Resolve to Achieve

A New Year’s resolution is defined as a “firm decision to do or not do something”. Most of us make resolution statements and then forget them within weeks. Goal statements can disappear as fast as resolutions. Executive coaches describe goals as “the outcome or end point of a decision”. Most coaches agree that a resolution or an outcome statement does not move individuals forward in altering behaviors.

New Year’s resolutions have many synonyms like: Goal, action item, objective, outcome, aspiration, or target. Coaches teach behavior changes require more than making firm end point decisions. Goals and resolutions can both end up achieving nothing depending on how they are framed and implemented.

Kenneth Nowack explores the behavioral gaps between goal statements and goal successes.  He suggests that goals can enlighten, encourage and enable behavior changes, but people who are self-aware and motivated by goals may not achieve their intentions. Stating one’s intentions through goals does not ensure attainment, so what does?One needs to define goals and the behavior changes needed to attain the goal. Next, individuals need to analyze. What is achievable and desirable? What is necessary? How can change be measured?

A teen desired to become a professional artist and asked me for advice. We discussed his goals and strategies. He created goals with measurable objectives.Two years later he complained, “I want to be a famous artist and sell a lot of pictures; but no matter what I do, I do not achieve my goal.” That day we examined the facts.

I asked him how he defined “professional artist”.  He answered, “Someone who is famous and makes a lot of money.”  I then asked him to define famous and tell me how he measured “a lot of money”. He thought hard and replied. “A famous artist is one who has a lot of people asking his paintings.” We narrowed this definition further by asking how famous he wanted to be during the next year. He decided he would be happy  to be famous in his rural town. He committed to measuring his level of recognition by counting how many custom paintings were requested by people living in his town.

We then moved on to the definition of “a lot of money”. His goal was achievable. The young man wanted to earn more money than he had the previous year. He wanted enough to buy art supplies and a pay for a vacation. He said he planned to review that goal every year.

The 20 year old explained he worked 30 hours a week to find a niche, learn artistic techniques, improve his skills, and advertise his products. He did not know what else to do to become famous. He thought not reaching his goal made him sick.

We examined his records. We counted the number of pictures placed in galleries. We considered new markets he could enter.  We looked at his receipt book. He discovered he sold more pictures last year than he did the year before and sold them for more money than when he began.

I spoke with his instructor and she stated he sold more pictures than she did after 30 years of experience. We counted the number of interviews he had given, the number of private students and groups he taught. He found progress in all areas.

Suddenly he interrupted the analysis with, “I am famous. I am selling more paintings than last year and more people ask me to paint just for them.Next year I will be more famous.”

The young man left happy as he realized he was achieving his goals as he had defined them. He knew what he wanted from life and how he would measure his definitions.  The fledgling artist looked at the data and saw he was living his dream. He felt encouraged, enabled, and enlightened by his goals. He set new objectives using the if-then process and found he grew even more “famous”.

Each of us can create resolutions, by setting concrete goal statements with measurable objectives; and even go one step further by devising if-then statements that allow us to measure our behavior changes.


Resolutions can begin as conditional statements. Rather than creating a final outcome statement,  we can begin with a hypothesis and a conclusion statement.. The goal is arranged around changing a behavior.  The “if” part of the goal refers to the cue for the desired behavior change. The “then” is the specific behavior that will modify. A simple way to say this is: “If this happens then that will happen.”  Try this format.

During the last week of the month, I will compare the number of people visiting my website in the last 30 days (i.e.,December) with those who visited in the previous month (i.e.,November).

This type of goal statement focuses on behavior. In this case, measuring the number of web visitors each month. More changes can be implemented each month after analyzing the facts.  Another example:

If we feature the most commonly sold products of last year on the web’s front page next month, we will achieve a 5% increase in sales.

The conditional (if-then) statement  provides more information about what will happen and how change will be measured than a simple resolution. In other words, conditional statements enlighten individuals to make specific changes. The conditional statement encourages improvements and enables new behaviors.

Do you want to write a conditional statement? Consider the following: Simple statements like, “I will paint more this year: can be more effective in supporting behavior alterations if rewritten to include a hypothesis and a conclusion. How about:

“I will work 60 minutes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to finish a canvas within a month.”

People find “finishing”a canvas easier to consider and to measure than “becoming a successful artist”. Successful is a judgmental term. We do not have control over other people’s judgment but we do control how we spend 60 minutes. The if-then statement provides the conditions of the goal (60 minutes) as well as the expected result (a finished canvas).

I enjoyed tangible success when I made my first conditional statement. I was learning how to write. I worked weekly on improving my skills and trying to overcome perfectionism. I hated being rejected and so stalled at every phase of development. I struggled to produce publications.

I attended a writing conference where we were advised to write for 15 minutes every work day. I thought this was a stupid idea as writing always took more than a quarter hour. Yet as the mother of 8 children I would love to achieve success in 15 minutes. I tried the advice. My publication rate soon surpassed my yearly goals.

The secret was in the daily 15 minute commitment.  Measurement consisted of a simple yes or no- wrote for 15 minutes. I rarely stopped after writing for 15 minutes. Reading, outlining, revising, and record keeping were not measured but usually swallowed lots of time. I felt so righteous measuring my behavior. I was a success at goal keeping and able to alter other habits needed for publication. The principle works for sales as well.

Make sure your New Year’s firm decision (resolution) is attached to a measurable target (goal). Then write conditional (if-then) statements that are behaviorally oriented and regularly analyzed. Your success will follow.



Google Definitions

Nowack, K. (2017). Facilitating successful behavior change: Beyond goal setting to goal flourishing. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 69(3), 153–171.


By Deana Molinari PhD