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A goal without a plan is just a wish

Use this method to supercharge your new year resolutions and plan for success

It’s that time again, the time when we reflect on what we want for ourselves in the coming year and make New Year Resolutions.

Perhaps this will be the year you will create a better work-life balance, manage stress differently or find a new job.

But did you know that only 40% of people who make resolutions are successful? This is the finding of Professor John Norcross (1), a specialist in behavior change at the University of Scranton.

Whilst not even 1 in 2 sounds bad, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use the turning of the year as a point of reflection and set goals for ourselves.

What we might consider doing though is being more intentional when we set them. Doing so will increase the likelihood of achieving them.

From resolution to intentional action

Getting clear on the intention behind a goal helps to set the direction of travel, the place we are heading towards. Once we know that, we can identify the route that will take us there.

Knowing your overall intention also provides a reason and a reference point when unexpected situations occur, or you have a decision to make.

Below is an exercise that will help you create a roadmap towards what you want to be, do or change this year.

How to create and keep new year resolutions

You will need: Around 45 minutes, a place where you won’t be disturbed, a pen and some paper.

Tip! Writing down your answers to the questions that follow will force you to really explore what you want, unpack the why and increase your motivation to act.

1. State the goal or resolution

> What do you want to be, do, or have this year?

2. Uncover the intention, increase motivation

Dig in to why this change matters to you.

> Why is this important?

To really drill down to the reason, you may have to ask this question up to 5 times. It’s a useful unpacking question to understand why something matters to someone.

> What will this change allow you do? What will it give you?

> What are the implications if you don’t make this change?


Intention finding example

Resolution: I want to go to bed at a decent time

Why is this important?

I will feel rested which means I won’t feel exhausted anymore. This is important because I will be able to perform at my best. This is important because I have a big project to do in 2023 and I want to succeed. This is important because it will show I am ready for promotion. I know the body needs rest if it is to function optimally. If I continue like this, I am going to feel increasingly tired and worn out and I will likely not have the energy to manage the project, as well as I could.

Intention: Demonstrate I am ready to move into a more senior role


3. Get SMART with your goal

S: Specific

> What will you be doing differently - specifically?

M: Measurable

> How could you monitor this change?

> Are there results you could use to measure progress?

A: Achievable

> How much control do you have over this?

> What might get in the way?

> Who else has a stake in this?

R: Relevant

> How does this fit with other things that are in play?

> How committed do you feel to making this happen?

> How achievable does this goal seem out of 10 – where 1 is unlikely and 10 is totally achievable?

T: Timebound

> When do you want to achieve this by?

> When could you start?


SMART goal setting example

S:Specific What will/would you be doing differently?

I am not getting enough sleep now. I get up around 6.30am but I am not going to sleep early enough to feel rested. I want to switch the light off at 10.30pm on “school nights”.

M:Measurable How could you monitor change?

I can note the time when I get into bed in my journal. My smartwatch knows when I stop moving around. I can see if I feel differently in the morning/day

A: Achievable How much control do you have over this? What might get in the way? Who else has a stake in this?

This is totally within my gift. The only things that might get in the way is when my routine is interrupted on weekends, a good book or programme. My partner needs to buy-in.

R-Relevant How does this fit with other things that are in play? How committed do you feel? How achievable does this goal seem 1-10?

I am exhausted so I am very committed to doing something, I’ve been better at going to bed in the past so believe it is achievable – let’s say 10.

T-Timebound When do you want to achieve this by? When can you start?

I can start trying to do this straightaway but to make it a habit let’s give it two months so that I can find what all the obstacles are and ways round them


4. Create the roadmap

Start by reflecting on where you are now in relation to the desired state. This provides you with an understanding of your starting point.


> What are you doing currently that supports/does not support your goal?


> What now comes to mind that could help you reach your desired state?

List down everything that could be done to reach the goal. Nothing is off the table. We are looking for options.


> Which, if any, do you feel inclined to take forward?


Roadmap example


Yesterday I went to bed late because I was on the phone to my partner until 10.10pm. Then I looked at my mobile and before I knew it, I was getting ready for bed at 11pm which meant lights out was 11.45pm.

Some nights I don’t pick my mobile phone up at all. I generally use it to look something up.

I read in bed every night for about an hour. I don’t want to give this up.


I could get ready for bed, instead of talking on the phone at 10pm!

Maybe I could have a rule - no tech after 9pm, instead I’ll make a note of things to research.

Set an alarm or trigger to initiate my bedtime routine.

Use an alarm clock so that mobile phone is out of bedroom.

Have a specific time for when I speak to my partner and for how long.

I could allocate an evening for reading, limit myself to 10 pages or one chapter in bed.


I’m going to put my phone on charge around 9pm and try triggering my bedtime routine.

I will set my lights to go off at 9.30pm. I’d then be sitting in the dark which would be a clear signal.

I will discuss with my partner talking in the evening.

I’ll watch how long things take in my pre-bed routine for the next week so I can adjust. Then I can create a timetable routine.


Whilst resolutions and goals are useful, to increase our likelihood of achieving them it is good to get very specific on the goal itself, know it’s why (understand rationale, increase motivation) and create an action plan to get there.

The questions in this exercise are similar to those I use in coaching sessions to help clients get clear on what they want and how they can achieve it.

Curious to know what it would be like to work with a coach to change something in your working life? Organise your free 30-minute discovery session.


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