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A white woman with dark brown hair and blonde highlights. She is wearing a blank tank top and shiny black leggings. She is sitting cross-legged with one hand on her leg. She is smiling with her teeth showing, looking forward.

Locke Hughes

Updated: 12/21/2022

Go beyond goals — here’s how to create intentions for the new year that you'll actually keep.

While the new year often feels ripe with opportunity, you're likely well aware that life doesn’t always go according to plan — even in "normal" (read: non-pandemic) years.

Case in point: Studies show 41 percent of Americans usually set New Year's resolutions — but a mere 9 percent of people actually end up reaching those goals, according to Inc. The problem? Shooting for ambitious new goals without a strategy often sets you up for failure. You likely get so excited about the end goal that you forget about the steps you need to take to actually get there.

Plus, popular New Year’s resolutions often involve huge lifestyle changes, like cutting out entire food groups, altering your sleep schedule or putting major physical stress on your body. But as soon as you skip a morning workout or you experience an unexpected wrench in your plans, you may feel like giving up completely. And the statistic above shows that many folks do. (Hey, it happens!)

Luckily, there’s a better way to take on those New Year's resolutions. Read through these research-backed tips and get ready to achieve all the things you want this year.

7 Tips for Mindfully Setting New Year's Resolutions

1. Reflect On the Wins and Losses of the Last Year

Take a moment to reflect on the many highs and lows this year brought, and give yourself some well-deserved recognition for getting through it all. “Sometimes life is tough — there’s no way around it,” says Pilin Anice, health coach and yoga teacher. “You can honor your feelings, but there’s a way to find gratitude for challenges too, as they will help propel us towards growth.” By starting from a place of gratitude, you can recognize that your past and present make way for your future.

2. Start Small and Get Specific

The idea of waking up at 6 am or swearing off sweets for good may sound appealing, but making those drastic changes in one fell swoop just isn’t going to happen. “Lofty goals are well and good, but they often remain just that — lofty and overwhelming,” says health coach Katrine van Wyk.

Once you've come up with your big, audacious goals (pros recommend three to five), break them down into smaller steps or habits. You might have heard of "SMART" goal setting, which stands for: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. Basically, the takeaway from this acronym is to give your goals plenty of details and deadlines.

If your New Year's resolution is to complete a big project like writing a book or starting a business, give yourself due dates and deadlines along the way to keep yourself on track. Or instead of vowing to "run a race," try "swap my walk for a short jog.”

It’s also easier to try to “crowd out” the bad habits you want to stop by introducing more good things, rather than quitting cold turkey, van Wyk suggests. For example, if you want to cut back on your caffeine intake, start your day with hot water and lemon, and maybe you’ll end up drinking less coffee, too — without even trying.

"Give your goals plenty of details and deadlines."

3. Find Your Why

Every goal-setting session should include some soul searching. What do you want to achieve this year and, more importantly, why? This is known as intrinsic motivation, which is the deep drive you have to achieve something. Psychologists say tapping into this is a key to reaching your goals.

Some questions to ask yourself to help you discover your why include:

  • Why is this goal so important to me?
  • What will my life look like when I achieve this goal?
  • What would my life look like if I didn't achieve it?
  • What additional benefits will I experience as a result?
  • How have I achieved a similar goal in the past?

RELATED: Why We're Drawn to Starting Fresh — and How to Actually Do It

4. Set a Theme for the Year

If setting multiple New Year's resolutions sounds daunting, try choosing one theme for the new year: Pick one word or phrase that you want to define the year ahead. For instance, perhaps your theme is “growth” or “grounding,” or maybe you want to focus on self-love or creativity. Write it down and keep it in your sight, whether that's in your planner, on your screen saver or above your desk.

Pick one word or phrase that you want to define the year ahead.

5. Write Monthly Intentions

Creating a list of intentions each month can be especially helpful if your big goals can be broken down into stages or if you're trying to bring new habits into your life. This also helps set up what psychologists call "temporal landmarks," which can help you jumpstart your motivation every month. Revisit your yearly goals or theme, and make sure that your monthly intentions align with the overall vision for you have for the year.

6. Enlist an Accountability Partner

Sure, the bulk of motivation should come from within yourself. But, let's be honest, checking in with someone can also help keep you on track. According to one study, people have a 65-percent chance of completing a goal if they tell someone else about it, and chances of success rise to a staggering 95-percent if you meet up with your accountability partner in real life.

FWIW, we highly recommend enlisting the help of a close friend, significant other or a health coach (such as one at THE WELL) to help you achieve your goals.

RELATED: 5 Reasons You Need a Health Coach

7. Reward Yourself

When you reach those milestones you've jotted down in your planner or Google cal, it's time to #treatyoself. And we don't mean by going HAM on fro-yo. Gift yourself a massage, an afternoon at the movies or even a day trip somewhere you've been wanting to go. Celebrating the little victories along the way will help you stay on track and reach your goals in the long run.

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