Over the next few weeks more and more thoughts and conversations will turn to New Year resolutions. They are a great way to remind yourself of what you want and to focus on achieving it. But they are really hard to keep and often not well thought through – making it even less likely you’ll stick to them. So how about not making a new year resolution. Make some goals instead.

Sports Psychologists do lots of work with their athletes to help them set, and then stick to their sporting goals, so why not learn from them how to make the right goals. Goals which are really sticky and thus easier to achieve. Research has proven that doing this works with study after study showing setting clear goals can increase your motivation, commitment, concentration and confidence, reduce negative anxiety and ultimately improve your performance.

Below is a 10-point guide to writing sticky goals.

  1. Don’t call it a New Year Resolution. If you do, when you get to that moment in January when you’ve stopped writing Happy New Year on every email (which already seems to go on for far too long!), the resolutions feel dated. So don’t have New Year Resolutions. Have Goals.
  1. Write positive, not negative goals. So rather than writing things you can’t do, such as not drinking alcohol, no eating chocolate or drink no more that eight cups of coffee a day (yes – that is a real goal I’ve seen!) write them as positive things such as I will do 30 minutes of exercise a day, I will drink 8 glasses of water. You are more likely to stick to your goals if they are things you CAN do, rather than things you CAN’T. When you hit them you’ll feel you’ve achieved something great, rather than avoided something awful.
  1. Don’t set outcome goals. These are dream goals like winning a race or getting promoted at work. And they are great for day dreaming – but you can’t control anyone else or what they do. If your goal depends on what someone else does, it doesn’t matter how much you focus or how hard you work – you are still not in control of it happening. Make your goals ones you have direct power over such as run a 10k in under 45 minutes or get an average of 4 on my performance review. If you do want to win a race, pick the race, study previous results, see what time you think it will take to win, make that time your goal and and work towards that. Someone amazing may show up and still beat you but you will have achieved your goal and got faster in the process.
  1. Have long and short term goals. If you only have something in that is a long way away it is hard to stay motivated in the build up.
  1. If you are writing sports related goals, then separate out the ones you need for training and the ones you need for racing. This will make them specific and focused.
  1. The more specific your goals the better. Rather than say: ‘I want to run faster’ a more specific and effective goal would be: ‘I want to run under 20 minutes for my 5k by June 1st.’ It is much easier to break these type of goals down so you can achieve each element required such as ‘I need to be able to run one kilometer comfortably in 4 minutes by May 1st.
  1. Make your goals a stretch, but still realistic. Too easy and you’ll underperform. Too difficult and you’ll lose motivation or destroy yourself. If you are currently struggling to reach 200 watts on a 20 minute cycling time trial, expecting to get to 300 watts in six months is probably a stretch too far and will be demotivating. But 250 could be achieved with a lot of work and will push you to keep working hard.
  1. Give your goals a deadline. Setting a deadline to your goal focuses the mind and allows you to set realistic intermediate goals to keep you on track.
  1. Make your goal exciting. What makes you passionate? What is the thing that makes you animated when you talk? Motivation will come from that passion. So take time to think through what you really really want to achieve. What will make you get out of bed to train at 5am on a cold, wet, windy, winter morning?
  1. Finally, record your goals. Everywhere. The fridge, next to your desk, with your friends, notes on your computer. You need to repeatedly see them and ideally tell someone about them to increase your commitment and accountability. The embarrassment of having to admit to someone you gave up on something which once made you so excited is a great prompt to keep going.

I’m yet to work on my goals but will be doing so over the next few weeks. Would love to hear about yours…