There is something exciting and freeing about the notion of making a fresh start each new year. We ask ourselves, “What do I want to change?” or, “What goals do I want to set — and reach — for the next 365 days?” With all the time in the world (or at least the year) ahead of us, what might feel “unachievable” sometimes seems possible. The problem is, evidence shows that despite our initial optimism, the vast majority of us often fail in our attempts to stick to our resolutions. In fact, about 80 percent of people give up these goals by February.
I’m very familiar with that trajectory. But after years of declaring the same resolutions as everyone else — eat better, get more sleep — and then abandoning them after weeks or months, I realized there was a better way to make positive changes in my life. It’s a topic I’m passionate about, both personally and professionally. As the Chief Well-being Officer at Deloitte, I drive the strategy and innovation around work-life, health, and wellness to empower Deloitte’s people to be well in all aspects of their lives. And I’ve learned that when it comes to this mission, the right approach to goal-setting can make a huge difference.
These are the strategies I use in my personal life, my professional life, and with my team at work to achieve success. Use them to inspire your own life.
Set goals regularly — not just once a year
With all the focus on “New Year’s Resolutions,” many of us forget that every day offers an opportunity to make a fresh start or set a new goal. I’ve found that setting aside one time a year to think about what I want to change isn’t enough if I want to be constantly growing, evolving, and becoming more self-aware. That’s why every two to three months I sit down to take stock of where I am personally and professionally, and think about things that are meaningful to me that I want to achieve.
Start small (smaller than you think)
When I set an intention, I think long and hard about what it’s realistically going to take to get to my goal. And I start small. One of my most memorable examples of using this “Microstep mentality” to achieve success has been with my sleep. I used to be a terrible sleeper — I did everything wrong that you could possibly do. I even slept with my phone hidden under the covers! When I finally decided to get serious about improving my sleep, I didn’t suddenly attempt to go from getting five hours of sleep a night to seven or eight. Instead, for the first month, I made a small goal: just to get 30 extra minutes of sleep each night. Then, in the months that followed, I’d add another 15 or 30 minutes. I took baby steps, and eventually, I reached a point where I regularly sleep for seven-and-a-half to eight hours a night now.
Build rituals around your goals
One way I set myself up for success? I adopt rituals that encourage a certain desired behavior. To support my goal of better sleep, for example, I stopped bringing electronic devices into the bedroom. It was hard — some days I gave my phone to my husband and said, “Lock it up!” I also started doing nighttime activities that helped wind down my brain: I journaled, I kept the lights low, I made sure the bedroom was cool. I drank decaffeinated tea in the evenings, and started reading. All of these tactics helped me obtain healthy and high-quality sleep. And even though I sleep well now, I still employ those pre-bedtime rituals.
Celebrate small milestones
Modern life is go-go-go — we achieve one thing and barely take the time to acknowledge that achievement and what it took to get there before moving onto the next accomplishment. If I have a big, lofty goal, I look at the moments along the journey that I should celebrate getting to. Reaching each one of those milestones is just as meaningful as getting to the long-term goal, and celebrating them makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something even before I reach the finish line — because I have! Looking at these small goals over a long period of time, I realize I’m building toward huge accomplishments, and there’s nothing more motivating than that.
Be honest with yourself
Our lives change so much from month to month (and even day to day), which means you might look back on your resolution and realize it’s not even relevant or appropriate anymore. After making a resolution or creating a goal, check in with yourself two months later, and another two months after that, and so on. Each time, ask yourself honestly whether it’s still important to you. Sometimes it’s not a failure to let go of a goal that doesn’t work for you any longer — it’s simply a decision.
This is one of the reasons I like to put a Plan B in place. Many of our plans and goals don’t always work out the way we envision them. If it turns out that Plan A wasn’t meant to work out that way, I can divert and go in another direction. Or sometimes I get all the way to my goal and then realize, “Oh, this isn’t what I want” — and having a Plan B gives me permission to pivot.
Build in accountability
I am a big believer in accountability partners, a person or people who will check in with you regularly. Research supports that people who share their goals and their progress with someone have the most success. At work, I express my intentions to the team I work with: I share what my goals are, and what I’m working on, and they do the same. As a leader, being open about what you’ve yet to achieve — but would like to — encourages people not only to sit and reflect on their own goals, but also to be comfortable sharing them. The more forthcoming we all are, the more we can build a supportive culture — we have each other’s backs. That is a positive environment, and also a productive one.
Go easy on yourself
Don’t have a goal in mind right now? Or have you recently bailed on a goal you felt you couldn’t reach? Rather than beat yourself up, take this moment to check in with yourself. One of my favorite quotes that I came across (from an unknown author) is this: “You are a human being. Not a human chasing. Not a human forcing. Not a human rushing.” That idea is really inspiring to me. Maybe right now you don’t need to do something different — it’s enough to be who you are. Be you, and be willing to be open and evolve. If we all make a resolution to be present in the current moment, we could change the world.
The Work-Life Integration section includes content meant to inspire and inform Thrive Global readers and is not a part of any other partnership across both brands.