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Realistic New Year Goals and Forming New Habits

At the beginning of each year people often create New Year Resolutions and/or set different goals for themselves for the upcoming year. New Year resolutions can be motivating and help us set goals for the year ahead; however, it is important that these goals are realistic and achievable. If we aren’t able to achieve our goals, we might feel let down, disappointed in ourselves, and globally unmotivated. It is important that we create and set goals that we are able to accomplish within a reasonable time frame.

What are goals and how can I set achievable goals?

A goal is a desired outcome that requires an intervention or change in order to achieve it [1]. Your goals should be based upon and reflect your core values [2]. To set meaningful goals that we are willing to work towards, it is important to understand what is most important to us and why this is important before choosing a goal [2]. The more our values align with our goals, the more likely we are to benefit from our goal plan [3].

Your goals should also be S.M.A.R.T: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. In particular, your goals should be specific, which means that your goal should be detailed and exact, as well as answer the question: why do you want to achieve this goal? Goals should also be measurable, which means that you can track your progress. Attainable means that your goal is reasonable and realistic, but also not too easy. There should always be a healthy level of challenge for you to keep you motivated. Your goal should also be relevant, which means that it is worth your time and is something that is important to you personally. Lastly, goals should be timely, which indicates the time frame that you want to accomplish your goal (e.g., 3 months from now).

How can I form new habits in the New year?

If you are trying to form a new habit, a ‘habit tracker’ or ‘habit log’ may be helpful to you. This allows you to visually see how often you are engaging in or practicing a certain behavior until it becomes a habit.

Small, specific actions are more likely to become habits [4]. If you want to create a new habit, it is important to create very clear and simple actions so they can seamlessly become habits. For example, you can plan to create a habit of exercising three times a week; however, this is more likely to become a habit if you get more specific and plan to go for a 20 minute walk 3 times a week after work [4]. You also want to ensure that the action is easy to do [4]. It is important to note that physical actions are more likely to turn into habits when compared to actions that do not involve physical movement [4], such as practicing gratitude. For actions that don’tinvolve physical activity, it can be helpful to create a specific plan [4], such as scheduling this into your agenda, setting reminders on your phone, or putting post-it notes on your mirror or wall to remind you to engage in your new activity. In addition, habits that are accompanied by an auditory or visual cue will be easier to create and maintain [4]. The auditory and visual cues help to grasp our attention and increase the likelihood of us engaging in a behaviour [4].

Lastly, the best way to change an existing habit that is not ideal for you is to create a new habit that can replace it [4]. For instance, if you have a habit of coming home and watching TV after work for hours, it would be helpful to create a new habit that starts at the beginning of this old habit [4]. You can decide to go for a walk as soon as you get home and avoid going into the living room altogether or you can decide to go straight into the kitchen after work and start cooking. Whatever habit you are choosing to create must start at the source of the old habit to help reduce the likelihood of that behavior occurring.

In conclusion…

Setting new goals and creating new habits can be difficult, but if we break it down into simple, easily attainable steps, we can achieve our goals and build new habits. It is important to remember that we cannot achieve our goals or implement new habits overnight; these take time! Remember to give yourself grace and don’t be hard on yourself. Setting new goals and building new habits should be fun, and we will likely forget certain steps or mess up, but that is okay; we don’t have to be perfect!

If you need additional support, you can contact us at with questions, or to schedule a consultation or book an appointment.

Blog post written by Kassandra Burk and reviewed by Dr. Andrea Stelnicki.

Literature review prepared by Kassandra Burk.

*The information contained in this blog post is based on a narrative review of available literature. Some studies may have been unintentionally omitted. You are advised to speak with a healthcare professional to determine if the information is appropriate to your specific circumstances.*


[1] Berkman, E. T. (2018). The neuroscience of goals and behavior change. National Library of Medicine. doi: 10.1037/cpb0000094

[2] Chowdhury, M. R. (2019). The science and psychology of goal-setting 101. Retrieved from

[3] Erez, M. (1986). The congruence of goal-setting strategies with socio-cultural values and its effect on performance. Journal of Management, 12(4), 585-592.

[4] Weinschenk, S. (2019). The science of habits. Psychology Today. Retrieved from


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