Don’t Set Yearly Goals

by Sean Foster | January 13, 2022 | Newsletter

External Forces – these are factors like when is your birthday, Christmas, New Year, Easter etc. As we grow up the importance of specific dates become hard-wired into our psyche. It just seems ‘normal’ that in the new year we need to make New Year Resolutions. These can be to lose weight, to become fit or specific business outcomes.

External forces are a good thing because they are natural triggers. They are a little like you getting on your bike and someone gives you a good shove to get you going. But this benefit is short lived. I have found that for most people, these new year goals are just a mishmash of recommitments to things they have previously failed at.

Internal Forces – tap into this force and the chance of your goals sticking will quadruple. If, for a minute, we take a simplistic view of how your brain works, we could divide your actions (habits, behaviours etc) into two buckets. The first one being the things that you consciously do, and the second being your unconscious or autonomous behaviours.

Pretty easy to guess where you would like your new desired habits to lie. Imagine for a minute that for the last 10 years you have been trying to get fit and would like to have a daily walk or run. Imagine how easy that would be if every day you found yourself on the road walking and cannot quite remember how you got there 😊?


New habits require many, many repeats to stick. So, what’s the chance of your New Year’s goal sticking after the first week! What’s the chance of any of your goals sticking if your goal setting success rate is single digit?

Every time you fail to achieve a set goal, so too, do you myelinate that ‘goal failure’ neural pathway a little more, which ensures that long term, you are likely to be less successful with your goals. The message here is set goals sparingly, and when you do, stack the odds in your favour to ensure a better hit rate.

Tapping into that Internal Force RCA, or root cause analysis is my go-to approach for trying to understand just about everything and should be used when setting goals. The easiest way to use this is to continually question why (the 5-Whys exercise) the goal you are setting is important to you.

Usually there are two outcomes of doing this exercise. One is that you get to appreciate the real driver and reason for achieving the goal, and the second outcome is you change your goal to one that is more meaningful. Get this part right and you will start creating a stronger emotional commitment to your goal.

To further build on the emotional commitment to your goal you also need to acknowledge what is the potential loss of NOT achieving your goal. Loss Aversion theory clearly states that we feel the pain of a loss twice as intensively than the equivalent pleasure of the gain.

Again, apply the 5-Whys exercise (RCA) to the question: ‘What will happen if I don’t achieve this goal?’ If you cannot come up with an impactful statement after going through this exercise it is highly unlikely that your new goal will stick.

The Time Horizon I clearly differentiate between Intentions and Goals. Even I use these words interchangeably (bad I know), probably because our society does. To me at least, a Goal is a firm commitment that is broken down into achievable set objectives, time frames etc. Whereas the further out the timeframe is to a ‘Goal’ the more academic this approach becomes. You have a reasonable idea what the next few months are going to be, but what about the next few years?

This is why we have 90-day plans. We have a reasonably good idea what the next 90 days could look like. We can imagine what we can achieve with reasonable accuracy. But stretch this out to a year or longer and you start feeling you have little or no control about that outcome. Perceived Less Control translates to Less Commitment.

So rather than setting 1-year goals, rather set Intentions. You need to find the balance about how far you will stretch them. In most situations you do want them to be stretch targets, because difficult to achieve goals/intentions becoming more meaningful and therefore naturally attracts your attention.

Goals vs Intentions – Correct Goal setting is achieved through following my O.P.A or Outcomes-Projects-Activities approach, which is built into my 90-day planning framework. Intentions are different in that all you need to do is to clearly articulate, with meaning and emotional commitment, the broad outcome you would like to achieve. Don’t worry about the exact mechanics of how you will get there.

Longer term Outcomes, like a year away, are achieved through Layering of smaller outcomes, so the smallest detail you could work towards is starting to identify what some of those layers are. But the message is: ‘Get anal and committed to your 90-day plans.’ This is where the rubber hits the ground.

With the year and longer Intentions, build some passion about what you would like to achieve at this future date. Create a vision board and popularize this outcome by sharing it with others. Myelinate those neural pathways so that your subconscious starts believing that this outcome is normal and expected.


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