How to set achievable goals for 2024

With the new year come new opportunities for personal and professional development. In this article we will detail several strategies you can employ for realistic goal-setting for the new year, focusing particularly on how to ensure achievability and accountability when striving for new heights in the new year to come.

1. Set clear boundaries

When setting your professional goals for the year, the first step is to set clear boundaries for each of your goals. Distinguish between work and private life; your professional ambitions and your leisure time; your personal goals as a citizen and your personal goals as a professional. Besides this categorization, you should also set boundaries by deciding on clearly defined time limits for the goals you set in each respective category. Goals or resolutions for which you have not set clear time boundaries are demotivating instead of motivating.

To take a classic example, the common new year’s resolution to lose weight perhaps goes unachieved more often than not. That has everything to do with the lack of boundary-setting in the formulation of the goal. Is losing weight considered a personal development goal, a health goal, a fitness goal? What time limit do you want to set for the achievement of the goal? And when should I spend time on the goal – all the time (for example by dieting) or only after work (for example by going to the gym)? The first step towards effective goal-setting is to clearly define the (time) boundaries of each of your goals.

2. Prioritize – focus on 1 or 2 goals at a time

The second important aspect of goal-setting is to prioritize. Ambitious individuals will find it hard to resist setting multiple highly challenging goals for themselves, especially when thinking of goals for the year ahead. Therefore, after you have set clear category and time boundaries for your goals, make a priority list. Pick 1 or 2 goals to focus on in a particular timeframe and category. For example, dedicate January to working on your networking skills in your professional life, and exercising 3 times a week in your personal life. Prioritization will allow you to truly focus your energy on the task, thereby decreasing risk of burn-out out or loss of motivation due to having too much on your plate at once. By dedicating your mental energy to just one or two tasks, you will also be able to keep better track of your progress along the way.

3. Schedule regular check-ins

Keeping track of your progress is the third most important element when setting new goals. Once you have decided on one or two tasks to devote yourself to during a particular timeframe, pick out a few set times for a check-in. Write these moments down in your agenda and make sure you hold yourself to them – this is the only way to ensure personal accountability to your goals. When the time comes for a check-in, review your progress honestly. If needed, make adjustments to your goals. Keep in mind that it is always better to lower your expectations for a goal than to abandon the goal entirely. By giving up on goals that turn out to be too challenging, you are inadvertently rewarding yourself for an unwanted behaviour. As we know from neuroscience, rewarding yourself, whether for good behaviour or bad, will give you a rush of dopamine. This dopamine kick makes it increasingly difficult for your brain to later correct that same behaviour again. It is therefore smarter to lower your initial goal to a level you are certain you can achieve, rather than abandon the goal.

Keep in mind that it is always better to lower your expectations for a goal than to abandon the goal entirely

4. Request external feedback

Aside from checking in with yourself, you should also seek external feedback on the progress you are making toward your goals. Letting someone else know you are working on a particular goal is a good first step towards external accountability. This other person can be a coworker, your manager, your fitness trainer, your spouse or a friend; what is most important is that someone else knows you are working on a goal. This reframes the goal in your mind from a personal task to a shared task. Importantly, another person can provide positive reinforcement if they see you are making good progress toward the goal, thereby creating a feedback loop of positive reinforcement resulting in increased motivation for the goal, resulting in better performance.

5. Set further goals

Lastly, it is always important to consider even further goals beyond the ones you are setting now. To be sure, once you have achieved your initial goal you should take the time to celebrate your victory and reward yourself for a good job. But setting new goals should be the final stage of your goal-setting cycle. Setting new goals will force you to reflect back on your progression towards your initial goal, and allow you to map out a route towards an even higher achievement. After you have attained the new goals, this process should start all over again. Working in this way opens the door to continuous personal and professional growth.


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