Every December, millions of well intended people set New Year’s resolutions and then, every January, they promptly give up. According to Forbes only 8% of people actually accomplish one of their New Year’s resolutions. By the time this article was published, in the second week of January, over half of people have already quit.

Part of the problem is how we think about New Year’s resolutions. At this point, they are seen as almost a joke; something to hope for, something to talk about in January. We don’t really expect to achieve them, and therefore we don’t have a plan, and we don’t fight too hard when the inevitable obstacles pop up.

Whether yours has to do with weight loss, quitting an addiction, or just being a more positive person, stop treating it as a New Year’s resolution. Turn it into a goal, get a plan, and track your progress. This can be the year you actually make big changes in your life; it’s just going to take a shift in how you approach it.

Here are six steps to turn those New Year’s resolutions into actionable, achievable goals.

Step 1- Find your WHY

What’s your reason for accomplishing this goal?? What will happen if you quit? Your Why Factor should be based on a huge pain you now feel, but will go away when you achieve your goal. One of the most common reasons people fail to achieve a goal is that they aren’t really clear on why it’s so important to them, so when it gets hard, they give up. So why is your goal so important to you? What are you willing to sacrifice in order to get it?

Step 2- Set SMART Goals

In the past I have set New Year’s resolutions such as, I’m gonna lose weight and get back in shape and assumed that was good enough. That’s a horrible goal. It’s so vague that it’s almost meaningless. What does get in shape mean? How much weight? By when? Is that achievable based on what I’m willing to sacrifice in order to accomplish it? Instead, each goal should fit the SMART criteria.

That same vague resolution turned into a SMART goal might look like: I am going to lose 1.5 pounds per week until I am down to 198 lbs. Or, I will get down to 13% body fat by May 31st.


Specific – A specific goal answers the questions: who, what, when, and where.
Measurable – How are you going to measure progress and success?
Attainable – Is this goal possible given your resources, abilities, and timeframe?
Relevant – Is this goal important to you? Relevant goals are important goals that will help you move in the right direction.
Time-bound – What is the deadline?

Step 3- Create a Plan

What are you going to do to make this goal a reality. Creating a plan is essential. A goal without a plan is called a wish. A solid plan is made up of a series of specific, achievable, and measurable steps. An effective plan contains some or all of these pieces:

  1. Track your results: Journal, excel spreadsheet, phone app, etc.
  2. Create action items: track weight daily, workout 4 times per week, 3 yoga classes per week, weekly budget review, weekly date night. Break these down to weekly or daily tasks so you won’t get overwhelmed.
  3. Be specific and measurable: This needs to be repeated. You must know exactly what you have to do to yield your specific result. For instance: If my goal is to read a 300 page book by the end of the month, then I must read 10 pages per day.
  4. Create a schedule: When are you going to do these action items? Think it through and commit by adding them to your calendar and make sure to set reminders so you don’t forget.

Step 4- Resolve to Struggle

Having a goal in mind is essential, but how many of us actually give ourselves a little leeway for failure? Things in life are either easy or important, not both. If my goal is important to me, chances are it’s going to be tough to accomplish. That’s OK. If it wasn’t difficult, it’s probably not a very important goal. Be ready to struggle in pursuit of your goal. Grit is the willingness to suffer and persevere in order to accomplish a long term goal. More and more studies are uncovering the importance of this newly defined attribute.

Knowing that you will struggle is the first thing. The second thing is to know what to do when you want to give up or get off track. For instance, I’ve created a short ritual that I must perform before I allow myself to skip a workout:

  1. Do 20 push ups. (1 minute)
  2. Pack my gym bag and go sit in my car with the engine on. (3 minutes)
  3. Say my personal “why factor mantra” 10 times out loud. “I am getting fit so I can be alive to meet my future grandchildren.” (2 minutes)

After doing this six minute ritual I almost always go to the gym and get my workout in.

Step 5- Take The First Step

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by big goals and difficult plans. Winston Churchill said “Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” He understood that all plans change once you start executing them. It’s not important that you have a seven step plan to hit your goal because after step 2 something has likely changed and you will need to adapt the plan. It’s important to do the planning because it helps you get clarity on what you want, why you want it, the likely obstacles you will face, and the behaviors and routines you will need to employ in order to accomplish it.

Don’t let your anxiety or concerns about what might happen down the road. Get clear on what you want, and take the first step down the path. After all, it’s the journey that makes the hero.

Step 6- Seek Accountability

Face it, you aren’t very good at holding yourself accountable. We’ve been coaching leaders for seven years, and we have yet to meet one person who does this flawlessly. We all let ourselves off the hook. We all give in to excuses that get in our way and knock us off track. Find somebody you respect and trust who is willing to check in with you on your goals.

Remember, it’s not going to be easy, but following these six steps will greatly increase your chances of success. Don’t give up on becoming the person you want to be, just ditch the New Year’s resolutions.

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