“New year, new me!” You’ve probably heard this optimistic phrase, and probably even used it at some point. It’s that time of year when many people are aiming for a fresh start, making New Year’s resolutions, and setting goals for the year. Do you want to eat healthier? Exercise more? Start meditating? Improve your relationships?

These are all worthwhile goals to pursue. But if you think about your past New Year’s resolutions, how long did those truly last? A week? Maybe two? It’s all too common to set a goal but then allow it to fade out. Oftentimes, the resolutions people set are too vague, and they don’t actually know how to go about achieving them and why they want to. When you’re setting a goal, it’s critical to think about WHAT the goal is, WHY you want to work towards it in the first place, and HOW you’re planning to go about getting there.

The “what,” “why,” and “how” are the three essential components of any goal you set—and your plan has to take all of these elements into account.

Oftentimes the hardest element for people to pinpoint is why they want to make a particular change. Finding the “why” behind your goals will help propel you into implementing them and keep you motivated when your enthusiasm starts to lag.

Once you identify what it is you want to change or achieve, and before you start to establish a plan for how to work towards your goal, spend some time reflecting on this “why” component. Why do you want to change this aspect of yourself or your life?

Pay attention to whether your “why” is externally motivated or internally motivated. Are you setting a goal to start meditating because that’s what everyone else is doing (external pressure), or because you want to learn how to become more introspective and self-aware (internal motivation)? Your goals should be deeply connected to your personal values and your purpose in life in order to bring you the most fulfillment. If you are setting goals that are motivated by societal pressure or the external desires of others, it’s likely your resolutions won’t last very long or feel very satisfying.

You may be wondering how to connect your goal-setting to your values. Think about some of the values that are the most important to you in the various spheres of your life, such as your personal life, intellectual life, and relationships. Maybe you value generosity, patience, loyalty, trustworthiness, or gratitude. Maybe you admire honesty, individualism, or hard work. Reflecting on the values you appreciate the most will allow you to identify areas of your life where you may want to improve, or ideals you want to emulate but may not be living up to.

If the “why” behind your goals isn’t internally motivated by your vision of who you want to be, it will be that much harder to stick to them in the long run.

For example, if your goal is to lose weight because your partner has been nagging you to do so, you’ll probably have trouble seeing it through. But if you want to lose weight because you have a family history of weight-related morbidity and you want to watch your child, grandchild, niece, or nephew grow up, you have a worthwhile reason that is deeply connected to your purpose and values. At the end of the day, this is what will lead to sustained behavioral change and accomplishing your goals.

Whether you’re making a resolution for the new year or looking to set a goal in any area of your life, first take some time to reflect on why it is important to you and what values your goal is connected to. Having a strong “why” behind your goal will allow you to develop a clearer, more specific idea of what it is you want to achieve and help you create the best plan for how to get there.

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