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How to Set Real Goals and Action Plans (Not Weak Resolutions)

By Laura Galbato December 15, 2023 Mindset

It’s that time of year again. Everyone is talking about their New Year’s resolutions. Lose weight, get fit, and save money are the most popular. Yet, despite our good intentions, only a tiny percentage of us will actually achieve our goals. I get it, I’ve abandoned my share of resolutions through the years.

Why do so many people fail at goal setting, and what is the secret to succeeding and achievement? I spent a career consulting to companies on performance measurement and pay, yet I hadn’t spent much time applying those valuable principles to myself. Look out 2024… now is the time!

Here are a few pointers to make this year different.

Take the Time

A New Year’s resolution is often an afterthought, a proclaimed goal over a drink of champagne. Take some quiet time to think through your life and where you’d like to be a year from now. Carve out this alone time, with no distractions. Articulate your goals and jot them down.

Think about your goals in three major buckets: your mind, your body and soul (spirit), and your relationships. Consider the following prompts that may guide you.


How will I challenge my mind? What new skills do I want to learn? What new experiences do I want to gain? How will I keep my mind sharp?

Body & Soul

What improvements will I make to keep my body healthy and strong? What new habits do I want to form? Which habits do I want to break? How will I be more active? How will I feed my soul in new ways?


Which relationships do I want to build and grow? Who do I want to spend my time with, and how will I nourish those relationships? Are there changes I need to make, or people I should spend less time with?


Sorry to burst the proverbial bubble, but most resolutions are weak goals. I want to lose weight or spend less money or learn a foreign language are basically meaningless because they have no teeth in them and lack specificity. Resolutions are only strong and have a chance of being achieved if the goal is SMART.






As an example:

Weak goal: Lose weight and get in shape.

SMART goal: Lose 10 pounds by April 1, be able to walk two miles in 40 minutes or less, and increase my muscle strength.

An Essential Action Plan

The SMART principles make a goal extremely specific, but all goals must have an action plan. A specific action plan describes how you will achieve your goal and the steps you will take to ensure success. An action plan means that you’ve given your goal considerable thought and planning, thinking through the essential steps you will take to achieve your goal.

Simply stated, a goal without an action plan is merely a wish, a dream. An action plan is the meat around the bones, the substance.

To illustrate, this action plan is based on the above sample SMART goal.

  • Eliminate sugar and processed foods, and cut my dinner portions by half.
  • Limit myself to one alcoholic drink per day, with no more than four per week.
  • Walk each morning for one mile and increase to two miles.
  • Do the online Older and Wiser Workout three days a week.
  • Stop eating after 8 pm each day.
  • Be aware of how much time I spend sitting and try and move around more.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator if less than two flights.

The level of detail and milestones in the action plan will depend on the complexity of the goal. Writing a book will require much more detail and time-based steps than stop drinking caffeinated beverages. If the goal is large and seemingly unsurmountable, break it down into smaller pieces to make it more manageable. Success begins with step one, not step zero.

Even the most straightforward goals benefit from having a plan to make achievement that much easier. If the goal is to drink organic green tea instead of coffee, a plan might include:

  • Buy a variety of green teas to sample.
  • Dig out my favorite mug for my tea.
  • Store the coffee away in the back of the pantry.
  • Look up all the benefits of drinking green tea and make a sign to remind me.
  • Transition by consuming both beverages for a week, reducing coffee each day.

An action plan takes a bit of time but is worth the effort if the result is the successful attainment of your goals.

Write It Down

Sometimes there’s nothing that replaces paper, pencil, a quiet spot, and your own writing. The act of writing your goals and action plans is very powerful. Studies have shown that good old-fashioned writing increases creativity and deep thinking, relieves stress, and increases memory and retention. Take the time to document your goals and action plans. Find a quiet spot, away from distractions (yes, that includes your phone).

Be Ambitious

There’s some advice in the blogosphere to minimize your goals to a select few. I get the sentiment, but gosh, we are oh so much more capable than that. Our lives are a portfolio and are filled with a myriad of many things that provide fulfillment and opportunity.

Challenge yourself by looking at your life with intent and explore ways to learn new skills, challenge your mind, gain experiences, stay healthy, and enhance relationships. Get rid of what’s not working and strive to improve. Set realistic optimistic goals and consider the possibilities from multiple dimensions.

Be Positive

Setting a goal and developing an action plan are crucial first steps. They increase the odds that you will, in fact, achieve your stated goal. As you hit hurdles or setbacks, have faith in yourself and know that you can do this. Conversely, do a happy dance and give yourself a gold star after each successful day.

Positive self-talk is a powerful tool and truly rewires our brains toward optimism. Negative thoughts and self-feedback can be detrimental to the achievement of your goals. Start using phrases like I canI am strong, and I have the power to choose. Read about the perils of negativitis in my blog post, Are You Suffering From Negativitis?

Here’s to 2024! Go set some truly awesome goals so that a year from now you can raise that glass of champagne with a smile and a pocket full of gold stars.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What goals are you setting for 2024? Do you have any other strategies for accomplishing your goals?

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I’m going to carve out time each morning to do the free yoga movements on 60 and Me b4 breakfast to start my day.

The Author

Laura Galbato is mosaic artist, writer and healthy living enthusiast. After a successful career as a compensation consultant for LCG Group and Towers Perrin, she returned to earlier passions for her second act. Laura loves hiking, golf, mosaic art, and a good glass of champagne.

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