Setting Goals: From Resolution to Action to Benefit

by William “Marty” Martin

The New Year is a time associated with new possibilities and new beginnings.

Many of us like to make resolutions for the New Year. Others have declared they’ll never make another resolution again. Yet, there are estimates that approximately half of us choose the New Year as the time to set goals for the year ahead.

Do you make New Year’s resolutions?

Do you ever wonder how you can increase your success rate at keeping them? If the answer is yes, here is what the scientific evidence suggests will improve your odds of achieving the goals you have set.

  • Making multiple attempts to change your behavior increases the likelihood of success
  • Maintaining your belief (what some refer to as self-efficacy) that you can achieve your goals increases the likelihood of success
  • Remembering that your desire to make changes is NOT related to the likelihood of success
  • Linking your goal to liberating yourself from some undesirable fact in your life, such as smoking or remaining in a bad relationship, increases the likelihood of success
  • Rewarding yourself when you make gains toward and/or achieve your goal increases the likelihood of success
  • Believing that you can make a difference and making it happen increase the likelihood of success
  • Tapping into the power of cues, such as remembering your goal every time you brush your teeth, watch TV, or check your messages
  • Avoiding situations and/or people who do not align with your goal increases the likelihood of success

These eight suggestions work for all types of goals, and not just New Year’s resolutions. Remember that changing behaviors and forming new habits take time. You can increase your chances of success by continuing to set goals and making incremental progress.

Another useful way to increase the chances of successfully realizing your New Year’s resolutions—or any goal including a financial goal—is to imagine your future self. What does this mean?


…what it will feel like to achieve your goal

…what you will look like once you achieve your goal

…how you will act once you achieve your goal

…what you will think about yourself once you achieve your goal

…how you will interact with others once you achieve your goal

You may have heard the quote, “Conceive it! Believe it! Achieve it!” This quote captures the essence of imagining your future self when you acheive your goal.


In closing, if goal setting has worked for you in the past, keeping doing what you are doing. If goal setting has not worked for you in the past, then experiment with any of the eight suggestions above and imagine your future self. One of them could be just the impetus you need to make this your best year ever!

Marty Martin

Marty Martin, PsyD, is a Psychologist in the Chicago office of The Planning Center, a fee-only financial planning and wealth management firm.

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