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New Year, New Goals- But how do you achieve them?

I can't help it, I am one of those cheesy people that looks forward to the New Year for the sake of making resolutions. Maybe it is because this was always some thing I looked forward to in my family growing up since it was a tradition for us to all state what we would like to achieve and each New Year seemed magical and full of hope. My parents were and still are dreamers. They have always inspired me with the goals they have been able to stick to and achieve (my mom currently has 3 jobs and recently finished a post graduate certificate in her 50's!!!). Learning from them made me a goal driven person. I am also one of those people who can admit that there have been many years where resolutions didn't stick, but I still look forward to making them anyways. Life happens, but consistency will always pay off in the long run.

In order to be intentional this year about what I wanted, I started setting goals and jotting down my ideas about 2022 well before the 2021 ended. I read the book Atomic Habits by James Clear and had a lot of take aways that have helped me make these goals simple.

Clear asks the question, which is better, goals or habits? Habits are what help us achieve our goals. If we don't have good ones, then those goals never seem to come to fruition. He explains that if a pilot is off by the slightest degree on their heading they may end up in an entirely different state by hundreds of miles rather than their planned destination. This analogy is then used to explain how making a 1% difference in your daily habits has more significance than we realize in the long term when it comes to instilling behavior changes in ourselves. Making tiny little changes over time is what helps us succeed with true change, even if it is one minute of changed behavior at a time.

In my work as a coach and as a social worker, I have worked with individuals a lot on achieving goals. In both of my careers, people come to me to change a part of themselves that are struggling to change on their own. Goal setting can seem daunting, but there are so many tools out there to help you be successful. I like to use the acronym SMART when I am helping someone set a goal. Here is what SMART means:

S- Specific. You want to write down all the details of your goal. Instead of saying "I want to get in shape", make this part as detailed as possible. One way that I suggest making this statement more specific is asking yourself, "what will be different when XYZ happens?". For instance, I want to be able to play a game of basketball with my kids or I want to run a marathon are more specific than "I want to get in shape".

M- Measurable. How will you know that you are making progress towards your goal? For the "I want to run a marathon" statement above, this could be measured in miles run or pace deducted over time. For people who measure heart rate, it could be lower resting heart rate over time.

A-Attainable. One of the main reasons I see athletes that I coach fall off of a program is that they are setting goals that may be too far out of reach at that point in time. I like to ask in my initial consult, how much time are you able to dedicate towards your training or goal. Time and resources are major factors to consider. On the same note, don't sell yourself short here either. Maybe running a 100 mile ultra marathon is not in the cards right now, but how can you break that goal down into micro goals that will set you up for success later down the road. Maybe that looks like setting smaller goals within in a larger frame of mind.

R-Realistic or Relevant. Does your goal align with who you want to be, your values, and morals? As a running coach, I have seen injuries happen when people try to cram a huge training program into a short amount of time. This is where I like to consider someone's history and current level of motivation. Will additional work need to be done to help them achieve this goal, like strength and conditioning to prevent injury? Sometimes, there will be obstacles in the way of your goal, how will you be able to handle them? How does your goal tie into your "why"?

T- Time sensitive. What days and times will you work towards your goal and what is the end date?

How do we put all of this together? One of my goals for early 2022 is to run a half marathon for the first time since having my twins. Here is an example of how I wrote this into a SMART goal:

I will run a half marathon in under two hours by April, 2022 by completing four weekly runs including one day dedicated to speed work and two additional days of cross training to prevent injury.

I can answer all the SMART objectives when I read my goal broken down this way. To tie in the Atomic Habits book into my goal, I can get even more specific here by asking, what habits can I create to help me succeed with this goal?

There are four guiding principles to setting good habits, according to Clear:

(1) make it obvious, (2) make it attractive, (3) make it easy, and (4) make it satisfying.

Clear wrote about his goal of drinking more water. He made it obvious by putting a water bottle in every room or place that he would sit in his house, so that it was a known and visible reminder to drink. Making a habit attractive ties into the question of "what will be different once you have changed?" By drinking more water, you may have clearer skin, less headaches, and just feel - better. If it makes you feel good, you will most likely stick with it. Making it easy- he didn't have a single excuse to not drink water because it was always within in reach. To make a new habit satisfying, maybe you could get fun here and add fresh fruit to your water or get a new water bottle that makes you want to carry it everywhere and sip more.

Habits that I want to create to stick with my half marathon training plan will include:

  • Easy: Lay my running clothes and shoes out the night before my run and complete my weekday runs before my twins wake from their second sleep so that I have an hour or two to myself in the morning

  • Attractive: I will reward myself in different phases for completing my weekly workouts by keeping track of workouts completed by marking them off a hard copy calendar as well as getting myself a massage or new running kit when I have accomplished phases of the program.

  • Obvious: I will follow a program and plan my workouts on a schedule every week. I will know exactly what route and workout I am going to do the day before so that I do not have to overthink it during the week.

  • Satisfying: I will join run groups so that I make new friends and have fun while training for the race.

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