Resolutions or Goals?

This post is copied from our older, original blog. Original post date 12/30/16.

By Marcie Bower, Lic.Ac.

I’m a big fan of goal setting. Anyone who knows me well knows that. I definitely believe in the phrase, if you don’t know where you want to be, how can you figure out how to get there? This time of year, of course, lots of people are setting New Years Resolutions. But here is the thing – how many New Years Resolutions have you ever actually kept? I am a huge believer in resolutions and goals, and I’ve kept exactly ONE New Years Resolution in my decades of making them. A quick informal survey of many friends and patients leads to the same results – people either don’t make resolutions, don’t keep them, or have only successfully kept them once or twice.

Why is this? Maybe it is because a year is a long time. Maybe it is because we think too big too quickly. Maybe it is because we are all busy and change takes time and energy. But I think it is more likely because people make bad resolutions.

Here me out. It isn’t that the intention behind your resolution is bad – it is that the way we make resolutions isn’t conducive to success. Resolutions usually expect us to make a change cold turkey  – something many people aren’t that good at – and also don’t take into account the many steps, iterations, highs, and lows, that it takes to truly achieve a goal. I stumbled upon a great article by Elizabeth Scott, MS, a wellness coach and stress management expert, that delineates the difference between a resolution and a goal:

  • Resolutions are rigid, whereas goals are fluid. This means that goals can account for the gradual build-up necessary to really affect lasting change.
  • Goals give you a sense of accomplishment, whereas resolutions can set you up for a sense of failure.
  • Resolutions are usually a means to reach a goal, whereas a goal is the end result with many possible paths to reaching it. This means that if a resolution is too hard, you usually drop it and forget about it. However, if your way of reaching your goal isn’t working, you can drop it AND FIND ANOTHER WAY to reach the goal, without abandoning ship.

So let’s think about New Years Goals, as we head into next year.

I’ve compiled a list of “Goal Categories” that you might consider when taking stock of where you are and where you’d like to be. Think about each of these categories of your existence, and if there are areas that you want to change or improve. It is important to focus on things that you have agency to change – it isn’t fruitful to wish something was different that is out of your control. Then think about a specific goal, and a plan of action for reaching it. (Remember, it is the goal itself that is important…the plan can change!) My advice is to think about each of these categories, but choose 1-3 goals total to focus on in the coming year as your “New Years Resolution” – but the exercise of evaluating your life in each of these categories can, in and of itself, be a useful exercise!

Health: What could make you a healthier person this year? Are there things you’d like to change about diet, exercise, medication, doctor’s visits, preventative health care, etc? Is there a specific ailment that you would like to better understand, resolve, or control? What parts of your health do you have control over?

Fitness: What are your fitness goals for the coming year? Think about frequency, and intensity, and what purpose your fitness routine serves in your life. (Does it make you feel good? Give you a sense of purpose? Give you a sense of community? Reduce stress? Help you reach specific benchmarks? Challenge you? Keep you healthy? Strengthen your heart? Help you sleep? Etc.) Are there specific fitness accomplishments you’d like to reach? (Do 5 pull-ups, complete a marathon, join a swim team, walk every day?)

Intellectual: How do you want to stimulate your intellectual curiosity this year? What do you want to learn, and why? How will you do that?

Emotional: In what ways does your emotional self need more support? In what ways do your emotions serve you well? In what ways do you wish your emotional responses were different? How might you help that be the case?

Character Development: What will make you a better person this year? What lesson do you need to learn? In what ways can you challenge yourself to grow in new ways?

Spiritual: What role does spirituality or religion play in your life? Are you happy with that? Do you wish it was different? What spiritual or theological questions do you want to devote time to this year? Are there new spiritual practices you would like to introduce into your life? (Prayer, meditation, drumming, yoga, etc) Or spiritual practices you already have that you would like to deepen?

Love Relationships: If you are in a romantic relationship, what could you do to strengthen that relationship? Be careful to only think about goals that YOU can do, not things that require change from the other person (for this exercise, at least!)

Family Relationships: Are there family relationships that you would like to strengthen or heal? How could that happen? What would that look like? What is one concrete step you could take in that direction?

Parenting: If you have kids, what is one area that you would like to improve as a parent? (Like Love Relationship goals, think about things that YOU can actively change…not things that you wish your children would change.) Again, think big picture, and then come up with a plan to get there.

Social: What social relationships do you want to improve or strengthen this year? Do you want to meet more people? In what kind of setting? What purpose do your social interactions serve? Is that serving you? How would you like that to change, if at all? Are there new social situations you’d like to put yourself into? New groups you’d like to join? Or certain social circles you would like to meaningfully pull back from?

Financial: Where would you realistically like to be financially one year from now? What will it take to get there? Is this about budgeting, cutting spending, or increasing income? Is it about reorganizing money, shifting your priorities, or saving in a more smart way?

Professional: What areas in your professional life would you like to strengthen or expand upon? What resources do you need to do that? How will you better yourself in your career? What is the long-term plan, and how do these goals align with that?

Societal: Are there ways that you could contribute more to society at large, to your community? Are there certain community groups you would like to be a part of? Volunteer opportunities you would like to take on? Donations you would like to make? What social/political/moral causes do you want to devote yourself to, as a way to better the world?

Physical Space/Home: How can you improve the physical space you live in? What one project will make your home feel like a better place to be? Or, can you redecorate a room to make it feel more your own? If you are thinking of moving in the coming year, what do you need to do to make your current space ready to sell or rent? What are you looking for in a new space?


Remember, start small. Pick one or two goals to focus on, and then create a plan of action to help you get there. Re-evaluate your plan periodically during the year – if it isn’t helping you reach your goal, then try a new plan.


A few other goal-setting tips:

Remember to make SMART goals when creating these new kind of New Years Resolutions. SMART Goals are:

S – specific

M – measurable

A – attainable

R – realistic

T – time-bound

(For more information, see this great explanation.)


Lots of us naturally think of things we can cut out of our lives – which is sometimes the best possible approach! But also consider what you can ADD to your life to make it better. For instance, instead of just thinking about unhealthy foods you can cut out, also consider what healthy foods you are not eating, that you could add in to your diet. Balancing what we want to eliminate from our lives with what we want to add to our lives can help us stay on track, and not seem to restricting.

Put your goals in writing. You will have a far better chance of sticking to them!

Share your goals with someone else – then you have someone to hold you accountable.

Have fun with it. New Years Resolutions, ideally, should be a chance to imagine the possibilities that change can bring. Allow yourself that imagination. And then get down to work!