Confession: I'm a list maker (and, okay, potentially an overachiever).

By Jeanette Zinno
December 23, 2019
Credit: Ridofranz/Getty Images

I love making lists for everything and anything; work lists, to-do lists, packing lists—you get the idea. So when a new year rolls around, making a list of resolutions is right up my alley. So much so, in fact, that this year, I'm making 20 of them. Yep, for 2020, I'm setting 20 new goals.

Now before you start about how that seems excessive, unachievable, and, thus, against all the goal-setting tips you've been taught, let me clarify...

I do not expect to accomplish all 20 by the time the clock strikes midnight next December 31. After all, I've been making multiple resolutions for quite some time now and have had my fair share of failures. For example, I still haven't become a morning person and, frankly, don't think that one will ever happen (no matter how much science says waking up early can benefit your health).

But I don't beat myself up if I don't accomplish everything on my list. (FWIW, it's also okay to quit New Year's resolutions sometimes.) Instead, I focus on what I do accomplish because being able to reach even a few smaller goals on my list feels better than just making a singular resolution and not following through with it. And let's be honest, that happens often (perhaps due to these common mistakes). In fact, about 80 percent of resolutions fail or are abandoned by the second week of February, according to U.S. News & World Report. With a list of 20, however, you're bound to finish at least one, if not more, of these micro-goals and feel a sense of accomplishment.

Similar to last year's 19 resolutions for 2019 (and 18 for 2018, 17 for 2017, and so on), this year's roundup is not filled with massive undertakings such as drop 30 pounds or run a marathon. Rather it ranges from bigger goals such as fostering a dog to smaller feats such as scoring the perfect gold hoop earrings and trying out that new trendy fitness classes—all of which, by the way, are goals I was able to accomplish in 2019, which was rewarding. (See: The Ultimate 40-Day Plan to Crush Any Goal.)

Interested in adopting this kind of goal setting for the new year? Here's what you need to know about setting multiple micro-goals.

Why Setting Multiple Goals Can Work

By setting just one, big resolution, the odds of achieving it are in your favor since you're able to devote all your effort toward it, right? Eh, not necessarily, says Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author in Santa Rosa, California.

"The psyche can become overwhelmed when presented with one major 'make it or break it' goal," says Manly. "When you create small goals that seem very doable, you build a sense of self-efficacy that empowers you to move forward in highly beneficial ways."

So, if you don't accomplish a few of the items on your laundry list of resolutions, the goals that you did accomplish will stand out. You'll be left with the feeling of accomplishment instead of feeling like a failure for not achieving that one and only goal. (See: Top 25 Easy-to-Accomplish New Year's Resolutions.)

How to Tell If This Kind of Goal Setting Is Right for You

"The 20-item premise is ideal for people who feel daunted by a major New Year's goal," says Manly. "Such individuals often do best with more leeway and flexibility." Plus, this approach has "a more playful flair and is far less intimidating" than one that focuses on a single resolution, adds Manly.

It's worth noting that this methodology isn't for everyone. While some might find one challenging goal overwhelming, others might look at a list of 20 mico goals and panic. In fact, for certain people—such as those who are more internally motivated—establishing a big resolution can be more doable. For these intrinsically motivated people, rather than rewarding themselves each time they complete a smaller goal, they tend to view the process of working to achieve, and ultimately hitting, a bigger goal, as the reward itself. And it's because of this strong internal drive that they might be more suited for a larger, loftier goal.

But that's not to say that if you're more reward-oriented you can't accomplish big goals. It just means that you have to pad your path to success with more steps and take time to celebrate those smaller wins. (Consider this expert-approved advice for achieving any goal.)

If you're interested in shaking up your typical new year's resolution style, give my "20 for 2020" method a try. Here are a few quick multi-goal-setting tips from Manly to keep in mind:

  • Focus on your wins. The most important thing to remember when setting a list of goals at any point during the year is to pay attention to the items that you actually cross off, whether that number is one or 20. Focus on the positive. (Try this ultimate progress journal for help.)
  • Remember that it's a marathon...not a sprint. (Although if you are looking to physically run 26 miles, start with this beginner 18-week training plan.) "It's important to realize that change takes time—it takes, on average, 66 days to instill a new habit," says Manly. "Change is not about being perfect; it's about making small, steady changes that ultimately bring joy."
  • Partner up. Setting these goals with a friend, family member, or #ShapeSquad in the exclusive Shape Goal Crushes Facebook Group can help keep you accountable, especially when it comes to working out.
  • Print it out. Your list of resolutions, that is. Hanging a hard copy somewhere you'll frequently see it (e.g. bathroom mirror) can also help keep you on track.
  • Have fun. While it's easy to get wrapped up in what you might be doing wrong, Manly emphasizes the importance of doing the opposite. "It's far more effective to give plenty of self-reinforcement for the small changes that are being made." So as you make headway on each goal, take a second to focus on the accomplishment and how good it feels to cross that item off your list.


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