In This New Year, Don’t Make Resolutions—Set Goals Instead

In this upcoming year don’t make New Year’s resolutions, choose to set goals instead. New Year’s resolutions are made to be broken. 

In her 2018 Forbes article titled “This Year, Don’t Set New Year’s Resolutions,” Ashira Prossack states: “The statistics on how many people actually follow through and accomplish their New Year’s resolutions are rather grim. Studies have shown that less than 25% of people actually stay committed to their resolutions after just 30 days, and only 8% accomplish them. Don’t be part of that statistic. This year, set goals instead of resolutions.”

When setting my own goals for this year, I had this quote by Tom Rivett-Carnac in mind, “A bright mind and a joyful heart is both the path and the goal in life. This stubborn optimism is a form of applied love. It is both the world that we want to create, and the way in which we can create that world. And it is a choice for all of us. Choosing to face this moment with stubborn optimism can fill our lives with meaning and purpose. And in doing so we can put a hand on the arc of history and bend it towards the future that we choose.”

Here are 10 guidelines that you can use to increase your chances of success when setting personal goals in the upcoming year.

1. Take a personal wellness inventory

Choose to set goals that will help you improve your own overall sense of wellness. One of the best things you can do for yourself—and the people in your life—is to bring the best version of yourself to the table. By taking a regular inventory of your personal wellness, you can create an awareness that will help you set goals in becoming a more well balanced and healthy person. A quick self analysis of the 7 categories listed below can help you identify areas that you should be focusing on.

On a scale of 1-10, 1 being unhealthy and 10 being the picture of perfect health, where are you on the scale for each of these 7 wellness categories?

Consider setting personal goals for each category that you have rated below a 7. For any category that you have rated below a 5, consider recruiting outside help to get you on track in that category. This wellness check should be something that you review a least a couple of times per year, if not monthly.

2. Map your personal attachments

You should make sure to set goals for the year that are in alignment with your personal values and your sense of identity. To do this, you should first take a few minutes to list your personal attachments. 

Your attachments can help define who you are (your identity)

Make a list of all your attachments that fall into these 6 categories:

  • Your Mind & Body
  • Your Friends & Family
  • Your Moral Code & Values
  • Your Story & Life Events
  • Your Accomplishments
  • Your Possessions

Determine the strength of the attachment

You can measure the strength of your attachments by using an attachment map:

  • Strong attachments are closer to the center of your attachment map.
  • Less important attachments might show up at the edges of your attachment map.
  • Attachments for which you have no consideration, or that you flat-out don’t like, probably won’t appear on your attachment map at all.

Map your attachments

After you have made a list of all of your attachments, assign a number to each attachment on a scale of 1-5, 1 for items that are closest to your core identity and 5 for items that are least important in defining who you are as a person.

You will be far more likely to succeed if your goals are tied to specific items on your attachment map. The greater the strength of your attachment, the more personal the goal will feel for you.

For example, my goals for the upcoming year are all associated with items on my attachment map. Here is what my attachment map might look like:

You should focus your time and energy on setting goals that are associated with the items that you have chosen to be on your attachment map.

This attachment mapping exercise is based on Sean Webb’s book, Mind Hacking Happiness

3. Define your “why” with a personal mission statement

Take the next 15 minutes to write a personal mission statement. You can begin this exercise by first defining some of the personal “themes” in your life. These themes are the key areas of interest that you have chosen to focus on.

Here are some examples of “themes” in the workplace that I have seen in the past:

  • “People, Place, Process, & Systems”
  • “Lead, Teach, Learn, & Grow”
  • “Culture, Quality, Automation, & Time Management”

You can begin to draft your own mission statement by taking these themes into account. Here are a couple of personal mission statements I have used at work in the past:

  • “I am leading digital transformation, agile transformation, and developing a winning team culture.”
  • “I am a driven leader who builds strong teams, invests in individuals, implements bulletproof processes, takes down walls, and enjoys getting things done.”

You can then start to make a list of goals that align with each one of your themes. Review the example below.


  • “Lead, Teach, Learn, & Grow”

Theme-based goals that align with your personal mission:

  • Lead/Learn: “Attend a leadership conference”
  • Lead/Teach: “Lead a ‘Lunch-and-Learn’ session for my team”
  • Grow: “Join a community of practice that stretches me personally”
  • Learn: “Take a Udemy course on a new technology”

4. Determine your physiological stage

When setting goals, first determine your current physiological stage from these 5:

  • Survival
  • Safety
  • Community
  • Growth
  • Innovation

Read through the definitions of each of these stages below to determine which is your default stage. Your “default” stage is where you spend the majority of your time. 

Note: These physiological stages are loosely based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

The Five Physiological Stages:


  • You talk about other people’s failures and shortcomings.
  • You are stuck in a “fight-or-flight” mode.
  • You think that other people are out to get you.
  • You fear failure.
  • You expend all of your time and energy on personal survival.

B. The SAFETY Stage

  • You talk about other people in terms of their being friends or enemies.
  • You feel accepted by your immediate family or friend group but not beyond that.
  • Your desire to be liked affects your behavior.
  • You keep your thoughts to yourself for fear of rejection.
  • You avoid talking about your feelings because you want to avoid conflict.
  • You spend your time and energy grouping people into categories of allies or enemies.


  • You talk about ways to improve your community.
  • You have a sense of belonging and feel like you are part of something bigger than yourself.
  • You feel heard, seen, and understood by your friends and family.
  • Your opinions and contributions are valued.
  • You trust your friends and family and know that they have your best interest at heart.
  • You spend your time and energy getting involved in your community.

D. The GROWTH Stage

  • You talk about an exchange of ideas.
  • You identify as having a “Growth Mindset.”
  • You are a student first and a teacher second.
  • You feel empowered to make changes that matter.
  • Your opinion is valued, and your friends and family solicit your input.
  • You spend your time and energy being curious, learning, and exchanging ideas.


  • You talk about changing your world.
  • Your actions influence and inspire others throughout your community and beyond.
  • You are respected as an expert in your field of work or study.
  • You seek to share your knowledge to elevate others in your area of expertise.
  • You spend your time and energy trying to change your world.

Set personal goals to change your default stage

Now that you have determined your current default stage, set personal goals that will help you move from your current stage and into the next stage.

Based on your default stage, you are faced with taking one of the following steps to move to the next stage:



You will need to set goals around changing your way of thinking.

No individual should have to accept being stuck in the survival stage—it is not a fun existence. In order to move out of the survival stage, you should focus on setting goals around learning tools for changing your thought processes. This should include setting an appointment with a counselor or therapist who is equipped to help you with this goal.

A first important step in changing your thoughts is to change your “personal narrative.” Your personal narrative is a choice of which life events you are curating to be part of the story that you tell and/or think about yourself. This choice is influenced by your emotional responses to the degree in which those individual events have, or have not, met your personal expectations. 

Are you ready to focus your time and energy on changing your thought process?


You will need to set goals around changing your culture.

The safety stage can disguise itself as the community stage, the key difference being that you can use your immediate friends and family to meet the need for community and belonging, which feels safe for you; it protects you from the rest of the world. To truly move into the community stage, you need to move beyond what feels safe for you and into a broader community of people.

Are you ready to focus your time and energy on improving your community?


You will need to set goals around changing your mindset.

The concept of a “growth mindset” was developed by psychologist Carol Dweck and popularized in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dr. Dweck coined the terms fixed mindset and growth mindset to describe the underlying beliefs people have about learning and intelligence.

To reach this stage there must first be an underlying foundation of trust within your inner circle of friends, family, and colleagues. You will need to change the way you learn, teach, collaborate, influence, and grow. This begins with a sense of curiosity about life and an underlying understanding that you still do not know what you need to know in order to be successful.

Are you ready to focus your time and energy on learning new ways to solve problems?


You will need to set goals around changing your world.

You will need to stop thinking about your goals in terms of what makes you successful and/or profitable—becoming instead an agent for finding ways to use your time and energy to change the world in a positive way while remaining personally successful and profitable.

Are you ready to focus your time and energy on finding ways to improve your world?

5. Set goals that you believe you can accomplish

Your “Locus of Control” as it relates to your goals

Setting goals starts with a belief that you are capable of making the changes within yourself and in your environment that are needed to achieve those goals.

Your “locus of control” refers to the place from which you believe the control over your life comes:

  • Internal locus of control: a belief that you can control your own life.
  • External locus of control: a belief that your life is controlled by outside factors.

It is important to note that your locus of control is a perception, one which can be altered. It is possible to shift your belief that you (as opposed to external forces) have the ability to control or influence the outcomes of events in your life. Of course, you may not be able to control something like a natural disaster, but you can control how you choose to respond to it. The belief that you can influence your world is tied directly to your ability to affect that change. 

Studies have found that, in the workplace, people with an internal locus of control are more likely to take positive action to change their jobs (rather than merely talk about change) than those with an external locus of control.

Evaluate the influence and control that others have over you

When setting goals, surround yourself with people who can help you accomplish your goals. Having the right people to support you will make all the difference. A key factor in understanding your own control style, as it relates to setting goals, is whether or not you feel empowered to take the control needed to affect change, or if you feel like your control is being taken away from you or is limited in any way.

The people in your life can fall into two broad categories of control; they are either enabling or inhibiting your progress through their actions, words, and/or beliefs about your capabilities:

  • The Enablers: are individuals who empower others by giving away their own power in favor of influence.
  • The Inhibitors: are individuals who expand their own power by limiting the power and influence of others.

Limit the control and influence that Inhibitors have over you

In order to be successful at meeting your personal goals, surround yourself with Enablers. Set healthy boundaries that limit the control or influence that Inhibitors have in your life.

Recognize that criticism can be constructive and necessary for your growth. But be leary of those in your life who serve as Inhibitors, who expend much time and energy reminding you of your inabilities and insignificance by constantly pointing out your shortcomings and failures.

Ask yourself why it is so important for them to hold you back and control your actions, thoughts, and behaviors. Just as important, ask yourself if you have become an Inhibitor in someone else’s life.

The Inhibitor limits your control and influence in order to increase their own power:

  • They are eager to tell you what you are not allowed to do.
  • They create boundaries that limit your control or influence.
  • They make you feel like you are an outsider, newcomer, or merely insignificant by reminding you that you are on a “need-to-know basis.”

When you fail to reach your goals because you lacked the control or influence you needed to be successful, the Inhibitor will blame you for the failure and shame you in the process. They might make the following statements:

  • “This is unacceptable.”
  • “You need to stop being so defensive.”
  • “You need to learn to communicate better.”
  • “Stop making excuses and just work harder next time.”

Inhibitors can be anyone in your life who tries to limit your control or influence:

  • Bosses/Managers/Leaders/Coworkers
  • Professors/Mentors/Teachers
  • Parents/Step-Parents/Siblings/Step-Siblings
  • Spouses/Partners
  • You, through your own personal narrative of defeat and self-sabotage

Be leary of the false Enablers

The Inhibitor is someone with a fixed mindset and an external locus of control who believes that they are an Enabler with an internal locus of control. In their own minds they are shaping the world around them, but in reality, the behavior they are exhibiting is that they are controlling the people around them. 

Become an Enabler in other people’s lives

In order to have an internal locus of control and behave as an Enabler in other people’s lives, you must first have a growth mindset.

Understand your control style when setting your goals

Consider setting goals that help you focus your time and energy on having an internal locus of control, a growth mindset, and on being an Enabler in other people’s lives.

6. Use the Trichotomy of Control

When setting goals, you should focus on what is within your ability to control. Focusing on personal goals that are outside of your control can lead to disappointment and frustration. You should focus your time and energy on what is yours to control, make a plan for what you can influence, and ignore the rest.

The Trichotomy of Control is made up of three categories:

  • What is WITHIN your ability to CONTROL?
  • What is WITHIN your ability to INFLUENCE?
  • What is OUTSIDE your ability to CONTROL?

A. Things WITHIN your ability to CONTROL

  1. Make a list of everything that is within your ability to control at work.
  2. This list is where you should focus most of your time and attention and where you should expend your energy.
  3. Review this list often; amend it as needed.
  4. Align your personal goals to this list.

B. Things WITHIN your ability to INFLUENCE

When setting goals, it is important to understand when you have influence in a situation and when you don’t.

Your sphere of influence encompasses the areas, including those inside your sphere of control, in which you can influence the behaviors and reactions of a person, organization, or system so that the outcomes mirror your own vision.

  1. Make a list of people you can influence through the investment of your time and energy.
  2. Take a sincere interest in their success:
  • Look for opportunities to help them shine.
  • Help them secure things of value that are scarce.
  • Be a model of honesty, sincerity, and trustworthiness.
  • Encourage them to lead in situations where others won’t.

C. Things OUTSIDE your ability to CONTROL

Let go of the desire to control what is not yours to control. Attempting to control things that are outside of your control can keep your brain operating in a fight-or-flight mode. You may end up feeling mentally consumed by anxiety and unrest.

  1. Make a list of the people and situations at work that are outside your control that are consuming your time and energy.
  2. Grieve the lack of control (give yourself 5 minutes).
  3. Put the list in a drawer (or computer file).
  4. Review the list as needed, but only allow yourself 5 minutes at a time.

7. Set goals that are SMART

Make your goals clear and reachable by setting SMART goals:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time bound

8. When setting goals, ask these questions

For every goal you set, ask yourself these 7 questions:

  • Does this goal align with a wellness category that you should focus on first?
  • Does this goal align with your sense of self? (your attachment map)
  • Does this goal help you meet your personal mission statement?
  • Does this goal help you move to the next physiological stage?
  • Does this goal help you shape your control style?
  • Does this goal meet the criteria of being within your ability to control or influence?
  • Does this goal meet the criteria of a SMART goal?

You should also ask yourself:

  • Which Enablers (people who believe in you) should you draw closer to? 
  • Which Inhibitors (people who hold you back) should you move away from?

9. Prioritize your goals

You should only focus on 1 to 3 goals at a time, so it is important to prioritize your goals, and tackle the goals with the greatest personal impact first. 

Focus on your highest priority goals first:

  • What areas of personal wellness do you feel need the most attention? (those that you have ranked below a 7)
  • What goals affect the items that are the closest to the center of your attachment map?
  • What goals will reap the greatest benefits in the shortest amount of time?

10. Track your progress

Use a tool for tracking your goals

Track your goals throughout the year by using a system that works best for you:

Review your goals with a mentor on a monthly basis

If you don’t already have a professional mentor who is willing to speak into your life and your career, consider finding one. Having an expert in your field of interest who can offer wisdom and insight into your goals is something that will give you an edge in meeting your goals and an advantage over everyone else in the marketplace.

Focus on being just 1% better every day

Consider reading the book Atomic Habits by James Clear, which can help you better understand the power of making seemingly insignificant incremental changes in your life.

Don’t be afraid to fail

Even if you set 10 goals and only accomplish 5, you will be better off for having succeeded 50% of the time. Your 50% failure rate will generate 100% more than what you would have accomplished without setting any goals, so fail fast, fail forward.

I’ll leave you with these 2 quotes to reflect upon:

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett, “Worstward Ho”

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt, “Citizenship in a Republic”, April 23, 1910

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