How to set yourself realistic New Year's resolutions & goals

A brief look at the historical significance of New Year

The importance of the New Year, and its associated celebrations and rituals have been celebrated in one way or another by different cultures and people for centuries, and it is believed to be one of the oldest celebrations known to the human race. You can trace the roots as far back as ancient Babylon 4000 years ago. The Babylonians would make promises to their gods to return borrowed objects or pay debts. The Romans began each year by making promises to the god Janus for whom the month of January is named. During medieval times knights took the peacock vow at the end of the Christmas season, to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry.

Why do we make resolutions?

Given the historical significance of New Year, and its associated symbolism and meaning, it is for many people, a logical time to start a new or change habits.

Despite all of our good intentions and starting off so determined to make changes on January the 1st, there is often a common pattern that our resolutions and goals fall by the wayside by the end of January or beginning of February. So despite this, why do so many of us continue to make goals, and seek to change our lives at the beginning of the year? Well, one reason is that the allure of starting anew, from scratch, is very exciting to most of us. For most of us, there is a drive for self-improvement, and the New Year provides a perfect opportunity to do this.

Moreover, the need to make resolutions may have something more to do with tradition, and the fact that making a resolution is a good thing, that makes us feel better about ourselves. Even if we do not maintain our resolutions, making them in the first place means that we have hope and a certain level of belief in our abilities to change, and to be who we really want to be.

How to set SMART goals and resolutions

Desiring to make positive changes in the New Year is a good thing, and there is nothing wrong with making improvements, however we must be cautious not to be fooled into thinking that because it is January, and not any other month, that making any of these changes will be easier. In reality, making changes can be challenging at any time.

So, how do we make realistic and meaningful goals or resolutions? SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Limited. Below I have provided some information on each criterion.


Providing yourself a specific goal such as ‘I will go to the gym on a Thursday evening’, instead of, ‘I will go to the gym in the new year’, will give you a better chance of success because there is less ambiguity and more direction behind your goal.


Giving yourself a way to measure whether your goals or resolutions are or aren’t being maintained or met is crucial in staying on track. The reason being that if a goal is not measurable then it is not possible to know whether it is being achieved. For example, if you resolved to go to the gym twice a week, then track this on a calendar, and measure your current progress. This will help you stay on track and provide you with a feeling of exhilaration of achievement that gives you the strength to carry on to meeting further targets, whether this is increasing how often you go to the gym, or for how long you spend there.


When you identify goals that are most important to you, you begin to figure out ways in which you can make these happen. Make sure that your goal or resolution is in the realms of possibility. For example, telling yourself you will stop drinking entirely may not be feasible, where as, saying that you will have one glass of wine instead of two would be more reasonable and attainable.


Picking goals which are reasonably achievable given your skills, experience, level of support etc. is important in helping you to achieve what you set out to do. This is not to say, that you ought to aim low, or tell yourself that you are only capable of the bare minimum, but it does mean that you should be realistic. Could you answer yes to the following questions about your goal?

Does this seem worthwhile?
Is this the right time?
Can I manage this?

Time limited

Making your goals or resolutions time limited stresses the importance of grounding goals within a time frame, and a deadline will help you to focus your efforts on the completion of this goal before the date. This will also help you to stick to your plan and there will be less chance of life getting in the way, and your goals being swallowed up by every day living. This also establishes a sense of urgency about the goal, and is less ambiguous. A time bound goal will usually answer the following questions.

What can I do six months from now?
What can I do six weeks from now?
What can I do today?

How therapy can help

There is every possibility you can make long lasting and meaningful changes in your life, and can stick to your new years resolutions by yourself, however, if you are struggling with this, meeting with a therapist could help you to begin making changes that can last beyond the first few days, or weeks of hyper enthusiasm that occur in the beginning of the New Year.

Therapy offers you the chance to look at depth at what could be blocking you from making the changes you desire, and explore what your real abilities are. In a safe and non-judgemental space you can work towards overcoming negative beliefs you may have about yourself and give you the opportunity to be heard, valued and understood.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London N6 & NW5
Written by Joshua Miles, BA, MSc, BPC, BACP Accredited Psychodynamic Psychotherapist
London N6 & NW5

Joshua is an experienced integrative therapist who's worked with people to understand the blocks they may have to achieving goals and resolutions, has worked with them to understand negative internal dialogues and assisted them in understanding themselves at a deeper level. He is based in Shoreditch, East London and works with adults of all ages.

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