An introspective approach to goal setting for 2021

Sophia Wichtowska, Content Writer

Human beings have been making New Year’s resolutions for some 4,000 years. The ancient Babylonians held celebrations in honor of the new year and made promises to the gods to return any objects they had borrowed. 


The start of a new year and a new decade is an opportune time to reaffirm broken promises to ourselves and create new goals for the year ahead. Most of us are coming back refreshed from a break, with a renewed energy to make changes.

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and other books on personal development, explains that we need to set up goals to suit our nature. For example, if you find you work best in the morning, your resolution might be to complete more challenging projects at the start of the day.

In a recent Go1 article, we talked about reflection as a way to move forward professionally. Looking inwards can also serve as an excellent basis for goal setting, as you spend time carefully identifying the areas in which you need to improve. 

Realistic goals are all about setting yourself up for success. Once you gain momentum and start to see tangible progress, you can continue with a new cycle of goal setting.  

Research and thinking behind goal setting 

To get started, let’s look at some of the research behind setting successful goals. Interestingly, evidence shows that looking to your underlying values, rather than trying to hit superficial targets, is more likely to lead to success.     

Kelly McGonigal, psychologist at Stanford University, explains that understanding what is meaningful to you is the key to setting achievable goals. “Give yourself permission and time to think about what it is you want to experience in your life or what’s getting in the way,” says McGonigal. She suggests to think about what you want, and then ask yourself why you want it three times in a row. 

New York Times best-selling author and life enthusiast, Mark Manson, warns that we need to be realistic in our expectations when we set goals. As an example, he explains that, “people want to be rich without the risk, without the sacrifice, without the delayed gratification necessary to accumulate wealth.” We need to be prepared to make sacrifices to push towards a target. For example, if you want to improve your communication skills at work, you need to devote time and energy to it. You will also need to be prepared to take risks and make mistakes to learn. 

Once you have set your goals, James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, explains that we need oars and rudders to meander in the right direction. Setting the goal is like the rudder. You point it in one direction and move more or less directly towards it. If you turn the rudder too much, you end up going in circles. The oars are your processes or systems for achieving that goal. He explains further using the following example: “If you’re a writer, your goal is to write a book. Your system is the writing schedule that you follow each week.”

A guide to goal setting at work 

Using these ideas and evidence-based suggestions, here is our guide to getting started with goal setting this year:

1. Identify your strengths and weaknesses

You may already have a good understanding of what your strengths are, or need to do a little more work to uncover them. When you reflect, think of three ways you have made the most of your talents in the past year. What conditions were present to enable you to do this? Did you behave any differently? Is there any way you could make more of your strengths in the coming year?  

It isn’t easy to accept what our weaknesses are or to know where our blind spots lie. It can make us defensive and irritable to think that we are imperfect, but we all are, and there is comfort in that. Understanding our weaknesses is key to making real progress, both in our personal and professional lives. 

2. Look to your core values

Once you have identified areas you might like to improve in, think about one thing you would like to get better at within this framework. Consider why you want to get better. This way, you can connect with the process, and you’ll feel more motivated to keep going. 

3. Be authentic, consider your personality

There are certain traits in our personalities that remain fixed throughout life. If you are introverted and work best in quiet environments, set yourself a goal that is conducive to this. A goal that involves a lot of communication with others could be overwhelming, and you could quickly lose momentum. However, it is advisable to keep a balance. Sometimes, we need to step out of our comfort zone to grow. 

4. Be realistic 

What sacrifices will you have to make to reach this goal? Are you willing to make them? If not, you might need to look elsewhere to set a realistic target.  

5. Set up systems to make progress

As James Clear explains, you need to think about what your oars are. What daily, weekly or monthly systems do you need to put in place to achieve the goal you have set? Identify a system that works for you, and then find the discipline to stick with it. 

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