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How to Make a New Year Resolution That Works For You

Once again it’s the turn of the calendar to January which means you may be thinking about making a new year resolution. It’s quite normal to think about all you want to accomplish in the year ahead. Having targets to shoot for is important to move forward in life. Without direction our life will grow stagnant and directionless. It will have no spark.

new year resolutionBut just thinking about a new year resolution isn’t enough. You have to develop a definitive plan of action. These are the step-by-step plans that will help you accomplish what you want.

In order to get your plans on the right track, you have to decide on the right type of goal. Goals are hard enough to reach. I’m convinced though, we frustrate ourselves by not making the right type of goals in the first place. Consequently, we end up drifting aimlessly because we did not have the proper starting point.

So how do you set goals that will help your new year resolution become a reality? Above all they must contain a few basic elements.

New Year Resolution Goals Done Right

Several key ingredients are needed in order for your new year resolution to get started on the right foot.

First, it should be really specific. Most of the time our goals are too broad. We make vague statements like, “I want to get in better shape.” What does that really look like? How will you know you are in better shape?

A more defined statement would be, “I want to lose 15 pounds in 3 months.”

By being more specific we have given our goal the component of measurability, which is another key component to goal setting. The goal can be quantified. Adding those numerical values not only creates clarity but makes the goal computable. At the end of 3 months, the weight scale will tell you whether or not you’ve reached your goal.

A common misstep in setting a new year resolution is that we over-project what we will be able to accomplish. We get so jazzed up in the emotion of the new calendar year and it causes us to not think straight. We declare we are going to do something only to realize later it was never going to be achievable in the first place.

This speaks to a goals attainability. Is what you are trying to accomplish even reachable? Now keep in mind, goals should have some level of difficulty. There has to be effort put forth. But a 40-yr. old who has never played football in his life who says he wants to become an NFL quarterback is simply being loopy. That idea for a goal is simply beyond his reach.

Furthermore, it’s probably not even relevant to what’s going on in his life. Relevancy refers to whether or not a goal is worthwhile. Is it something you should really be doing? Is it the right time or place for this to happen?

For a time, I was a high school personal finance and economics teacher. It would not have been a relevant class objective to have my students learn about the life and times of George Washington. In my context, a study of his life would not have taught them how to prepare a monthly budget, how to get out of debt or plan for retirement. Relevancy is a key to setting the right type of goals.

Finally, your new year resolution should have a time component attached to it. Does it have a deadline or a target date? The person above who wanted to lose 15 pounds set their target date for 3 months. The specific date is a motivational marker in the future that helps create a sense of urgency to get the job done.

New Year Resolution Tips

I’ve made some really good new year resolutions in the past and a few that were awful. Here are a couple things I’ve learned along the way:

1. Avoid overloading yourself with goals. I’ve had years when I tried to accomplish 10-15 different goals. It’s simply too much. I’ve had much more success when limiting myself to 3-5. Plus, the journey reaching fewer goals was a lot more enjoyable.

2. Focus on more than one area of your life. If you want to set multiple goals, don’t bunch all of them into one area of your life. Health and fitness related goals are great which is where we often focus this time of year. But what about goals for your spiritual life, or your career, or your personal relationships or even your attitude? Those are valuable aspects of your life that need attention as well.

3. Set both short and long-term goals. There is nothing wrong with a year-long goal. However, 365 days is a long time. Setting and reaching some interim range goals (1-month, 3-month, 6-month) might provide the encouragement you need and give you the stamina to endure the longer ones.

4. Have goals build on one another. In relation to #3, setting a shorter term goal could launch you into trying the same goal for longer. This helps with the attainability factor I mentioned above. When you realize you can do it for one month, you might end up thinking, “That was great…can I do it for longer?”

5. Mix it up each year. It may be tempting to try and complete the same goal year in and year out. To me, that is really not a new year resolution that is going to move you forward. It’s not a new goal. You’ve already accomplished it. If you want to insist on doing that though, at least put a new twist on it – a different angle that allows you to accomplish something new with the goal.

6. Set goals all year long, not just at the beginning of the year. There is nothing magical about a new year resolution. In fact, most people fail at theirs within the first few weeks and give up. Others accomplish theirs and then do nothing else the rest of the year.

That’s a mistake. Goal setting should be a life long endeavor. Without them, you will be directionless.

So if you fail on your new year resolution in early January or February just recommit to a new goal and try again. If you succeed on a six-month resolution, then start a new one in July. Make your life a continual evaluation and find areas where you can improve.

Happy goal setting!

Questions for Discussion: What is your new year resolution? Have you found your life seems to drift when you don’t have a goal? What is the best new year resolution you’ve ever been able to accomplish?

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  1. I don’t find my life seems to drift without goals, but I definitely feel more accomplished and focused while I have goals. My biggest issue with goals are that I set the time lines too long I think. Many of them could be achieved sooner and therefore probably achieve more goals if I set stricter timelines.

    • I agree Stephen…The timeline issue is tricky. For many goals, it really is difficult to know how long it will (or should) actually take. For me, a longer timeline just breeds procrastination. If I know I have a long time to get something done, then I’ll be more likely to blow some days off knowing I’ll be able to “catch up” later.

  2. Aside from using SMART goals in my resolutions, I think I gotta focus, focus, and focus on what is more important in life, at work, and some other aspects of life so that I avoid stress and there will be less distractions.

  3. I like that you suggest making goals all year round. New Years is a great place to start, but if you’re not improving throughout the year, it’s hard to maintain momentum.

  4. Rosebriars says

    Although I agree that goals should be quantifiable, I cringe when goals are outcome based (lose 15 pounds in 3 months) rather than behavior or process based (exercise at least 15 minutes daily; eat veggies, protein, fiber, and healthy fat at every meal).

    Outcomes are often not completely within our power, whereas behaviors are much more so. All too often I have failed at desired outcomes, which leaves me feeling depressed and ashamed, even when I have been courageously diligent in my actions toward the goal.

    Conversely, when my focus is on diligence in a process or behavior, I am both more likely to continue amidst difficulties and to be pleased with myself AND the outcomes of my efforts.

  5. I find a couple keys to be:

    1. Breaking down the goal into achievable mini-goals. Instead of “lose 10 pounds this year”, work to lose 2.5 pounds each quarter.

    2. Develop and track daily steps/tasks to help you reach your goal (exercising, eating right, etc.)

    These two have been the hallmarks of my successful goal-setting for 30 years.

    • I like those action items ESI! Tracking it daily is key too. When you can see the little gains it encourages you towards the bigger picture. Thanks for the thoughts!

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