There are many ways to make New Year’s Resolutions, but few of them actually work. 

At least, that’s what the data suggests.

Just 8% of people achieve their goals each year. And the overwhelming majority of us give up on their resolutions before mid-February.

So, what makes some of us more successful than others? What do we do differently?

To answer these questions, let’s look at the psychology of goal-setting … and what you can do to create a great wish-list that comes true in 2021.

Why You Should Have a Wishlist

If you’ve struggled with New Year’s resolutions in the past, you might think: Well, what’s the point of a wish-list?

Maybe you’ve always set these super ambitious goals for yourself, but never followed through. And then you said to yourself: ‘If I set a new goal, I’ll only end up feeling guilty disappointed when I don’t make it, so why even bother?’

But let me be very frank. That’s the wrong way to look at goal-setting.

After all, you don’t want your past failures to derail future successes. You want to be able to learn from the past, instead of giving up on your dreams.

Because if you expect to fail, you’ve already lost. And if you don’t set any goals for yourself, then what can you achieve?

The only way you can succeed is by setting your own standards for success.

And this means you need to take the time to think about what you really want. And why you want it.

Don’t just say ‘I wanna get in shape’ or ‘I hope to get better grades in college’. But really think about the driving force behind your goals.

Do you want look leaner to impress the guys or feel more confident in your body? Do you want to get good grades to impress your favourite tutor or land a high-paid graduate job?

Looking at your motivation is very important.

For one, it helps you come up with better ideas to get the results you want. Like if you are planning to start your own business and making the most money is your ultimate aim, you will want to choose a different strategy from someone whose priority is to help a certain group of people.

Being clear about your motivation also encourages you to keep going with things get tough.

And most importantly, it challenges you to consider whether your goal is really yours. Because often we set up goals to please friends and family rather than thinking about what we really want from our lives.

The single best way to make sure your goals focus on stuff you care about is by asking yourself: WHY DO I WANT TO ACHIEVE X?

That way, you’ll virtually guarantee that you end up focussing on what matters to YOU.

And don’t be afraid of putting something ‘unrealistic’ or seemingly unattainable or scary on your list. Because often the experiences that we crave are the ones that we fear most. Like starting our own business, switching jobs or opening up to a new relationship.

Also, keep in mind …

If you don’t have goals for yourself, others will create them for you.

And their goals will be based on their values rather than yours. You won’t fulfil your dreams, but instead, you end up blindly following the vision of others.

If you’re not careful, a lack of goals may see your working in a job your friends want or struggling in a bad relationship to please your parents.

To avoid this, I recommend making a list of 10 things you would love to do in 2021. Even if they seem way out of reach or go against what people expect from you.

How to Create a Great Wishlist for the New Year

Step 1: Set ambitious goals and priorities

To create a great wishlist, think about different areas of your life and how you want to grow in each. For example:

  • Where do you want to be in terms of health and fitness at the end of 2021?
  • What do you want to achieve professionally?
  • Which places do you want to visit and which people do you want meet?
  • How do you want your relationships to change?
  • Which new skills do you want to develop and which topics do you want to learn more about?
  • What do you want to take with you from 2020 and what do you want to let go of?
  • Which new values and priorities do you want to set?

Once you have list of goals, I recommend ranking them in order of importance. That way, you can see where your priorities are and what you want to focus on in 2021.

Personally, I also like to ask myself what the single most important thing is that I want to do in the New Year?

That way, I make sure I’m allocating enough time and energy to work on my top priority every week – and that I actively turn down other opportunities if I need to.

Step 2: Develop an action plan to achieve your number 1 goal

Now that you chose your number 1 goal, you need to develop an action plan. This will help you specify what success looks like and take concrete steps in the right direction.

Notebook with list of goals for new year
You can keep track of your progress and write down your action plan in a dedicated ‘Goal Notebook’

It’s not enough to say ‘I want to lose weight’ or ‘I want a start a business on the side’.

You need to look at the nitty-gritty details. Do you want to shed 3 pounds of fat or develop your first very product and sell it to at least 20 people? Do you want to eat at least 5 healthy meals a week or make your first $1,000?

You need to be crystal-clear on what you want to do. Because that’s the only way you can track your progress and see if you’ve fulfilled your goal.

Clarity also helps you work backwards from your goal. It allows you to think of different ways to reach your number 1 priority.

Take a weight loss: do you want to do HIIT workouts 3x a week, cut back on sugared drinks or change up your diet to have fresh fruit or vegetables with every meal?

There’s a ton of things you can do. But you need to find a path that’ll work for you.

No point starting a chocolatery business to supplement your income if you don’t give a damn about sweets. Or selling financial services if you’d much rather work in B2B marketing. Choose a strategy that will work for you.

Step 3: Anticipate potential pitfalls

Now, this where most people stop. You’ve chosen a goal and developed an action plan. And you’re excited to take things forward.

You don’t want to think about the things could go wrong. And yet, anticipating failure is important.

It’s something not a lot of people talk about, but thinking about potential pitfalls can help you come up with plan to keep going when things get tough. And it challenges you to look at the obstacles in your way.

Let’s be brutally honest: if your goal was so easy, you’d have already achieved it. And the fact that you are where you are today means that something is or has been stopping you.

So I want to take a look at some of the most common pitfalls – and what you can do about them.  

Pitfall 1: “I don’t have enough time to …”

A busy schedule can throw you way off track when it comes to achieving your New Year’s resolutions. But if you can consistently block 1-2 hours in your calendar to work on your goal, you can’t use a lack of time as an excuse. Think of your New Year’s resolution as a non-negotiable commitment that (at least in the initial stage of the year) is more important than your work, household chores and any other regular activities.

Of course, I know that life is unpredictable and you might miss a day here or there due to a family emergency, or something unforeseen. But find a way to get back on track as soon as you can.

This is easiest if your goal is an integral part of your routine. That’s why I recommend that you work on your goal at the same time every day, preferably when you start or finish another habit. For example, if your goal is to read for 30 minutes every day, you could block a slot in your calendar right after dinner. Or early in the morning when you wake up. This way, working on your goal becomes a habit – which it makes it much easier to stick to in the long run. 

Pitfall 2: “I am too lazy/not motivated enough to …”

Often, laziness or a lack of motivation is not what it actually looks like.

It’s not that we don’t have enough willpower, but many times we’re just not ready to make sacrifices and changes in our lives.

For example, if you are starting to work out every day, you will come to a point where you feel like giving up. Your body is hurting and you haven’t seen the results you want. At least not yet.

This point is critical. Here, you need to decide whether you want to go through muscle soreness and back aches to lose weight and feel more confident in your body. Or is your temporary discomfort so strong that you would prefer to give up on your goal?

And whether in fitness or any other area of your life, you will come to a point where you need to make this difficult decision.

But you can make it easier by taking the time in advance to think about what you need to give up to achieve your goal. Be honest with yourself: are you actually willing to make these sacrifices?

Because if you’re not … you either need to change this or choose a different goal to work on altogether.

Pitfall 3: “I doubt I can achieve …”

We don’t want to admit it – but often when we’ve tried achieving a certain goal in the past and we failed, the next time we try, we have doubts on whether we can make it.

Doubts are like a pair of eyes in the back of our neck. They make us aware of our past failures and discourage us from trying again. Doubts can help us avoid disappointment, but they aren’t particularly helpful when we want to try something new.

In fact, to even stand a realistic chance of achieving your New Year’s Resolution, you need to overcome them.

If you think you can’t ask your boss for a raise, you never will. But if you are confident enough to negotiate a higher salary, you will. Because mind moves matter.

Additionally, be aware that if you have a certain wish or goal, the only reason you have it is because deep down you know it is achievable. Like if you think it is impossible to live on Neptune, you’re obviously not going to dream of travelling there.

But if you have a certain goal (like cutting junk food out of your diet) and you feel you like you can’t achieve it – you are clearly underestimating your potential. Dream about your wish, find new ways to make it come true and eventually you’ll achieve it.

Pitfall 4: “I don’t think I can ….”

This is very similar to the point above, but sometimes it’s more than a vague doubt.

It’s not just a thought of ‘I can’t achieve this goal’, but a feeling of nagging insecurity. A feeling so strong that we come up with 100 reasons why anything we do will never work.

In cases like this, it can help to look at our limiting beliefs.

For example, if your goal is to meet 5 new people each month, you might worry that they won’t like you or don’t want to spend time with you. But if you look carefully, you can see that your thoughts show your underlying fear of rejection.  

Maybe you think you’re not likeable because you reject a part of yourself and then others around you also reject you to show you that you should accept yourself as you are, aware of your strengths and flaws.

In this case, you can see that your limiting beliefs are a valuable learning opportunity. Once you change you the way you think about yourself, your possibilities in the outside world also change. And all of a sudden, that challenging goal might become a whole lot easier to achieve.

Step 4: Repeat & practice

Once you have achieved your number 1 goal, you can repeat steps 2 and 3 for the next goal on your list.  

Of course, you can also work on multiple goals at a time, but many people find it easier to focus on getting one thing right and then moving on to the next target.

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