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How to set realistic goals and achieve them in 2024

It’s the beginning of a new year, and many people will carry with them a laundry list of resolutions and unreasonably high expectations into 2024. However, if we just listen to the experts, this could be the year that we set realistic goals and actually follow through with them.

According to research, around 40 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, but only around nine percent of them will reach these goals.

Many experts agree that the biggest reason our resolutions fail is because the goals we are setting are not very specific. For example, making a resolution to lose weight is too general and does not include a plan of action or a way to track your progress.

Why resolutions don’t work

Beyond setting goals that are too broad, people are often setting too many goals. In an article for Entrepreneur, Biztuition CEO Julie Christopher explained why New Year’s resolutions often do not work and can actually make matters worse.

“Unfortunately, most of us create too much resistance by injecting too many resolutions and goals into our minds,” said Christopher. “This process results in setting too many expectations and creating unrealistic goals. We end up with a long list of trying to do everything at once, relying on our emotions to keep us motivated until we achieve them.”

“Change just one of your habits that creates the most change. I discovered that making just one small change in your daily repetitive routine is a crucial step to alleviate the resistance that comes with change.”

The expectations of others

Psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert, author of “Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days,” pointed out that many of us have a tendency to make New Year’s resolutions that are influenced by the expectations of others and do not reflect what we actually want.

“Goals need to be made for the individual,” Alpert told Business Insider. “So often, people seem to be influenced by their friends, their family, what they see in society. I think it’s important for people to set goals that are for themselves and unique to themselves.”

Lack of meaningful resolutions

Dr. Karen Lawson is the director of the Integrative Health Coaching program at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality & Healing.

“Many people don’t make their own resolutions out of what’s most meaningful and desirable for them but they set it out of what other people told them they need to do out of fear or guilt,” Dr. Lawson told CBS News. “So the motivation doesn’t come from within but comes from the outside and that doesn’t tend to lead to success.”

Acknowledge a setback and move on

Dr. Lawson also emphasized the importance of being compassionate with ourselves and celebrating our successes along the way. She said that it is best to simply acknowledge when we have a setback and move on.

“People on the whole tend to be harder on themselves than they are with other people. They tend to beat themselves up,” said Dr. Lawson. “So when we have a day when we fall down on the diet, instead of telling yourself that you’re weak or bad, tell yourself that you had a bad day and that tomorrow’s a new day to start over.”

The blank slate of a new year

According to UW Health psychologist Shilagh Mirgain, the blank slate of a new year can be a great opportunity for people to reset and create a different kind of future for themselves. Dr. Mirgain provided the following steps to help people create meaningful goals instead of basic resolutions:

Reflect on the past year

Identify and examine what went right and what was challenging by asking yourself what you want to bring with you into the new year? What do you want to leave behind? What brings you joy and a sense of fulfillment? What would make you a healthier you?

Envision your best year

Picture your life one year from now and envision how you want to feel. You could write it down as a day in the life of you – who are you around, how is your work life, how do you experience your body and your health, finances, emotions, spirit. Consider picking one word that captures this image as your intention for the 12 months ahead.

Set some realistic goals

Set a few goals that you want to work towards. Goals are about who you are becoming and not about just giving yourself more to do. Goals need to be for you, it’s your life. If you are doing it for someone else, take it off your list. 

Goal-setting should be energy giving not energy draining and should excite you enough to make these goals happen. Once you are clear about your goal, break it down into measurable steps. Think about creating daily, weekly, or monthly action steps that move you in the direction of your larger vision for the year.

Plan and anticipate obstacles

Plan for the challenges that could arise so you can anticipate how you will overcome them. Have a support team in place to encourage you when you feel like giving up. The main reasons people fail include a failure to plan for setbacks, having unrealistic expectations for their goals and not making a commitment to what they are working towards. 

Revisit your goals from time to time to keep them top of mind, celebrate successes, adjust accordingly and recommit to action steps to stay on track.

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