It’s Time to Turn Your Resolutions into Goals

New Year's resolutions are great

Happy New Year! Now it’s time for some good ol’ New Year’s resolutions. Or is it? Do resolutions really work, or are they used as a way to make us feel like somehow this year will be different than the last? A prime example of this is gym attendance.

Come January first, the gyms are packed, fast forward to February first and the only ones left are the regulars. I believe that the reason for this is too many people focus on making New Year’s resolutions but fail to actually set goals.

Difference Between a Resolution & a Goal

There is a lot of excitement around New Year’s resolutions. I can remember sitting around the kitchen table one year when my family and I wrote down our resolutions on a piece of paper.

The idea was to then see at the end of the year whether we had achieved this resolution. I can remember that on my piece I wrote that I wanted to be the conference player of the year (I was a sophomore in college at the time).

Needless to say, I did not succeed in this endeavor. The season went well, with my team setting the school record for wins that year. However, I failed to achieve the resolution I had set that New Year’s Eve.

This may not be the best example, since I played baseball that season and many people who set resolutions fail to even stick with the activity. But, it does shed light on what I would like to discuss in this article, which is how we often confuse resolutions for goals.

It’s great to set a resolution heading into the new year, but without any goals in place, it is likely the resolution will become just another “should have.”

What is a Resolution

When I think about a resolution, it seems like a very abstract idea.

Merriam-Webster defines resolution as the act or process of resolving. It is then broken down into subcategories, one of which is: the act of determining.

I believe that this is the best definition for the type of resolution being referenced in this article. At the beginning of a new year, we determine what it is we would like to do nor not do differently.

So, what I mean by a resolution being an abstract idea is that what we are determining is very broad. It will be a decision to live a certain way or do certain activities throughout the upcoming year.

Many of us set resolutions to be healthier. Maybe it will be in the form of exercising more, such as going to the gym, running, or walking. Or perhaps our diet is to blame for our poor health, so we wish to eat in a healthier manner.

Another common resolution is to adopt a new skill or hobby. For example, if you’ve always had the desire to play the guitar, a resolution would be to learn to play the guitar.

So you see, there is an endless supply of ideas that people come up with for their new year’s resolution. But, do you see a theme beginning to unfold? All of the examples I’ve provided are broad ideas, mere wishes that we hope to accomplish.

This is why many of us fall short of achieving our resolutions. Without a proper plan, it is unlikely we will stick with it. That is where goal setting comes into play. We will get into more on that later, but first, let’s take a look at what defines a goal.

“So you see, there is an endless supply of ideas that people come up with for their new year’s resolution. But, do you see a theme beginning to unfold? All of the examples I’ve provided are broad ideas, mere wishes that we hope to accomplish.”

What is a Goal

A goal is defined as the object of a person’s ambition or effort.

There are multiple levels of goals. We can have large goals and small goals. The small goals are usually the ones that are put into place in order to achieve a larger goal.

The reason we set goals is to provide direction and purpose in life. Without them, our lives can seem pointless. By setting goals, we ensure ourselves a certain level of motivation and desire each day.

One of the most important aspects of a goal is that it should be specific, meaning you will know exactly when you have achieved it. We do not want to be vague in this respect.

Let’s take a little deeper look into the differences between big and small goals.

Big Goals

Here we have goals that require a large amount of time to accomplish. These goals are often based around categories like finances, fitness, owning a home, landing a new job, getting into a relationship, etc.

In other words, the big goals are outcome-oriented.

When thinking about setting a goal versus a resolution, let’s view a big goal as one we set for the upcoming year.

For example, someone wishes to get into better shape. A big goal for them would be to lose thirty pounds by this time next year.

This is a good goal because it is specific. By the end of the year, they will be able to clearly see whether or not the thirty pounds have been lost.

After setting a big goal, it would be time to move onto smaller ones, which help ensure the success of the large goal.

Small Goals

Details are key when it comes to small goals.

Once a large goal is set, smaller ones must be put in place with the intent of achieving the large goal. For this reason, they are considered process goals.

A process involves the steps taken along the way to achieving an end result. Daily and weekly goals are a great way to keep us motivated and accountable.

If a well-thought-out plan has been created, then the small goals will take care of the larger ones. That is the beauty of it, no more concern needs to take place.

Trusting the process and following through on each of your small goals is bound to lead to the outcome you desire.

For example, let’s take the case of an individual wanting to lose thirty pounds by the end of the year.

Their weekly goals will look something like this:

  • Go to the gym five days out of the week.
  • Eat healthy six days this week.
  • Walk thirty minutes a day.
  • Say no to fast food all week.

Then, they would break these down into even smaller daily goals:

  • Go to the gym for one hour tomorrow.
  • Meal prep tomorrow for the week.
  • Walk tomorrow after work.
  • Meet with a personal trainer tomorrow.

You see, by taking a large goal and breaking it down into smaller steps, there is a much greater chance of success. That is why both large and small goals are important, each playing off the other.

“If a well-thought-out plan has been created, then the small goals will take care of the larger ones. That is the beauty of it, no more concern needs to take place. Trusting the process and following through on each of your small goals is bound to lead to the outcome you desire.”

Why Choose a Goal Over a Resolution

After reading through the definitions of a resolution and a goal, it should be clearer why goals lead to more success.

When we say what our resolution is for the year, we are speaking in vague terms. “I want to go to the gym more,” “I want to earn more money,” “I am going to eat healthier.”

While these are all wonderful achievements to aspire to, they are mere ideas until the process of goal setting takes place.

I’m not advocating the elimination of New Year’s resolutions, because I think they are a great way for us to start thinking about areas in which we want to improve. I just don’t want us to stop there.

We can begin to think of resolutions as a brainstorming session. Discovering the areas of your life which you seek to improve is paramount in the goal-setting process. However, it is just the beginning.

I want us all to use our New Year’s resolutions as the foundation for what can grow into a well-thought-through goal-setting process. Begin with the idea, refine it, become specific, and then put the necessary small goals in place to ensure its success.

This can seem a bit overwhelming when starting out. That’s why it is easier to simply state a resolution and then forget about it. Creating a plan to achieve it can be difficult. But, that is the only way we can be sure of following through on our resolutions.

For that reason, the rest of this article will focus on a detailed goal-setting procedure. It will be simple to follow, and hopefully, help you finally follow through on your New Year’s resolution.

3 Step Goal Setting Technique

This goal setting technique is going to be a more detailed form of your typical resolution. For the purpose of the topic, we are going to be looking at this in terms of a yearly scale.

It will be outlined for someone who wishes to achieve a goal by the end of the upcoming year.

However, it can easily be translated into a larger time period, or a smaller one if you wish. Either way, the principles and structure will remain the same.

Step #1: Brainstorm

No good goal can come to be without a certain amount of thought. We must decide which areas of our life we wish to improve.

Many times, our New Year’s resolutions are quick, on the spot decisions we make over a few drinks. Someone asks you, “Hey what’s your resolution for this year?” All of a sudden you have to quickly spout out the first topic that comes to mind.

“Uh, I am going to exercise more.”

At this point, do you think there’s a good chance you will follow through on this promise? I highly doubt it. That’s because exercise may or may not be what you truly want to improve upon. It was merely the first idea that came to your mind.

Instead, if we truly want to set a goal that will be accomplished within the upcoming year, an amount of time should be set aside to reflect and properly decide on what it should be.

So, the first step in the goal-setting technique is to have a brainstorming session, in which you make a list of all the areas of your life you wish to improve upon.

Multiple goals are great to have, but remember, we are setting a goal that is a more detailed version of a New Year’s resolution, so we will need to narrow it down to one for now.

Then, if after setting our goal we decide there are others we wish to take on as well, then this process will just need to be repeated.

Once your list is compiled, put a number next to each topic, indicating its significance to you. Number one on your list will be the most important, and consequently the one that you choose as the goal you will set first.

The great part about this list is it serves as a reference if you want to set more goals after the first one. Just go down the list, starting with the second choice, and set each goal the same way as you did before.

Now you should have a clear idea of what your topic will be for the upcoming year. At this point, we move to step two, which involves going into more detail, transforming your topic into a definable goal.

“No good goal can come to be without a certain amount of thought. We must decide which areas of our life we wish to improve.”

Step #2: Define Your Goal

I have said many times throughout this article that one of the main issues with resolutions is that they tend to be vague. It’s not just resolutions though, many people fail to get detailed when setting goals as well.

In order to help ourselves be successful in achieving our goals, we must first define them. This requires us to take the topic chosen in the previous step, break it down, and go into great detail as to what exactly we want to accomplish.

To make sure that our goal is detailed enough, we want to focus on making it specific, achievable, and measurable.


To narrow down our topic into a goal, we have to be very specific about what it is we wish to accomplish. Do not allow the idea to remain abstract and vague.

So, the first action we will take is transforming the topic we have chosen into a specific target.

When thinking about creating a specific goal, there are five questions that are helpful.

  • What do I want?
  • Why is achieving the goal important?
  • Who is involved in me reaching the goal?
  • Which resources are needed?
  • What limits are there to me attaining the goal?

By answering these five questions, you will have a very detailed picture of your goal. This helps to get a clear vision in your head and know exactly what you’re working towards.

Making a goal specific removes one of the major roadblocks that usually get in the way. A lot of the time we don’t pursue a goal because we aren’t quite sure how to get there. This is due in part to not having a clear picture of where we’re headed.

Imagine getting in your car and deciding that you want to travel somewhere you’ve never been. The only problem is, you haven’t got a clue where you’re going. Don’t you think that would make the journey difficult, if not impossible?

Likewise, we must have a specific definition of what it is we wish to accomplish. That is done by making our goal specific.


Another common reason our goals and resolutions do not get accomplished is that they are unattainable. Now, I’m all in favor of setting lofty goals and having high ideals we wish to strive for. However, there are limits we must be aware of.

We never want to sell ourselves short and not go after something difficult. However, setting a goal that is, for a lack of a better phrase un-achievable, can lead only to frustration and ultimately you giving up.

To avoid this, it is best we set a goal that will push us but is within the scope of our abilities. Over time, an achievable goal will lead to bigger and better goals that were thought unattainable in the beginning.

Here is one of the beauties of goals. What seems to be unachievable now may turn out to be well within your capability in a few years if the goals set leading up to it were achievable for you at that time.

A good example of this would be someone who wants to become more muscular. I seem to keep going back to exercise as an example, but that’s because it is one of the main areas I see people setting resolutions for themselves.

Let’s say this person has mild gym experience and is moderately overweight. It would not be an achievable goal for them to add fifty pounds of muscle and drop to below 8% body fat. That is too steep of a target and adding this much muscle while decreasing body fat is very difficult to do without the aid of drugs.

Having a goal like this would likely result in the individual becoming frustrated and giving up. Something that is all too common in the world of resolutions. So, be sure to push yourself, but remember to set a goal that is achievable within the next year.


The third area that we must focus on in order to properly define our goal is measurable. A way I prefer to think about this step is by defining what success will mean.

It’s easy to get caught up in the process of improvement and forget to recognize our accomplishments. Doing so can make it feel like we haven’t achieved anything when in reality, we just failed to label what that mark would be.

If you’ve decided that the topic you would like to focus on is money, then you must come up with a measurable amount. This is quite similar to being specific, but there’s nothing wrong with ensuring we’ve gone into enough detail.

At this point, we will have a clear idea of what our goal is. It should be laid out in detail as to what it is, and how we will know it has been achieved.

We are now ready to move onto the third and final step, utilizing small goals to make sure our goal is achieved.

Step #3: Utilize Small Goals

At this point, you should have chosen a topic you wish to focus on and turned it into a well-defined goal. You may think that at this point you should be done, but actually, it’s really where the work begins.

Remember how we talked about the difference between small goals and big goals, and how small goals can be used to help achieve the big ones? Well, that is exactly what we want to do now. By breaking down the large goal into monthly, weekly, and daily objectives we can make it appear much less daunting.

Monthly Goals

There are twelve months in a year, which means we have twelve different small goals we can break our larger one down into.

This does two things: first, it eliminates some of the stress and fear that appears when we first decide to take on such an undertaking. Working on a goal that takes a whole year to complete can seem overwhelming and out of our reach.

Second, our focus greatly improves. If you say that you will accomplish such and such by the end of the year, it’s easy to procrastinate. Since we feel like there is a whole twelve-month window to accomplish it, there isn’t much urgency. But when we break it down into monthly goals, we must be much more focused on achieving these smaller tasks.

“There are twelve months in a year, which means we have twelve different small goals we can break our larger one down into.”

Weekly Goals

Here’s where we will view our monthly goals as if they were big ones. We will employ the same tactics as before, breaking each month down into weeks.

Just like with a year, months can seem to slip away from us. It may seem like skipping one week is no big deal until you realize it’s about a fourth of the time you have to achieve your monthly goal.

So, by creating a target for each week, we once again will improve our focus, motivation, and ward off procrastination.

Daily Goals

Now we’re getting down to the nitty-gritty. Our daily goals are where the actual work is done. Each day, we must have certain tasks that we will accomplish which are working towards our weekly goals, which work towards our monthly goals, which compile to form the yearly goal.

My favorite strategy for daily goals is to keep an agenda book. I think it’s funny really because in high school and college I never kept a calendar (and I forgot many assignments because of it). Nowadays I feel lost if I haven’t written in my schedule what I will accomplish the following day.

At night, before I go to bed, I will make a list of all I want to do for my professional life and all I want to do for my personal life the next day. When doing so, I always keep my weekly goals in mind.

This technique allows me to stay focused and ensures that each day, I am performing the activities I need to in order to accomplish my weekly goal. Even if it’s just a little bit of work, it all adds up.

Work to get 1% closer to your goal each day, and by the end of the year, you’ll be amazed at what you’ve accomplished.

Final Thoughts

I think it is incredibly important for each of us to set a resolution for the upcoming year, but we must not stop there. Use that resolution as a stepping stone to create a well-thought-through goal.

Be very specific with what it is you wish to accomplish and when you’ll know you’ve done so.

By breaking down the goal into monthly, weekly, and then daily ones we will improve our focus and motivation. Also, this will help to ensure that the goal is accomplished.

Do you have a resolution for this year? If so, I hope this article will help you turn it into a clear-cut goal.

If you have any questions or concerns related to goal setting or any performance psychology topic, please feel free to reach out to me.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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Eli Straw

Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.

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