Are goals or resolutions more effective in helping you to achieve your dreams? I'm firmly on the fence and say "Go for both!"

Get what you want using Goals and Resolutions

I am here to talk to you today about goals and resolutions - the differences and how you can use these babies together to get what you want in life! We often get goals and resolutions mixed up and some people think the two words are interchangeable.


They are in fact totally different beasts and if you have read Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, you probably already catch my drift. If not, don’t despair! In this post I explain everything you need to know about goals and resolutions and how you can use them both to get what you really want!

A goal is something you work towards. You achieve it or don't achieve it. You then change your goal or create a new goal. Lather, rinse repeat. A resolution on the other hand is the creation of a habit. It is something that you keep doing. You don't stop once you have achieved something.

There are several schools of thought about goals and resolutions

Some people believe that setting goals is the way to get what you want, because a goal provides a purpose. Others believe that setting resolutions is more effective because they are smaller, more actionable steps and may actually align better with your core desires. Personally, I sit firmly on the fence and believe that you should set both goals and resolutions.

I love goals

Goal setting gives me a chance to look into the future and think about what I really want and how I really want to feel. Goals give me something to work towards and can be short term, or long term. Either way, goals feel freaking amazing when they are achieved. The problem is that if for some reason you do not achieve your goals, they can be hazardous and can create a gamut of crappy feelings and negative self-talk, which is just so not productive!

Enter the resolution

Resolutions break things down into bite sized chunks. Resolutions are grounded by action and can be based on any time frame - daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. Resolutions are so powerful because they have the ability to change the way we think and behave. Resolutions on their own though can create a feeling of "Why? Why am I doing this? What is my purpose?"

Goals and resolutions when partnered, however, are a force to be reckoned with. You get the purpose or end game and you get a clear defined action plan. So where should you start? Should you set your goals first or your resolutions?

What came first, the chicken or the egg?

My suggestion is to try it both ways and see what works for you. Feel free to mix it up - these dreams are yours baby! There is no strict formula! Try:

  • Writing your goal first. What is it that you want? What would make your heart sing? You can then use your resolutions to mark out how you are going to achieve that goal. eg. My goal is to complete my Diploma in Management. My resolution then might be that I want to study for half an hour each day after work
  • Writing your resolutions first. What habits do you want to create? What do you want to change immediately? You can then use a goal to give a higher purpose to your resolutions. eg. My resolution is to make my own coffee every morning and take it to work in a travel mug. My goal is to save the money I would usually spend on coffee and put it towards the overseas holiday I am planning for December.

It works both ways! See how goals and resolutions can partner up to help you get what you want? Try it now. Just like everything, practice makes perfect. The more practice you get at setting goals and resolutions, the better you will get. Your goals and resolutions will both become more refined and you will work out what works for you. To help you on your way, I have compiled a list of my top tips for effective goal and resolution setting.

What came first, the chicken or the egg? The goal or the resolution?

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1. When setting goals, make them SMART!

You may have heard of SMART goals before and there is a reason that they come highly recommended - they have all the elements of a well laid out plan and can set you up for success! Ask yourself these questions when you are goal setting to ensure that your goal is completely effective.

Specific - Is your goal specific? Does it include enough detail? Instead of "I want to save money", try "I want to save $10,000"

Measurable - Is your goal measurable? What scale of measurement will you use to track your progress? How will you know when you have achieved your goal?

Achievable - Is your goal achievable? Can you achieve this goal based on your current restrictions? If not, you may need to achieve some mini goals or set some resolutions to open up these restrictions eg. Waking up earlier each day and working on your goal in the morning if time is a restriction.

Realistic - Is your goal realistic? Is this the right time for you to work towards this goal? Are you the right person? Do you have the right resources?

Timely - Is your goal timely? Do you have a clear timeframe for your goal? When do you want to achieve your goal?

2. Make your resolutions as clear and simple as possible.

If your resolutions are overly complex you will be less likely to achieve them. One of the things that sometimes happens when we set goals and resolutions is that we can over complicate things.

Unfortunately this is one of the ways that we sabotage ourselves and prevent ourselves from getting what we want. If you make your resolutions clear from the outset, you will avoid putting up barriers at will eventually get in the way of making your dreams a reality.

3. Put pen to paper!

Write down your goals and resolutions and track your progress for both. Use a resolution tracking sheet and tick things off as you complete them. Track goals by measuring, monitoring and recording change. This could be in the form of savings, progress through a training course, the number of new contacts made, networking events attended or any other change that occurs as part of working towards your goal!

The thing about writing things down is that is keeps us accountable. There is something about putting a pen to paper (literally - for some reason this doesn't work if you type it) that just makes things happen. There is a lot of talk on the internet about a famous Harvard study that proved that people who wrote down goal were more successful and whilst is sounds good and quoting statistics would totally support my point, there is not a lot of proof that this survey actually occurred. So, what I can do is talk from my own personal experience:

a) Writing down my goals and resolutions has provided me with a visual reminder that helps me stay on track

b) Tracking my progress and reviewing my results has been incredibly motivating - there is something about ticking the box to say I have completed a task that gives me chills. Are you with me? (Have you ever written something down on your list after you have accomplished it, just so that you have the pleasure of ticking it off? Yep, me too.)

4. Make time for planning.

As we discussed in point 3, writing your goals down is super important and if something is important then we need to make time for it right? Now fair enough, in some cases we can whip up some goals and/or resolutions on the run, but we need to also recognise when a goal setting session could come in handy. Are you anticipating a change in your life? Thinking about a new job/ at a crossroads/ want to improve something? Perhaps you should schedule some time for a goal setting session.

In the same way it is important to schedule time to set your goals, you should also schedule time to follow up and check in. Without scheduling this time in my calendar I find it seriously easy to forget to check in with myself and that is a wasted opportunity. I have an official goal and resolution review session once every month to review my previous months results. During this session, I look specifically for development opportunities and wins.

  • Development opportunities: Has progress towards my goal halted or am I consistently not achieving my resolutions? What are the reasons for this? Is there a barrier/ something standing in my way? Do I need more/different resources? Do I need to change my goal/resolution?
  • Wins: Have I made great progress or achieved my goal? Have I been doing a stellar job of achieving my resolutions? This is where we celebrate! You should always celebrate your successes. Reward yourself and remember that your reward need not be expensive - sometimes a happy dance, a loud "woot woot" or a warm chai latte are enough to show yourself some appreciation!

Writing down your goals is an important step towards achieving them.

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5. Always be positive.

One of the things that is tempting when setting goals and resolutions is to "stop" doing things or "quit" something else. Using positive language instead gives us something to strive for and helps us to stay in a positive frame of mind. Negative words like "don't", "can't" and "quit" are very limiting.

The thing about using negative language is that it also makes us focus on the exact thing that you want to steer clear of. For me, this has been very important in my journey to remain smoke free. (I quit smoking on the 1st of January 2015!) I could describe this as "quitting smoking" but then my focus is then always on the smoking. Not to mention the fact that I am no quitter!

Language is so powerful, so use it to your advantage. Instead of getting yourself down about missing out on cake, get excited about all of the wonderful fresh fruit and vegetables you will be eating instead!

Best of luck with your own goal and resolution setting, my friend – let me know what you are working towards! I will do everything I can to support you.

Becca xo

Are goals or resolutions more effective in helping you to achieve your dreams? I'm firmly on the fence and say "Go for both!" ~ Pop Your Career


About the Author


Bec McFarland is an experienced HR practitioner, manager, career coach and the creator of Pop Your Career. She delights in sharing practical, straight to the point career advice, spending time with her family and eating Mexican food.

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