At the beginning of a new year, most people embark on writing a list of goals they are going to accomplish in the next 12 months. These goals may include losing weight, getting a promotion at work, paying off a credit card, finally quitting the drink, or taking a holiday with the family.


Fitness-related goals are by far the most common resolutions that are made. Whether it’s losing those holiday kilos or being able to do 20 push-ups, nearly everyone has plans to get fitter or stronger. And yet come February, 80% of these New Year’s Resolutioners won’t use their gym membership more than once a fortnight. Furthermore, a study by the University of Scranton say only 8% of people actually achieve their New Year’s resolutions.

So what makes the difference between a goal that is set and broken within a month and something that is sustained and completed over the year? The Banyans Health and Wellness Senior Psychologist Peter Hayton gives four simple steps for setting and sustaining goals in 2021.


goal tracker planner and pens
Each year, many people set out their goals and expectations for the year only to be surprised when February rolls around and they’ve already been broken. But there is a better way.


Step 1: Be compassionate to yourself

One thing that is universally agreed is that the events of 2020 are nothing like anyone anticipated. This probably meant a lot of your goals from last year were not accomplished. You may even feel like you slid backwards during the year.

The first step for setting and sustaining goals in 2021 is self-compassion. There will be goals you didn’t reach last year, but without granting yourself compassion for unreached goals, you won’t be able to move forward.

“Guilt is one of the least helpful motivators. It may be useful to understand what areas of your life you would like to see change in, but when it comes to making that change, there needs to be another driving force of motivation,” Peter says.

“This may be family and relationships, health and wellbeing or career and finances. Whatever drives you – set up your goals accordingly.”


Family holding hands on the beach watching the sunset
Research shows that when goals are linked to our values we are more likely to achieve them. So ask yourself what drives you, what motivates you, what do you want your core values to be.


Step 2: Setting your goals

This is the step that most people have no trouble with – writing a list of goals. However, writing goals and sustaining them are two very different things. To give yourself the best foundation for success:

  • Link your goals to your values
  • Think about S.M.A.R.T. goals
  • Have the habit as the goal
  • Make your goals visible


Link your goals to your values

Various goal-setting studies have shown value-based goals are much more likely to be achieved when compared with goals that have no core value attached. This means that you need to establish the core values that drive you before setting your goals.

For example, a goal to ‘be able to run around with my grandchildren one day’ is linked to values of health and wellbeing. Whereas ‘go on a date with my partner once a fortnight’ is founded in valuing your relationships.

To link your goals to your values, ask yourself questions like:

  • What are my core values? What do I value most in life?
  • Where do I get my motivation from?
  • What do I want my future self to look like?

Once you’ve asked yourself these questions, gather your core values and motivations. From there, you can look at writing down your goals.


Think about S.M.A.R.T. goals

Coined by George T. Doran, the S.M.A.R.T. framework for goal-setting may be helpful in setting your goals. But the trap that people often get stuck in is stopping their goal-setting here.

The more important action to take is in Step 3 – just starting.


Man in business shirt writing on papers
The S.M.A.R.T. framework gives a helpful foundation for setting and sustaining goals in 2021. Make sure your goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time bound.


Have the habit as the goal

Let’s say you have a goal to save $10,000 this year. This means that, on average, you would need to put just under $200 each week into a savings account. So why not change the goal to putting $200 each week into a savings account?

Seeing a goal as $10,000 in savings seems almost insurmountable, but seeing it as simply putting away $200 each week sets out a realistic path forward.

The neuroscience research behind goal-setting shows the Medial Prefrontal Cortex (MPFC) deals with the present orientation during the goal-setting process. If a goal seems too far away or future-orientated, the MPFC activation lowers significantly, which is why we may lose interest in sticking to our goals or lose sight of the best way to achieve them.

Change the language around your goals. What the habit you want to create?


Make your goals visible

Author, speaker and goal-setting expert Michael Hyatt says the number one reason people don’t achieve their goals is a lack of visibility. He encourages everyone to have a system to review your goals on a regular basis, making sure you don’t forget about them. Moreover, research conducted by Dr Gail Matthews at the Dominican University of California found participants were 40% more likely to achieve their goals when they were written down.

Visibility may mean creating post-it notes with the habit you want to create broken down by week. Or it may mean creating a vision board. Author and behaviour expert, John Assaraf, has written about and experienced first-hand the impact that a vision board can have on visualising goals. He says vision boards allow you to be clear about what your goals are and what it will look like when you achieve them.

Whatever it looks like for you, make sure your goals are visible.


Hand holding ten Post-It notes
Making your goals visible may be as simple as putting them all on post-it notes and taking them down as you achieve the goal. Or it may look like adding them to the first page in your planner.


Step 3: Just start

Often the biggest hurdle people encounter in sustaining their goals is simply never starting. No matter how well you set your goals, plan them out, or break them down, if you never actually start working towards them, no progress is going to be made. So the third step in setting and sustaining goals is to just start.

“It is less about the day you make these goals or how well they’re planned out and more about the actions that follow it,” Peter says.

Just like making value-based goals, building momentum with your goals also builds confidence and motivation. When you start seeing progress being made, habits being formed or tangible changes – you’re more likely to continue on that goal.


Confidence builds momentum and momentum builds confidence

The most critical period in goal-setting is the first three to six weeks. This is the time that you are most likely to give up on the goal.

In order to navigate this danger period, try setting smaller goals that you are almost guaranteed to achieve and build from there. For example, give yourself a goal of going to the gym once a week. Or putting just $50 into a savings account every week. By checking off these realistic and smaller goals, you give yourself the confidence that the big overarching goal is also achievable.


Coffee mug which says begin
Even with the most well-thought out plan, action items and steps for achieving your goals, you need to start them. Momentum builds confidence so consider setting yourself smaller, achievable goals to begin with.


Step 4: Revisit your goals

It is all well and good to plan and start working towards goals, but the power in revisiting and reworking your goals cannot be underestimated. Inevitably, you will find that some goals are not achievable, or your focus needs to change.

Set aside an hour or so once a quarter to review your goals, how far you have gotten with them or if you need to change your approach with them.

This also goes hand in hand with the visibility of your goals in Step 2. By making your goals visible and reviewing them regularly, it will keep you focused on working towards them.


Have accountability with a close family member or friend

Giving a close family member or friend the authority to keep you accountable with your goals can have a profound impact on your success. Why not organise to catch up with this person once a month to check up on each other’s progress, what they’re struggling with, some of their wins in the last month and what they’re doing in the next month to continue working towards their goals?

And remember, seeking help from a professional is never a sign of weakness.

The Banyans Health and Wellness is a private treatment centre for those experiencing substance dependency, mental health concerns, eating disorders or chronic stress and burnout.

For more information about our programs, call us on 1300 BANYAN (1300 226 926) or complete an online form for a confidential discussion about how you or someone you care about can benefit from The Banyans.