How To Set New Goals For 2023 & Beyond
How To Set New Goals For 2023 & Beyond

How To Set New Goals For 2023 & Beyond

It’s that time of year when the idea of new year resolutions can start to feel a little overwhelming – particularly if you feel you don’t have the tools to turn them into reality. We consulted five leading life coaches and psychologists to help you set realistic goals that also feel achievable.

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Dr Rebecca Jones is an associate professor in coaching and Dr Holly Andrews an associate professor in coaching behavioural change at Henley Business School. They say…

Use this time to reflect. The end of one year and the start of the next year provides us with an opportunity to look back on the year that has just gone and plan for the next. You should consider what is important in your life, what you value and what your aspirations are. Think about whether there are any gaps. For example, friendship may be important to you, but you may realise you haven’t spent much time with anyone this year. A goal could therefore be to arrange at least one date with a friend each month. By aligning your goals with what is important to you, you are more likely to stay committed once the initial excitement of a new challenge has passed.

Think about what will affect your life. There are three key themes that appear in resolutions for older people. Health related goals are common. People often start to be more concerned about their health as they get older and so things like being more active, reducing blood pressure and losing weight are high up people’s priorities for resolutions. Finance also features prominently. Over 50s are often looking towards their future, considering when they can retire, what pension they will have, whether they can pay off their mortgage, for example. Resolutions about getting these things sorted are therefore common. A final theme we see is around work. At this point in many people’s lives they are considering the possibility of a career change that may be more rewarding. Taking the leap to leave a secure role in search of a new one or retraining for a new profession are common goals.

Be specific. Most new year’s resolutions fail because the goal is not specific enough. For example, you want to lose weight. How much weight do you want to lose? When do you want to lose it by? People don’t tap into the why enough. Why do you want to lose weight? What difference will that make to your life? It is important to stay focused to maintain motivation in the long term when you have to make short term sacrifices. It’s also crucial to know the difference between a resolution and a goal. A resolution is a generalised commitment to something. A good goal is something that is more specific. 

If you have set yourself a BIG GOAL that will require a LONG PERIOD OF TIME, you should set yourself INTERIM SUB-GOALS that will help to make the LARGER GOAL MORE MANAGEABLE.

Set quality goals. This can be assessed based on the extent to which they are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound. Achievable is about what is physically possible. For example, you could go for a walk for an hour from 5am to 6am every morning. Realistic refers to whether an achievable goal will work for you based on what you know about yourself. If you struggle to wake up before 7am, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be out for a walk by 5am! When setting goals, you need to use all the available information you have. Start with what is achievable and then refine your goal according to what is realistic. Remember that motivating goals are challenging, so don’t set a goal that is too easy.

Set interim goals, too. If you have set yourself a big goal that will require a long period of time, you should set yourself interim sub-goals that will help to make the larger goal more manageable, keep you motivated and provide reward along the way. If you look at what obstacles you might encounter when trying to achieve your goal, you can also plan how to minimise these in advance. For example, if you’re trying to do dry January, you can plan to avoid parties where there will be lots of alcohol. You should also avoid all-or-nothing thinking, where one slip leads you to entirely abandon your goal. Setbacks are natural and your progress towards your goal will have lots of ups and downs. Seek progress, not perfection.

Find a way to celebrate success that is aligned with your goal. If you are on a diet, you might like to buy some new clothes in your new dress size, which would reinforce your progress. Sharing your goals with people and letting them know when you have achieved them so you can celebrate together also helps – mainly because you’re now accountable for them. Measurable goals are also a good idea. For example, if you want to get more active, you could set a goal of increasing your step count to 12,000 a day. You then need to ensure that you can assess your progress, in this case a fitness watch would count your steps. 

Focus on developing healthier habits. Habits are shortcuts that enable us to just get on with things, but the problem is we often develop unhealthy ones that don’t serve our long-term goals. For example, we reach for a chocolate bar when we are hungry out of habit. Because habits are often unconscious, the first step to breaking them is to become aware. If you are trying to save money, you need to bring your conscious awareness to what you are spending. Keep track of everything you spend in a week, for example, then identify what benefit you get from the habit, or used to get, so you can see why your brain set it up in the first place. You may have started buying a coffee every day at a time when you felt low because it made you feel better, but now that you want to save money it is actively working against you. Updating the reward value of the behaviour in your brain is really important. Finally, you need to make a plan of what you will do instead of the habit. You might decide to make coffee at home and take that with you instead.


Tamika Abaka-Wood is a psychologist by training and strategy director at the consultancy B+A, which has advised clients including Nike and LEGO. She says…

Know yourself. As humans, it’s in our nature to rush to find solutions without really considering what it is we’re truly trying to solve. For example, you might decide you’re going to start a daily meditation practice, but why? What is the root cause you’re addressing? Maybe it’s that you’re not sleeping well, or you could be in a relationship that isn’t serving your emotional needs? Perhaps you’re spending too much time on screens and maybe you feel disconnected to yourself? Step one is about seeing yourself as an individual, which is about understanding your identity and lasering in on a question many skip over when it comes to setting goals and resolutions: Who are you, really? You should also know that we don’t do anything in this life by ourselves – while we do need to look inwards, we also have to look outwards. Who can shepherd you, give you a different perspective or even a kick start if you need one?

Start with the five whys. Ask yourself five times: Why do I want to make a new year’s resolution? Then whatever your reply – I’m restless, I always make resolutions, I want to feel a sense of achievement, I need to spend less money – interrogate that answer to see where it takes you. It will feel ridiculous, but I promise it leads to truth. For example, if you discover that you want to connect with an estranged part of your family or create a family tree, it might make sense for you to set learning Welsh as a goal. But if the five whys end up with you wanting to be a more interesting person, there are more layers to unpeel and specific goals to set.

While deadlines are ROCKET FUEL FOR ACTION, people often set UNREALISTIC GOALS for themselves by trying to ACHIEVE THEM in a CERTAIN TIME.

Don’t think of speed as a virtue. While deadlines are rocket fuel for action, people often set unrealistic goals for themselves by trying to achieve them in a certain time. A good way of thinking about it is to lean into the tension of holding both a long-term dream and short-term goals to get you there. Try setting aside three hours per week to work on your goals but try not to think about success and failure in binary ways – it will only make a setback disastrous. Setbacks should be seen as creative jolts – moments of emotional or rational or cognitive upheaval which enable you to let go of your original ideas and thoughts and allow new ones to emerge. Setbacks are feedback which helps us make sense of what’s in front of us.

Disassociate resolutions from guilt. Making resolutions can leave us in a constant cycle of wanting, but it’s also really important to think about the ways in which you derive pleasure from life today. Whatever self-care and pleasure feel like for you is your best reward, whether that’s as simple as texting a friend who has your best interests at heart and who will tell you congratulations in only the way they can. Goal setting shouldn’t feel like an awful process – it should feel rewarding at every stage of the journey. To me, making progress, however small, is a form of success.


Eloise Skinner is an author, teacher and existential therapist. She specialises in the field of meaning and purpose, and her new book 'But Are You Alive?’ is out in early 2023. She says…

Note the 'fresh start' effect. This is the psychological boost we tend to get from 'new beginnings' and a new year is a great example of this in action. We often feel inspired and energised by the prospect of a new period of time but this effect is, of course, only temporary; our motivation for a brand new start tends to fade as the year goes on. This, when combined with our high expectations can cause our new year's resolutions to fail. That’s why I prefer goals – a more specific, practical ambition, perhaps tied to a certain time period and often with measurable standards of success or failure.

Figure out the 'why' behind the goal. Often, we can set our intentions towards a huge ambition without figuring out exactly why we want to achieve it. Taking time to recognise (and note down, if it helps) the purpose behind the goal can set you up for success before you've even begun (and can often form a source of renewed motivation when things get tough). Then, split big actions or tasks up into reasonable daily actions. For example, the search for a new job or voluntary position might be split up into two daily hours of research and three weekend hours of applications. Pinning your daily tasks to specific timeslots in your calendar can be helpful, and often brings goals from theoretical ambitions into reality.

AVOID GOALS that don't really have a PERSONAL MEANING or PURPOSE.

Avoid goals that don't really have a personal meaning or purpose. That often means goals that are inspired solely by others, or by social expectations, and that don't carry any personal significance or excitement for the goal-setter. A central step is to return to the 'why' behind the goal. Ask yourself: why was it that I wanted to achieve this goal? What was the value, meaning or purpose behind this goal? What inspired me to pursue this goal? By reconnecting with these central, 'foundational' drivers, setbacks and failures can become less overwhelming. A second suggestion is to treat setbacks and failures as a learning process – another step on the journey towards achieving your eventual goal. From this perspective, you can ask yourself what the setback or failure taught you – what lessons can you take away that could help you achieve your goals in the future?

Experiment with tracking your goals. There are so many ways to track progress and my advice would be to try different things until you find a method that works for you. From apps to journals, checklists to check-ins with mentors, there are so many ways to keep yourself accountable and on the right track. Experiment until you find something that feels efficient, enjoyable and sustainable. Also, make sure you see both progress and success as important. Progress teaches you so much along the way and this is the real core of goal achievement: the person you become in the process of achieving your goal and the skills you develop along the way. That said, success can give you a sense of motivation, drive and ambition and, of course, it provides the link back to your foundational purpose for achieving the goal – the reason why you set the goal and the meaning behind it.


Nichola Henderson is a holistic life and self-development coach, mindfulness expert and wellness specialist. She is also a fully qualified yoga, meditation and breathwork teacher. She says…

Focus on change or focus on action. A resolution is a statement of something you’d like to change – for example, to go to the gym more often and get fitter. A goal is a definitive destination – for example, to run a marathon or lift a specific weight. These are comparable to the journey and a destination, the journey is the resolution, the goal is the destination. It’s a good combination usually to have both in place and understand the difference between the two.

Break goals down into smaller pieces and take it one step at a time. Starting small is always the best approach to get moving consistently, otherwise it can become too much pressure. The goal must be achievable as a part of your everyday life and routine, otherwise it can cause feelings of stress and anxiety. Small changes might seem irrelevant to begin with, but you need to allow yourself time to really think about what you want. Ask yourself ‘What would be really good for me to achieve this year?’ then ‘What would I like to do this year?’ This approach looks more at the internal view of the individual rather than an external concept of success.

Think big picture. Most of the goals for people aged 50 and over are health related ones – to start looking after themselves, to get fitter and to start living like they know they can. Also, letting go of the past and starting to live a life on their terms is something that can come up a lot at this time of year. Nutrition and overall wellbeing also play an important part in new year resolutions for this age group as they become more consciously health aware. That said, anything other people think you should do, anything that feels a bit wrong on any level, anything that is pushing physical or emotional limits too far should be avoided. Goals should be something you feel excited about and something that is worth the work to achieve.

STARTING SMALL is always the BEST APPROACH to get moving CONSISTENTLY, otherwise it can become TOO MUCH PRESSURE.

Prioritise the long term. It’s more helpful to think about long-term goals – about how you want to feel in the summer, or even this time next year. You can frame success by the day or by the year, so the timeframe has to suit you and what you’re trying to achieve. To start with, it can be useful to gauge how you’re doing fortnightly or monthly. Treat it as a check in and just speak to yourself with kindness and understanding. Acknowledge that it’s all part of the journey. No one is perfect all the time, so a setback can be an opportunity for learning; it’s something that can be a positive experience with the right frame of mind.

Notice everything. Heighten your awareness of how you are acting, why you are doing the things you do and this way, when you stay in alignment with your goals, you will automatically notice and celebrate yourself. Make those little wins little gold stars internally and thank yourself for giving yourself the chance to change. Like a mental high five, this can help keep you on track and give you a boost when needed. Progress is the route to all success, there is no success without it. Therefore, it’s important to identify with the journey as well as the destination. 

Try something new. That could be the entire goal and it’s amazing what a sense of accomplishment you will feel. It could be just turning up to a wild swimming event for the first time and meeting new people; stepping into the unknown can be so valuable. Ultimately, success is a subjective concept, so striving to achieve a sense of accomplishment is a healthier way to measure progress as it’s malleable and not so rigid. My advice would be to try at least six new things this year, to rediscover that you can do things just for yourself and use the process as a way of meeting new, interesting people and rediscovering any passions you may have.


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