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New Year’s Resolution Series: How To Set Goals You’ll Achieve, Part 1

New Year’s Resolutions: How To Set Goals You’ll Achieve

Written by
January 1, 2020
Updated December 2, 2021

Chances are good that you’re starting the New Year intent on making it your best one ever. Chances are even better, unfortunately, that you’ll fail miserably.

Sorry, but it’s actually a statistic. Research from the University of Scranton found that only 19% of subjects who set New Year’s resolutions ultimately achieved them. The good news? People who explicitly made resolutions were 10 times more likely to see positive change in their lives than those who didn’t set a goal at all.

In other words, to quote Lloyd Christmas from Dumb & Dumber, “So, you’re telling me there’s a chance…”

If you’ve got a goal in mind, you’ve already taken the first step toward achieving it. Now let Onnit help you the rest of the way.

This article is dedicated to the most fundamental aspect of accomplishing your resolutions—learning the art of goal-setting itself.

With the help of our founder, Aubrey Marcus, author of the 16-week coaching program “Go For Your Win“, we’ll lay out exactly how you can re-wire your own brain to identify your biggest dreams, prioritize the process you need to achieve them, and avoid the self-sabotage that does most people in just weeks into the year. It’s the best insurance you can get to stay on track with your resolutions, and avoid becoming a statistic.

Happy New Year, and let’s get started.

“If you don’t understand your why, then goals become easy to discard”

Find Your Why

When setting a goal, it isn’t enough to simply say—for example—“I want to bench press 225 pounds.” It’s good to be specific, but you have to ask yourself how that accomplishment will fit into the overall picture. How is benching 225 going to make you happy and satisfied? Why does being able to do that matter to you?

“If you don’t understand your why, then goals become easy to discard,” says Marcus. “You’ll get to where you’re asking yourself, ‘Should I go to the gym today? Well, my goal was to bench press 225, but fuck it. What do I really need that for?’”

Marcus recommends starting with a big-picture goal—your guidestar, or “mission” in life. Ultimately, everybody wants to be happy and loved, so how does bench pressing, losing 20 pounds, starting your own company, or whatever else you want to do in life fit into that greater vision?

The correct answer is going to be unique to you and something you can only find yourself. But the following questions can help you get started.

Reveal Your Mission By Answering These Questions

New Year’s Resolution Series: How To Set Goals You’ll Achieve, Part 1

1. What do you love about the world?

List everything that gets you excited to wake up in the morning and include yourself, because without self-love you won’t go far.

2. What is hurting those things that you love?

Think about what forces exist that intrude on the things you care about or hold them back. Are they political, physical, environmental, financial? People you know or things you’ve been supporting?

3. What is the most important role you could play to help those things you love?

Determine the simplest courses of action you can take to support the people, places, things, or ideas that you value, and then choose the one that you feel the most compelled to begin work on.

Applying these questions to our bench press example, we can put the idea of lifting 225 pounds off your chest into a much greater context—and therefore find much stronger motivation to achieve it.

Maybe one of the things you love about the world is how it can be changed. That you can change yourself—change your body—and inspire other people to do the same. Maybe you feel the ability to change the world is endangered by self-doubt—people who don’t believe in themselves and therefore don’t try. So, perhaps, the most important thing you can do is prove that you can change and therefore lead by example.

If you want to bench press 225, you were probably inspired to start lifting weights by someone else who set a positive example of what weight training can do for your life. Your benching 225 could be symbolic of you paying it forward to the same kind of skinny, weak, unconfident, kid you used to be (or maybe still are?).

And now it’s your mission.

You’re going to bench press 225 to prove that anybody can become more powerful, and in learning what it takes to do so, you’re going to inspire and empower other people who have been in your shoes to do the same.

Find The Right Fuel

New Year’s Resolution Series: How To Set Goals You’ll Achieve, Part 1

For many people, the impetus to set a grand goal and work toward it is often selfish and spiteful. Rather than rooting your ambitions in positivity and altruism, you want to do something to prove people wrong, shock them, or win them over.

“Building your bench press to gain acceptance from the guys in high school who put you down is an ego source of fuel,” says Marcus. “It’s OK to use that—to boost some aspect of your identity up so that you feel equal to or greater than some form of comparison. I used my stepdad telling me I’d never be successful without him as fuel at times when I was building Onnit.”

But ultimately, the greatest fuel source is pure inspiration. Rather than telling yourself it would make you a bad ass to bench 225, you could say, “I want to have a strong, healthy body,” says Marcus, “and I want to show people they can have it too.” He likens using the ego for fuel to burning coal, while inspiration as the result of a more positive drive is more like fusion energy.

“You need to at least have a mix of fuel sources to help you stick with any goal. Bringing back trauma—telling yourself you need a big bench press to show up those kids who used to make fun of you—is not going to make the process of getting there enjoyable. And when you do achieve your goal and nobody’s looking, you’re not going to get the satisfaction. You have to understand the positive reasons why, the sustainable reasons, and it has to be personal.”

Bench pressing because you love to bench press, not because you want to spite someone who told you you’d never get to 225, is what will make you get up at 5 a.m. on a cold February morning to load the bar.

Sean Hyson
Sean Hyson is the Editor in Chief of Onnit. A Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (C.S.C.S.), he is the author of The Men's Health Encyclopedia of Muscle, and the e-book The Truth About Strength Training (
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