It’s that time of year again. Everyone is talking about their New Year’s resolutions. Lose weight, get fit, and save money are the most popular. Yet, despite our good intentions, only a tiny tiny percentage of us will actually achieve our goals. I get it, I’ve abandoned my share of resolutions through the years.

Why do so many people fail at goal setting, and what is the secret to succeeding and achievement? I spent a career consulting to companies on performance measurement and pay, yet I hadn’t spent much time applying those valuable principles to myself. Look out 2019… now is the time!

Here are a few pointers and a goal-setting guide (and free goal planner!) to make this year different.

Take the Time

A New Year’s resolution is often an afterthought, a proclaimed goal over a drink of champagne. Now that 2019 is here, take some quiet time to think through your life and where you’d like to be a year from now. Carve out this alone time, with no distractions. Articulate your goals and jot them down.

Think about your goals in three major buckets: your mind, your body and soul (spirit), and your relationships. Consider the following prompts that may guide you.

Mind: How will I challenge my mind? What new skills do I want to learn? What new experiences do I want to gain? Is there a new profession I’d like to pursue? How will I keep my mind sharp?

Body & Soul: What improvements will I make to keep my body healthy and strong? What new habits do I want to form? Which habits do I want to break? How will I be more active? How will I feed my soul in new ways?

Relationships: Which relationships do I want to build and grow? Who do I want to spend my time with, and how will I nourish those relationships? Are there changes I need to make, or people I should spend less time with?


Sorry to burst the proverbial bubble, but most resolutions are weak goals. I want to lose weight or get fit or learn a foreign language are basically meaningless because they have no teeth in them and lack specificity. Resolutions are only strong and have a chance of being achieved if the goal is SMART.

Specific: clearly stating what you want to achieve

Measurable: to a reasonable level of precision

Achievable: within your reach, realistic yet optimistic

Results-oriented: directing your efforts toward achieving a result

Time-bound: including milestones and a deadline

As an example:

Weak goal:  Lose weight and get in shape.

SMART goal:  Lose 10 pounds by April 1, be able to walk three miles in 45 minutes, and increase my muscle strength.

An Essential Action Plan

The SMART principles make a goal extremely specific, but all goals must have an action plan. A specific action plan describes how you will achieve your goal and the steps you will take to ensure success. An action plan means that you’ve given your goal considerable thought and planning, thinking through the essential steps you will take to achieve your goal.

Simply stated, a goal without an action plan is merely a wish, a dream. An action plan is the meat around the bones, the substance.

To illustrate, this action plan is based on the above sample SMART goal.

Eliminate sugar and processed foods, and cut my dinner portions by half.

Limit myself to one alcoholic drink per day, with no more than four per week.

Walk to work instead of taking the subway.

Go to the gym four days a week, taking the spinning class on two of those days and lift weights on the other two days.

Stop eating after 8 pm each day.

Be aware of how much time I spend sitting and try and move around more.

Take the stairs at work instead of the elevator.

The level of detail and milestones in the action plan will depend on the complexity of the goal. Writing a book will require much more detail and time-based steps than stop drinking caffeinated beverages. If the goal is large and seemingly unsurmountable, break it down into smaller pieces to make it more manageable. Success begins with step one, not step zero.

Even the most straightforward goals benefit from having a plan to make achievement that much easier. If the goal is to drink organic green tea instead of coffee, a plan might include:

Buy a variety of green teas to sample.

Dig out my favorite mug for my tea.

Store the coffee away in the back of the pantry.

Look up all the benefits of drinking green tea and make a sign to remind me.

Transition by consuming both beverages for a week, reducing coffee each day.

An action plan takes a bit of time, but is worth the effort if the result is the successful attainment of your goals.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Write it Down

Sometimes there’s nothing that replaces paper, pencil, a quiet spot, and your own writing. The act of writing your goals and action plans is very powerful. Studies have shown that good old-fashioned writing increases creativity and deep thinking, relieves stress, and increases memory and retention.

North of 52 developed a 2019 Goal Planner for our readers to provide you with a framework and place to document your goals and action plans. Print it out and find a quiet spot, away from distractions (yes, that includes your smartphone).

Be Ambitious

There’s some advice in the blogosphere to minimize your goals to a select few. I get the sentiment, but gosh, we are oh so much more capable than that. Our lives are a portfolio and are filled with a myriad of many things that provide fulfillment and opportunity.

Challenge yourself by looking at your life with intent and explore ways to learn new skills, challenge your mind, gain experiences, strengthen your body, and enhance relationships. Get rid of what’s not working and strive to improve. Set realistic optimistic goals and consider the possibilities from multiple dimensions.

Be Positive

Setting a goal and developing an action plan are crucial first steps. They increase the odds that you will, in fact, achieve your stated goal. As you hit hurdles or setbacks, have faith in yourself and know that you can do this. Conversely, do a happy dance and give yourself a gold star after each successful day.

Positive self-talk is a powerful tool and truly rewires our brains toward optimism. Negative thoughts and self-feedback can be detrimental to the achievement of your goals. Start using phrases like I can, I am strong, and I have the power to choose. Read about the perils of negativitis in our blog post, Negativitis: How to Avoid Getting (and Cure) This Spirit-Crippling Disease.

Happy 2019! Go set some truly awesome goals so that a year from now you can raise that glass of champagne with a smile and a pocket full of gold stars. Carpe diem. 

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  1. This planner is just what I need, even though it forces me to be serious about my resolutions. Thank you.

  2. Great article, Laura! Thanks and Happy New Year!


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