How to set Realistic and Achievable new years resolutions

At the beginning of 2019 I set myself 5 new years resolutions. You can see them below.

Inevitably, as the year progressed I forgot about these new years resolutions and carried on with my life as it slowly spiraled into a disorganized disarray. At the end of November 2019 I sat down and came across these new years resolutions (Which I had totally forgotten about) and I was surprised to find that I had actually achieved one of them. It was the first one. “Be tidier”. But here’s the problem: I didn’t achieve the other 4 goals or resolutions.

So how do you create new years resolutions that are achievable? Additionally, how do you create new years resolutions that you don’t forget about?

The problem with most new years resolutions

Google search showing 2 results for "How to set realistic new years resolutions"

Here are some of the top results from a Google Search “New years resolutions ideas”:

  • In 2020 I will exercise more
  • In 2020 I will lose weight
  • In 2020 I will read more
  • In 2020 I will spend less
  • In 2020 I will play more
  • In 2020 I will start meditating

The problem with these new years resolutions is that they’re too vague and they focus on “WHAT” you want to do. This approach makes no sense. Take a football game for example, both teams want to win, yet, only one team wins. If you had to ask the winning team why they won, they definitely wouldn’t say “We really wanted to win, so we just focused on winning all the time and we won.” This approach makes no sense, so why do we approach our goals and new years resolutions with the same approach? What we need to do is decided what we want to achieve, then we need to work backwards and ask ourselves, “What does that kind of person do?”. For example, if your goal is to be a good parent, you need to ask yourself “What are the types of things a good parent does?”.

The new years resolution framework that works

As I stated before, most new years resolutions and goals focus on WHAT we want to do, but not WHO we want to become. The following framework is one that I used to set out all my goals and I truly believe it’s made me more disciplined and focused on what is important.

Step 1: Focus on WHO you want to become

I am not going to ask you to write out your 5 or 10 year plan and decide what kind of car you want to have in 10 years. However I am going to ask you to decide what kind of person you want to become. A helpful but morbid exercise is to take 5 minutes and pretend you’re dead. You’re at your funeral. Who is there? What type of people are there? What kinds of things do people say in their speeches. The things you do today, determine the words that are spoken about you at your funeral. I know it’s a morbid exercise but it’s helpful in determining WHO you want to become.

Instead of saying, “I will lose 10kg’s in 2020” – Ask yourself what kind of person loses 10kg’s easily? The answer is someone that goes to the Gym often, except they don’t just go to the gym often, they’ve made it their lifestyle. You see, you instantly run into a problem when you set a finish line to your resolution. Once you lose 10kg’s, then what? Do you aim to lose 20kg’s? What if you can’t lose 20kg’s, what if you run the risk of being severely underweight if you lose that much weight? Do you just sit at home and become over weight again? This is the problem with finite or vague goals. They’re too achievable. I know this sounds insane and makes no sense but please bare with me. The kind of person that goes to Gym every day is an athlete. This is what an athlete does – they make sure every facet of their life contributes to WHO they want to be.

One year I set myself a very ambitious goal of shaving 10mins off my half marathon time. I wanted to go from 1:40 to 1:29:59. This would mean I was now a sub 90min half marathon runner which is a bragging right in the amateur running community. Every aspect of my life was dedicated to breaking this time barrier. Firstly, I was running about 50 – 80km a week. I would run 6 days a week. This would mean I didn’t have time for much else before and after work. I saw my friends less and because I was exercising so much I had to sleep more ( 8 – 9 hours a night). My longest training runs (up to 30km) would take me 2.5 hours. That was 2.5 hours that I wasn’t watching t.v, hanging out with friends or doing something else. I had to make sacrifices to achieve my goal. Additionally, I was consuming about 4000 calories a day and losing weight. I had to make sure my meals were getting enough nutrition back into my body. What’s my point? In order to reach my goal of a Sub 90min marathon, I had to ask myself “What kind of person runs a sub 90min half marathon?” – and do exactly WHAT that kind of person would do. I had to sleep more, see my friends less, eat more and run more. All these things drastically altered my lifestyle and what my day-to-day routine looked like.

James Clear talks about this extensively: you need to implement systems in your day-to-day routine. Routines are achievable, you know that you have gone to the gym today. But tracking every single gram of weight that you loose could prove to be demotivating. Making sure that you never miss a gym day, is more sustainable than setting unrealistic goals like losing x amount of weight.

Step 2: Identify the areas in your life that you need to improve on.

Once you’ve identified WHO you want to become as per step one. You’ll identify how you can become that person in each of the below areas. Here is an example:

I’ve identified 5 different areas that I believe are major influences to my overall well being:

  • Spiritual
  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Mental
  • Financial

You could use the same areas, or you could identify areas in your own life that impact WHO you are. Write down what type of person you would like to become in each of these areas. You don’t have to write down something for every section. Perhaps you just want to improve your financial or physical well being. That’s fine.

Here are some examples:


  • I want to become a stronger [insert faith of choice here]
  • I would like to become a strong [Insert faith of choice here] Leader


  • I would like to become more fit
  • I would like to have a better over all posture and flexibility
  • I would like to become a competitive runner


  • I would like to become happier
  • I would like to become more introspective
  • I would like to have more fun with people I love


  • I would like to learn more
  • I would like to have more stimulating conversations
  • I want to increase my intellectual output


  • I would like to spend less
  • I would like to be debt free
  • I would like to save more

Step 3 – Identify WHAT the future ‘you’ does on a daily basis

Now you need to ask yourself, WHAT does this type of person do? So for example: What does a financially well off person do? They invest and save their money religiously. They are fanatic about saving money on things that don’t matter. But what do they do on a daily basis that makes them who they are? Once you have the answer to that question, it will guide you as to what daily routines you need to implement in order to achieve your new years resolution/goal.

Implementing daily routines that bring you closer to your goal is one of the best ways that you can make your new years sustainable and achievable.

For example, if your goal is to become funnier, ask your self what does a comedian do on a daily basis? Jerry Seinfeld is an excellent example of a very successful comedian. [ref]Full Disclaimer, I have drawn a lot of inspiration from James Clear’s work here is an excellent article on Jerry Seinfield[/ref]¬†What did he do? He wrote a single Joke every single day.

In Summary

The problem with new years resolutions is that we often set these lofty goals at the beginning of the year and either forget about them or get demotivated. A more sustainable way of approaching new years resolutions is to think about WHO you want to become, then ask yourself WHAT does that type of person do on a dailiy basis? This simple frame work will result in much more sustainable and achievable new years resolutions.

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