Alright, it’s January 9th: have you made any progress on your New Year’s resolutions?

Already given up on a few?

It feels like this time of year everyone everywhere is taken over by the tyranny of New Year’s resolutions. Even if we don’t believe in them, it’s all anyone is talking about.

Better. Faster. Stronger.

It’s a lot of pressure.

Despite all my New Year’s resolution skepticism, I am actually a big believer in goal setting. In my experience, goals (or resolutions) give you structure, guidance, and motivation. But only if you do them right.

Before I joined a Sunday Assembly Live Better group last year, I’d had chronic neck pain for 3 years. It wasn’t like I had an injury then my life completely changed. It was more insidious going from an irritating distractor to the reason why I worked from home in order to lie down rather than sit (not as glamorous as it sounds) and didn’t make evening or weekend plans. I was determined to change this so I joined a Live Better Group with Sunday Assembly, a peer support group where people come together to help each other achieve their goals.

So what does work with goal setting?

For you? I am not sure! But I can tell you what 5 things work for me:


1. Set exciting goals that really motivate you  

You may have heard of SMART goals (if you haven’t don’t worry) but this misses the most crucial point that the only goals really worth doing and that we’ll feel proud of a year from now are those that stretch and excite us.  

There is a huge power in writing down your goals. This will help you to clarify, distill and record them. While writing your goals down is a powerful exercise in itself, the real value comes in building routines to make progress on a regular basis.

For me, this was as much about reframing my problem from being free to something really exciting - to have joy in motion whilst dancing, swimming and sitting with friends. This is my EX (not the one from Glasgow) from the acronym below that spells SO EXACT:

  • S-uccinct: a few words that are easy to remember, so easy to remember and check in on

  • O-ne focus of measure: more than one focus dilutes the goal.

  • EX-citing: something for which you will have long-term enthusiasm, framed in a positive statement.

  • A-ssessable: a measure to know when the goal is achieved.

  • C- hallenging: stretching you beyond your normal limits but always achievable, especially in the early stages

  • T-ime framed: twelve weeks is a reasonable time frame in which achieve a serious goal, and yet near enough to maintain motivation. If necessary, you can sub- divide your goals to fit in these time frames.


2. Make sure they are your goals and not those of others

We are surrounded by stories of people who have ‘made it’ and messages of how to live so we can be as happy as they seem to be on the outside. This all has a corrosive effect - most of us in one way or another have succumbed to peer pressure and the allure of money, prestige or security.

It’s bad enough not getting what you want, but it’s even worse to have an idea of what it is you want then to find out too far into the journey that it isn’t. And now you've got no drive to stick at it. How you’re feeling and how you’re doing along the way is important. Make a point of checking in with yourself as you go, whether it’s journaling, or reflecting, or talking with friends. Keep tabs on how you’re feeling, what’s working, what isn’t, what you want to stick with and what you might want to change as you move closer to your accomplishment.


3. Get help from others

Make yourself accountable to just one other person who is committed to helping you achieve them, be that your mentor, supportive friend or colleague. Groups are great too to create accountability and build momentum—key ingredients in helping us stick with new habits.

Thus, if you want to cook more, consider joining a cooking group. If you want to run more, consider joining a running club. The Live Better group worked for me - peers are there to support you with any goal you have. The more positive reinforcement you can surround yourself with, the easier it will be to make difficult changes.

Charles Duhigg's 3 step habit building process from  The Power of Habit

Charles Duhigg's 3 step habit building process from  The Power of Habit

4. Build your cue, routine, reward process

First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Try to build habits with a clear cue, be that the start of the day, the end of another activity or the beginning of something.  Then there is the routine, the thinking or action you do. More on this below.  Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.

What helped me do this was to set up my goals and reminders on and reward myself with tasty treats, messaging friends or listening to my favourite songs music straight after the exercises to help my back.

Make sure to celebrate your achievements particularly in the early days no matter how small they are to build your momentum further.


5. Make sure your routines are easy to do

Go from thinking and procrastination to routine action by making your routines as easy as possible to execute. Thinking about these items really helped me:

  • Time. Do I have time to do this when I expect to? What can I change to make this happen? The shorter the amount of time, the better

  • Money. Can I afford it? Is it worth that much?

  • Physical Effort. Do I need to go somewhere to start? Or can I change things to make it happen right here?

  • Brain Cycles. How hard do I have to think about it? Is there a set of instructions I just have to follow?

So what are your goals in 2017? Mine’s to keep working towards my goal of joy in motion. Can’t wait!

To help you make lasting change in the new year, I’ve  put together the 2017 Goal Setting Workbook with 26 pages of exercises, advice and inspiration. Download it here.


Outside of Sunday Assembly, Martin is a career change expert. Having transitioned from criminal law barrister to Head of HR and knowing how difficult it is, Martin created the Career Design course. Find out more here