5 steps to creating goals that actually stick

Most resolutions fall by the wayside, but mindfulness and planning can set you on the path to success.
By Amy Vetter, CPA/CITP, CGMA

It seems like we forget our New Year's resolutions the moment it starts feeling taboo to wish people a happy new year. This should come as no surprise if you've ever set goals at the end of December hoping a fresh calendar year will be motivation enough to stick to them. In reality, 80% of people who make New Year's resolutions eventually break them and a third don't make it out of January. Many times, people make the mistake of creating superficial resolutions of what they'd like to accomplish without giving the "why" and "how" enough thought.

Setting goals as a matter of course, or because you think you're supposed to, is problematic because your heart simply is not in it. For goals to stick, we need to think about them more completely and take the necessary steps to accomplish them with mindfulness and intention throughout the year. If you want to achieve goals instead of relying on the same old resolutions (that you may have broken already anyway), here is a five-step plan to guide and structure your goals so that you can set and maintain them.

1. Reflect. If you've ever visited my blog, you know that I'm a strong believer in the power of mindfulness. When it comes to goals, the use of mindfulness to look back on previous accomplishments will provide you with inspiration and a moment to celebrate your wins. After listing what went well, write down what you didn't accomplish that you had hoped to, or the areas where you need improvement, and identify what triggers set you off track. This will help you set meaningful goals and mentally prepare for challenges when you encounter them.

2. Discover your why. Without a deeper purpose behind your goal, you will likely struggle to find motivation. Why do you do what you do? What drives you? Take some time to discover specific reasons your goal is important to you and whether it aligns with your larger personal purpose. We often set business goals without taking the time to see if they resonate with us on a personal level. What problem will achieving your goal solve? What is the biggest benefit you will earn by reaching your goal? What about this goal will bring you the most pride or sense of accomplishment? Learning your purpose will put a strength behind your goal and help you to feel more invested in it.

3. Meditate on how. Your goals should always be measurable and specific. A goal without a concrete plan is only a dream. Once you have chosen your destination, meditate on exactly what it will look like once you arrive. In a recent Forbes article, RenOC founder Karen Kwong recommended visualizing the result in as much detail as possible. If your goal is to grow your client base by 10% in the first six months of the year, think about what industry those clients will be a part of, what questions they will ask in your first meeting with them, and how you'll surprise and delight them throughout the year. Define your ideal client profile. This may be a certain industry vertical, service line, or personality characteristics that create the best relationships for your business.

4. Track your progress. It's easy for goals to fall by the wayside when you start thinking about other challenges in your world, or when you start shuffling your goals to the back end of the list to make room for more pressing matters. To combat this, set aside time on your calendar every 30 days to regularly check in on how you are tracking against your goals. It's important when setting goals that you don't set more than five per year. Too many more than that can get distracting and spread you too thin. Review where these goals have fallen in the hierarchy of your everyday priorities. Ask yourself: How much progress have I made this month? Am I falling behind on any of my goals? If so, what is the cause? What daily activities can I de-prioritize to get my goals back on track next month? Will any deadlines be missed, and where do I need to adjust them so I still complete what I set out to do? These reminders will help keep your goals in check throughout the year and give you real-time feedback on where you need to shift priorities.

5. Reevaluate. Everyone experiences change, and that goes for your goals as well. All too often, things we considered important one month will be less important four months down the line. That doesn't mean you have to drop that goal entirely. Reevaluate your why and how, and determine what is realistic. If your goals are no longer realistic, it may be time to revise, pivot, and reset your goals. Learn from what is working and not working and make adjustments. It's usually when we are most uncomfortable that we learn the most.

If you really want something, it's important to understand that it might take a few tries for your goal to finally stick. When you think of your career as an accountant, consider that it took you years to get to where you are today. That's why it's important to not put pressure on yourself to be perfect. Instead, enjoy the learning process and how you grow along the way.

Once you've tried your goal on for size, you will discover how it feels to try reaching it, and what types of situations make it more difficult to do so. It might even take a few rounds of goal setting to reach your final destination.

Goal setting is a skill that takes practice, so don't give up if you miss the mark the first time around. As you grow, and as you become better at what you do, there's always more to learn. Keep going, keep applying what you learn, and pivot where you need to so you can achieve what you set out to do. And remember, a little celebration is nice along the way!

Amy Vetter, CPA/CITP, CGMA, is the CEO of The B3 Method Institute, a keynote speaker and adviser, Technology Innovations Taskforce leader for the AICPA Information Management Technology Assurance (IMTA) Executive Committee, and the author of the book Integrative Advisory Services: Expanding Your Accounting Services Beyond the Cloud, published by Wiley. Learn more at comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Jeff Drew, senior editor, at

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