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New Year, New Goals

By: Carolyn Mish, Contributing Writer

With every new year, people around the world resolve and set new goals. The intent of self improvement is admirable, but it’s easy to slip into making goals that we abandon come St. Patrick’s Day. However, the concept of goal-setting is proven to boost productivity and help us achieve our goals. So how do we go about new year's resolutions without setting ourselves up for failure?

New Year’s resolutions can fail, but we can rework them into tangible goals that we can achieve. Identifying goals that are too broad, unattainable, or unmeasurable are important when considering how to start the New Year off right.

Broad goals are great when you look at areas of life you want to improve in. Being a better student, getting more exercise, and eating healthier are all great steps towards a healthy and happy lifestyle. However, broad goals like this are hard to quantify at year’s end, and can be inconsistent. Breaking down these goals into smaller, specific ambitions can help you feel accomplished and achieve the goals. For example, being a better student can boil down to studying for 25 minutes a day. The latter is measurable, attainable, and specifically tailored to help you improve. Carefully examine what you want to accomplish in the new year, as oftentimes broad goals have steps that will be just as beneficial as the broad goal. By modeling your goals after attainable steps, you can achieve them more easily.

Unattainable goals can seem obvious; most people don’t resolve to make six figures or learn 3 languages in a year. However, some of the goals we set can be unachievable in the long run. If you set the same resolution every year and are unable to complete it, reconsider setting it again. If the steps necessary to complete the goal aren’t enjoyable and attainable every day, it won’t work as a resolution. To activate the reward center of the brain and incentivize the goal, the individual steps have to be pleasurable and easy. When our brain accomplishes small steps that it finds fun, it releases neurotransmitters like dopamine that make us feel happy and fulfilled. This kick starts a cycle that motivates us to accomplish more small goals to replicate the feeling.

This is why smaller, specific goals work. If I don’t enjoy reading nonfiction, then setting a goal to read nonfiction isn’t realistic because I won’t want to achieve it. Instead, set goals that you know will be enjoyable not just to achieve but to accomplish as you go. The destination and the journey hold equal importance!

So how do we successfully set goals? By setting specific objectives that we can measure over time and that we know we can accomplish, we set ourselves up to achieve these goals. This includes writing down our goals, having a friend keep us accountable, and setting rewards. A study shows that 33% more people achieved their goals if they wrote them down and confided in a friend than those who kept their aims to themselves. With New Year’s Resolutions, the goals are typically yearlong. To keep your brain excited about achieving these rewards, break up the year into segments and set a reward for keeping up with your resolutions for each segment. Furthemore, think about your goals in a positive light: acceptance and improvement should drive your ambitions, not internal frustration and envy.

Using these steps, we can avoid the trap of toxic New Year’s habits and incorporate goal setting into our daily routines. Setting goals helps us become more efficient, productive, and happy people. If we set goals correctly in January, we can build good habits for years to come after laying a healthy foundation.

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