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How to Actually Meet Resolutions & Goals

goal setting for new years resolutions

Many of us can attest to how entering a new year can reignite feelings of motivation or enthusiasm. Simultaneously, the social rhetoric of “new year, new me” can also evoke feelings of anxiety. Will I meet the goals that I set for myself? Why haven’t I met these goals in the first place? 

Oftentimes, however, I've noticed that people often fail to meet their goals not because of some sort of personal “failing,” but because the goals themselves or methods of setting them are bound to set anyone up for defeat. So, today’s post is all about how to set goals properly so that you’re actually able to meet them. 

  1. Be honest with yourself.

I've noticed that many people are dishonest with themselves in two particular ways when it comes to goal-setting:

a. They overestimate how badly they want to achieve the goal. 

b. They overestimate how much time or effort they’ll be able to reasonably put toward meeting the goal. 

For example, according to Forbes, improving fitness, losing weight, and improving diet are among the top five resolutions that people are setting in 2024. These aren't goals that are just set at the start of a new year though; I’ve worked with many people who come to therapy due to frustrations about weight gain and a desire to shed some pounds.

However, when I ask people why they want to lose weight, many folks provide answers in a passionless, robotic sort of way, or as if they’re regurgitating something they read. 

“I want to become fit because I know exercise is good for you.” 

“I want to lose weight because my doctor said I’m overweight.” 

“I want to get in shape because I know I'm fat.” 

These are piss-poor reasons to set a goal and I honestly felt discouraged just typing them out. 

If you don't have any personal attachment to a goal, you won't meet it. If there’s no buy-in, passion, or understanding behind why you want to do something, you’re not going to do it. Furthermore, engaging in a behaviour because you feel like you “should” has to be one of the most deflating, uninspired reasons to do something. And the real kicker is that most people also end up beating themselves up for not meeting this goal even though they didn't have any buy-in.

This is why it’s so important for us to be honest with ourselves. Rather than setting a weight loss goal because you feel like you “should,” it's more helpful to say, “Even though my doctor said I should lose weight, I’m not interested in meeting that goal—at least not right now.” Your efforts are better spent on committing to something that matters to you rather than shitting on yourself for not meeting a goal that you didn’t care about.

If I can put it bluntly, I believe that many of us feel tempted to lose weight due to living in a culture that praises thinness and associates it with status, power, and beauty. As a woman who grew up in Canada, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told myself I “need to lose weight,” only to realize that I actually have no interest in doing this if I’m honest with myself. Sometimes, this realization will lead to a fruitful inner conversation with myself about redefining my goal altogether; I might realize that it's not actually that I want to lose weight, but that I want to start eating more real, whole foods to increase my energy. At least now I have buy-in because the goal is not only more specific but resonates with me as well.  

This leads to my second point of being honest about how much energy and/or time you're willing to put toward a goal, too. We mustn't forget that changing a behaviour is hard—oftentimes a lot harder than we realize. That’s why it's imperative to set small goals that are achievable in our current context. 

I recommend taking a moment to envision yourself performing the goal you've set to see if it reasonably fits into your day-to-day life. For example, if you're wanting to gain muscle, it might be tempting to tell yourself that you’re going to go to the gym five days a week. But let’s say you just got a promotion that has required you to work much longer days. If you’re truly honest with yourself, can you genuinely see yourself being able to sustain this? If you leave the house at 6am and get back at 6pm, when do you reasonably feel like you’re going to be able to work out during the week? 

Interestingly, a study from the British Journal of Health Psychology revealed that people were two to three times more likely to exercise when they filled out this sentence: “During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME OF DAY] at/in [SETTING].” For example, “I'm going to do a 30-minute workout on Wednesday mornings before work at 8am in my home gym.” The success of this technique has been replicated across many other studies, regardless of what the goal is. 

  • Exercise: think of your end goal. Now, look at your schedule. Look at how many social outings you have, how long your work days are, how many activities you have to drive your kids to, etc. Be real with yourself and identify what goal is actually sustainable. Then, fill out the formula above: “I will do [ACTIVITY] on [DAY] at [TIME OF DAY] at/in [SETTING.” Identify how long you're going to try this out for (i.e. one month) and check in with yourself at the end of the 30 days.

(Side note: you might be reading this and feel like I'm almost discouraging you from setting exercise-related goals. This is hardly the case. Rather, this post is all about how to set goals appropriately so that you can meet them, feel encouraged, and want to keep going. It doesn’t do any good to set benchmarks for ourselves just for the sake of setting them.)

2. Celebrate small wins frequently. 

This is advice I learned from a personal trainer on TikTok, James Smith, who I see as the “Gordon Ramsay” of fitness due to his ability to give blunt yet highly effective advice about health and wellness. In one of his videos, he notes that if you only celebrate one big success, such as losing 50 lbs., then you’re only going to celebrate once. If, however, you celebrate every time you lose five pounds, you’re going to recognize your wins more often and feel more motivated as a result.

Of course, this applies to domains other than weight loss. For example, you might choose to celebrate every time you gain 1,000 followers on Instagram rather than your end goal of 10,000 followers. You can celebrate writing your first 10 blog posts rather than your first 100. The point is that celebrating small wins gives us a nice dopamine hit that will encourage us to keep going. 

  • Exercise: to put this into practice, draw a line on a piece of paper. On the far right end of the line, write down what your end goal is. Then, moving progressively toward the left, write down all of the small “wins” you can celebrate on your way to that end goal. 

3. Use visuals. 

bullet journal for new years resolutions 2024

Recently, I realized that I was ordering Uber Eats way more than was even remotely appropriate for any human. (Seriously, I curse the day that Uber Eats was invented because the temptation is just too. real.) 

So, I printed out a blank calendar for the month and put an “X” on days where I'd eaten reasonably healthy. (This wasn’t anything intense; I wasn’t counting calories or macros or monitoring my protein intake. These were seriously just days where I wasn’t eating like the world was going to combust tomorrow.)

By the end of the month, I was quite shocked to see how few “X’s” I had put on the calendar. For whatever reason, seeing a visual representation of how many times I’d ordered Uber Eats was extremely humbling. Not only that but at the bottom of the calendar, I put a line that said, “Total Amount Spent on Uber Eats: ______.” I’m not going to share this number out of self-respect, but let’s just say it was as ginormous as the portions I was eating that month. 

Many people find bullet journals helpful for this reason. There are countless ways to incorporate visuals into your bullet journaling so that you’re able to monitor progress in different ways, which I find enormously helpful. Thankfully, Pinterest and YouTube are filled with ideas about how to use bullet journaling to track any goal you can possibly imagine, from self-care and meditation to mood tracking and exercise. (Here's a post by Buzzfeed for anyone who has set a health-related goal.)

Visual cues can be helpful in other ways, too. Putting your gratitude journal on your pillow will remind you to partake in this activity before bed. Leaving your supplements by the coffee machine will remind you to take them in the morning. Put visual cues wherever you need them to help you meet your goals. 


4. Realize that your environment does way more work than your brain does. 

Look, it's hard to constantly have to pause and remind yourself to do something differently. That's why I’m a big believer in creating an environment that carries some of this burden—and this refers to both your physical and online environments.

Here are some examples of what I mean if we look at the goal of eating healthier:

  • Chop up fruits and vegetables and put them at the front of your fridge so that you see the first. 

  • Avoid purchasing foods that negatively impact your body (out of sight out of mind)! 

  • Delete apps from your phone like Uber Eats and Skip the Dishes so that it's harder to engage in the behaviour you want to break. 

  • Commit to a goal with your partner so that the two of you are co-creating a supportive environment. 

  • Use smaller plates and/or bowls if you're struggling with portion control. 

  • Follow people on social media who you find inspiring, such as body-positive content creators, physical trainers, or motivational speakers. 

  • Eat at a dinner table rather than in front of the TV so that you can be more present and mindful when eating. 

  • Prepare healthy home-cooked meals in advance and keep them in the freezer so that healthy options are accessible, even when you're exhausted after a long day of work or don't have time to cook. 

  • Have healthy snacks on hand at all times in every environment: in your office, in your car, in your purse or work bag, in your gym bag, seriously just put them everywhere. (Nuts, seeds, protein bars, jerky, rice cakes, peanut butter packets, and dry cereal are all good options.)

  • Take a different route home from work if it means that you won’t pass tempting establishments, such as fast-food restaurants or liquor stores.

5. Figure out what your particular brain finds motivating. 

I believe that five main strategies motivate most of us: 

1 - Competitiveness: some of us are motivated by the idea of winning. If you're someone who likes playing sports, who compares yourself to the leaderboard when doing a Peloton workout, or who likes to do group challenges, you likely will fall into this category. Think of ways that you can incorporate a sense of competition into your goal—and remember that this can revolve around competing with others or just yourself.

  • Ex: you might want to compete with fellow fitness enthusiasts within the Fitbit community and strive to get the highest step count that day. Or, you might decide to beat a certain number of reps during your weight training workouts as a way of competing with yourself. Use your imagination! 

2 - Punishments: some of us might not feel motivated enough to change a behaviour until we’re deeply affected by a consequence. I see this with people who struggle with substances; they might not feel as though their habits are problematic until they’ve blacked out and unknowingly drained $500 out of their bank account, for example. However, we can use the concept of punishment to our advantage in smaller, more preventative ways.

  • Ex: you could give your partner $50 at the end of the month if you don't meet your goal or donate to a cause you don’t support. You could disallow yourself from watching your favourite Netflix show that night if you didn’t meet the goal that you'd set for yourself that day. 

When it comes to this point, however, I want to reiterate that I feel like this only works if your goals are small and doable. It's a lot more effective to say, “I only get to watch my Netflix show once I’ve done a 20-minute walk” versus saying, “I only get to watch my Netflix show after I've done a two-hour workout.” If you do the latter, it's way too easy to say “forget it" and not do anything at all. 

3 - Rewards: some of us might feel more encouraged by treating ourselves for doing versus punishing ourselves for not doing.

  • Ex: this might look like getting a massage after two weeks of meeting a goal or buying yourself a small gift like a bouquet of flowers.

  • This technique might work especially well if your partner is willing to participate in the reward. For example, your partner could give you a massage if you've met your goal after two weeks, while you could make them their favourite meal if they've met theirs.

4 - Accountability: back when I had a personal trainer, I realized it was helpful for two main reasons. Firstly, I learned about proper form and how to put together a weight-lifting routine for different muscle groups. But once I learned these principles, the main benefit of having a trainer was that he simply forced me to work out--even on days that I really, really didn't want to. If he showed up at my house, I was working out, period. I've heard many people say the same thing about therapy, where they feel more motivated to change a behaviour simply because they know we'll have another session next week.

  • Ex: pay for a fitness program upfront, check in with a doctor and/or naturopath every month, or schedule workouts with a friend each week so that you have to show up. 

5 - Streaks: a streak is a period during which something continues to happen, usually on a daily basis. For example, I know someone who committed themselves to running every single day, rain or shine. Or, some apps track your streaks automatically, such as Peloton or different habit-tracking apps. This works for some folks because it embraces the concept of sunk cost, an economics/business term that refers to costs that have already been incurred and can't be recovered. Said more practically, this concept can be encapsulated by the phrase, “Well, I’ve already come this far, so it would be foolish to stop.”

  • Ex: Use bullet journalling to help keep track of your streaks or use the Streaks app instead.

6. Prepare—and plan ahead—for all-or-nothing thinking. 

Many of us fail because we think in extremes: if we don't do something perfectly, we see ourselves as a failure. If we eat a bowl of chips, we think, “Screw it, I’ll just eat the whole bag.” All-or-nothing thinking can seriously derail us from our goals, though it’s a mistake that many of us make, myself included. 

So, when you inevitably slip up during your journey of meeting a goal, I’d invite you to say one (or all) of the following mantras: 

  • Making one mistake hasn't derailed all of my efforts. 

  • Progress, not perfection.

  • I only need to do something “right” 80% of the time to reap the benefits.

  • I can get back on track tomorrow; this doesn't have to be as big of a deal as I’m making it out to be. 

  • I’m engaging in all-or-nothing thinking right now; I don’t have to think in such extremes. 

  • Expecting perfection from myself every day isn't sustainable. Having an “off day” is an entirely acceptable part of one’s journey toward meeting a goal. 

  • Write your own mantra that will help you get back on track after a “slip-up”: _________________________________________________________________________

You can also reflect on all of the things that you have done right up until now as a way of entering a more positive head space. 

The Bottom Line 

When it comes to meeting goals, start small and keep sustainability in mind. Make sure that you’re being honest with yourself about what you can reasonably commit to rather than setting goals that are too intense and feeling disappointed when you inevitably can't meet them. 

Additionally, identify what helps keep you on track, such as rewarding yourself for meeting small goals along the way. Set yourself up for success by modifying your environment accordingly and consider using bullet journalling to have a visual representation of your progress. 


If you're interested in working with a professional to help you meet your goals and hold yourself accountable, email to book a virtual or in-person appointment at our Markham office.


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