All goals aren’t created equal.
The more strict, vague and absolute you make your goals, the more likely you will feel discouraged by them. How you feel about your goals and the process you go through to achieve them matters just as much as the goals themselves.
Even the smallest successful actions can positively boost your mindset and, over time, add up to big changes. This guide focuses on how to bring an approach of mindfulness and self-love to setting realistic, meaningful New Year’s goals that will enrich your life all year long.
Balance realism with self-compassion
Ambition is good. Goals that set you up to feel like a failure are not.
If you’re the type of person who regularly uses New Year’s as a catalyst to tackle big, ambitious goals, that’s awesome. Don’t abandon that habit, but give yourself the space to know that setting goals should ultimately make you feel good about yourself.
In fact, the better you feel while tackling tasks, the more likely you are to stay motivated and keep going.
Design your goals with a blend of positive realism and self-compassion. Follow these three steps to include a bit of both to help make sure your goals this year are more sustainable and long-term.
1. Make each goal small and specific
You might be familiar with the idea of breaking down significant, complex goals into small, continual actions. It’s a scientifically-proven approach that works.
Say you want to build a meditation habit. Planning to “start meditating” is too broad and vague. Planning to “meditate every day for 30 minutes” is a great long-term goal but too ambitious as you just start out.
Little actions add up over time. Things that you’ll realistically get done have the added benefit of giving you a sense of accomplishment. They reinforce the overall habit and give you an extra motivational boost as you check them off.
Start by saying, “I will meditate three times a week for five minutes using this meditation from Lifemarket.” Over time, you can build up to larger goals —like meditating more frequently and for longer — after you’ve eased yourself into the habit.
2. Piggyback each new habit to an existing one
The good thing about habits is that they become automatic. You don’t have to try very hard to think about getting them done because your brain automatically anticipates doing something regularly. Cognitively, it lets you focus more on the errands you have to run in the morning and not on brushing your teeth because you always brush right after you wake up.
Planning your specific new meditation habit is great, but it’s even better if you say, “I will meditate three times a week for five minutes using this meditation right after I brush my teeth.” Cognitively, it gives your brain a “space” to add the new habit — meditating — into an existing routine. Then it will be easier for you to remember and more likely to get done.
3. Give your new habits a passionate “why”
Your brain doesn’t want to change. Adapting our minds and bodies puts our physical selves under tremendous stress, and ultimately our brain wants to avoid that. That’s part of why the concept of “habits” exists in the first place and why changing habits can be so hard. Our brain wants everything to stay the same, whether it’s making us happy and healthy or not.
One way to encourage ourselves to adopt a new habit is with motivation, and one of the best motivational triggers is our emotions. When we are emotional about a new habit, we’re more likely to succeed at making it stick.
Chances are, you’re probably a bit (or a lot) emotionally exhausted right now. It might not be immediately apparent why you care about a new habit you want to put in place — because of that, defining the emotional “why” for a change is crucial.
Try to be as specific as possible. Saying you want to meditate to be “happier” is good. Saying, “I will meditate three times a week for five minutes using this meditation right after I brush my teeth because I want to ease my anxiety and be more present for my family” is incredible.
4. Give yourself a range
The less “all or nothing” you make a task feel, the better.
If you set a goal to save $100 but “only” saved $99, that is still very close and $99 more than you’d held before. But for some folks, hitting the numbers feels very important.
Imagine if you’d given yourself a range of saving $75-$100. Then $99 is at the very top. And if you saved $75, again, that’s still more than you had before.
Give yourself flexibility with ranges as you set up your goals. That way, you can still be specific and measure your progress, but you’ll also have some wiggle room to adapt as you go and feel good about what you’ve done.
Starting anytime is better than never starting at all
Optimism and a genuine desire for change are critical ingredients to beginning any new healthier habit. But putting the pressure on yourself to wake up on a particular day in January and just be a new person is not only unrealistic, but it’s also part of why psychology experts estimate up to 90% of all typical New Year’s resolutions fail.
January 1st is just another day, and January is just another month. Yet, many of us act like we’ve missed a magical change window if we don’t restart our habits at the beginning of the year. Then we hold off and wait for another perfect day, month, or a year before we should begin working on the goals that matter most to us.
Before you know it, another year has gone by without tackling the goals that matter most to you.
There’s no perfect time to start anything. Many people are thinking about improving their lives during the New Year, and that’s a good thing. (You’re reading this, so you’re probably one of them.) But know that you can begin anytime you want: The key is how you start and not when you start.
The pressure to be perfect not only doesn’t help, but it also makes it harder to achieve your goals.
Don’t pressure yourself to be perfect. Especially in the beginning days and weeks of any new habit, expecting yourself to completely change and stick to your new habits 100% of the time is a barrier you’re putting in your way.
At some point, you won’t hit your daily goal. A slip-up is inevitable. It’s normal and happens to everyone.
Instead of worrying that you will make a mistake, flip your expectation around: anticipate the moments you won’t be perfect. Don’t just expect to fail — embrace it. Failure means that you’re trying, and that’s a good thing.
Re-frame “failure” as just another step on the path to getting something done. When it happens (and it will):
- Avoid all or nothing thinking. A single failure — even multiple failures — doesn’t mean that you’ve ruined your goal or that you should give up.
- Give yourself compassion and understanding. Remember that you’re focused on trying something new, which isn’t easy.
- If you can, simply let the failure go and move on. Tomorrow is a new day.
If you find yourself unable to let it go or you’re stuck on feeling the need to be perfect:
- Find a moment to sit alone in a quiet room. (If your only option is the bathroom, that’s just as good as anywhere else.)
- Take five cyclical breaths: inhale for a count of four, hold for a count of four, and exhale for six.
- As you exhale each time, say in your mind, “I give myself kindness. I give myself compassion.”
Try out new tools to help you enjoy your growing habits
You’re more likely to hit your goals with some preparation put in first. These shouldn’t be expensive, big-ticket items that will make you feel pressure to use and shame if you don’t. As you get started, think of smaller, more affordable things that will make tackling your new habits smoother and more comfortable, but that won’t break the bank.
As you gain confidence down the road, that’s the time to invest more in your growing habit. For now, focus on easing yourself into your new routines with tiny touches that will make them enjoyable.
League Health Programs are designed by experts to give you bite-sized, achievable tasks that add to major improvements in your health and wellbeing. And they’re totally free.
They’ll help you get rolling on your healthier habits no matter what time of year you get started. As you complete each daily task, you’ll also earn League rewards points that you can use to spend on health and wellbeing products in Lifemarket.
Browse through all Health Programs on your own or check out our list of the top five to help you with some of the most common New Year’s goals.