We’ll focus on attainable rather than ‘moon shot’ goals.  After all, some of us still haven’t set our New Year’s resolutions (one can be about procrastination.)

  • The Goal Should be SMART 

Make resolutions that you think you can keep. It should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound.  If your goal is to exercise more, aim for a run every day rather than a marathon per month. If you would like to be published, try focusing on writing daily.

  • Change one behavior at a time Goals

Behaviors develop over time. Thus, replacing undesired behavior requires time. The goal isn’t to become overwhelmed then reassess your life, career or business plan. Instead, focus on changing one thing at a time.

  • Focus on What You Control

Plan well.  Be honest about what falls in your purview.  If you’re not a scientist, it’s probably not prudent to set a goal of curing cancer this year.


  • Identify Models

If it’s an individual goal, look for someone who has accomplished something analogous. If it’s a business goal, identify a company to which you can aspire. The closer we perceive ourselves to our models, the stronger the persuasive effect.

  • Create the right environment

Context or environmental cues often trigger habitual behavior. To change behavior to reach a goal, you need to maximize what causes the desired behavior and minimize stumbling blocks.  The right environment and reinforcements can go a long way in making your goal attainable.  If you’re trying to lose weight, don’t stock up on ice cream.  If you’re trying to reduce costs, replace your break-room’s Keurig with a coffee maker.

  • Create a System of Accountability

If your goals have been socialized, you’re more likely to consistently pursue them.  You’ll also have opportunities for people to encourage you.

  • Maintain a Positive Attitude 

Perfection is unreachable and missteps while pursuing your goals should be expected. Resolve to improve and get back on track.  Remember, the goal is to improve, not to create anxiety and lower self-worth.  Failure can also cause us to overestimate the difficulties of our goals, underestimate our own abilities and can suppress our motivation, according to psychologist Guy Winch. He advises to be aware of how failure can distort your perception and self-image. “Recognize that failure distorts your perceptions about the task itself and about your capacities. Don’t ‘buy’ that you are incapable,” he writes in Psychology Today. “Adopt a mindset of persistence and optimism.”


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