On 1 January 2019, were you one of the thousands of people who committed to a half-hearted declaration of ‘I will give up smoking’ or ‘I don’t want to be fat anymore’, only to find that within a few days your will had waned and you were back to smoking or eating normally again? With poor goals such as these, it’s hardly surprising! The problem with many New Year Resolutions is that most people have set themselves up to fail before they’ve even begun so if you’d like to find out how you can set powerful goals that are attainable and motivational as well as ones you’ll stick to, then read on.

Mind your language

What’s the first thing you think of when you tell yourself that you are going to give up smoking? The answer of course is: smoking! So what are you most likely to do? Reach for a cigarette. What might you think of when you tell yourself that you don’t want to be fat anymore? That you’re fat! And if you get angry at yourself for being fat, you’re more likely to want to comfort eat.

Essentially, when you commit to goals such as these, you’re telling your unconscious mind: smoke, smoke, smoke or eat, eat, eat, so it will override any willpower you might have and ‘compel’ you to smoke or eat. If you’ve ever had a strong urge to smoke or eat when you know you really shouldn’t but you’ve done it anyway, this is your unconscious mind directing your behaviour even though, consciously, you don’t want to do it.

Who’s driving the bus

The solution is to create a set of well-formed goals which speak the language of your unconscious mind so that it listens and does what you consciously want it to do. Think of the conscious mind like the driver of a bus and the unconscious mind like the bus. The unconscious mind needs clear direction from the conscious mind (the driver), or it will just drive around aimlessly.

The first step

So the first step for creating great goals is to be clear about what you specifically want to achieve. Think about all the areas in your life from your career, relationships and personal development to your fitness, health, and social life, and decide where there are things that could be improved. Once you know what these are, outline what you would like instead.

Can’t process negatives

Next, the unconscious mind can’t process negatives and so you must state each goal positively. (If you don’t believe me, whatever you do, please do not think of how interesting and fascinating you’re finding this article. In order to not think of it, you must first think of how interesting and fascinating it is!)

Petulant child

Then, think of your unconscious mind as a petulant – or annoyingly specific – child. If you don’t pretend that you’ve already achieved whatever it is that you want to achieve, it will not bother to help you to achieve it, so you must state your goals in the present tense. For example, if you tell it that you want to be fit, your unconscious mind will focus on the wanting of being fit rather than helping you to get fit. You also need to give your unconscious mind specific direction of when you want your goals by otherwise the petulant child will set about achieving them on its own timetable. You could be waiting until you’re 90!


‘I don’t want to be fat’ should be changed to ‘I am fit and healthy’ or, more precisely, ‘I fit easily into a size 12’.

Even though you could argue that: ‘I give up smoking’ is stated in the positive and in the present tense, it assumes that you have to ‘give up’ something, which conjures up thoughts of lack or missing out on something, which no one likes. It also mentions the word ‘smoking’ which provides a subliminal prompt to your unconscious mind to want to smoke, so a more positive spin might be: ‘I have healthy lungs.’

The real motivation behind your goal

There is also a cool technique that can help make your goals even more motivational. By finding out the deeper reason why you really want what you want, you are providing additional ammunition to remind yourself why you should stick to your goals. To do this, you need to ask yourself: ‘What will that do for me?’ several times until you find out what it is that you really want. For example, when asked over and over again: ‘What will that do for you’ to a client whose goal was to be fit and healthy, she replied, ‘To be ready to have children one day’. As this demonstrates, it is much more motivational to focus on something that you really want so that if your willpower wanes, you can tap into the thought of why you really want whatever it is you want.

Evidence Procedure

Next, to make your goals even more clear and compelling get your senses involved. To do this, think about what you’ll see, hear and feel when you’ve achieved them. For example, ‘I see myself working out in a gym, I hear people commenting on how much energy I have and I feel really proud of myself’.

The first 3 steps

You need to think about what specific things you will commit to doing. What are the first 3 steps you are going to take? For example, ‘I will research local gyms tomorrow, I will choose the one I like and join it by Friday. Then, within a month of joining, I will employ a personal trainer and ask him/her to design an exercise and eating plan for me’.

Write it down

Finally, you need to write all of this down so that you have a record of it and keep it where you can review it regularly. In 1979, there was supposedly a Harvard Business School MBA study on goal setting, where the graduating class was asked a single question about their goals in life. The question was: Have you set written goals and created a plan for their attainment? Prior to graduation, it was determined that:

  • 84% of the entire class had set no goals at all
  • 13% of the class had set written goals but had no concrete plans
  • 3% of the class had both written goals and concrete plans

The results

10 years later, the 13% of the class that had set written goals but had not created plans, were making twice as much money as the 84% of the class that had set no goals at all. However, 3% of the class that had both written goals and a plan, were making ten times as much as the rest of the 97% of the class.

Despite being cited in many articles about goal setting (this one now included), there is no proof that this study actually exists! However, whether it exists or not, there is no harm in writing them down, and I would argue that it is important to write them down because ‘what the mind sees, it believes’. I look at my goals every morning as a way to remind myself what I want to do, why I want to do it and by when.

So – what are you waiting for? Get achieving all those things you deserve in life!