It's January and, for me, this is one of the most dreaded days of my year. Why? Because this is the one day that I set aside each year to reflect on all areas of my life, make a list of many unrealized aspirations I have for myself, and vow to make significant changes in the upcoming new year. 

Yes, I’m doing the same thing that many of you will be doing today and tomorrow...setting my New Year’s resolutions. While setting goals can be exciting, the thing about New Years’ Resolutions that puts a pit in my stomach is how many of the goals I’ve set in the past were never fulfilled.  

At least I can take comfort in this: the research says that I’m not alone. In fact, almost 50% of adults in the U.S. set New Year’s Resolutions every January, but only about 10% stick with their resolutions three months into the new year. There are many reasons why people veer off course, be it a lack of specificity in the resolution itself, no detailed action plan, or not having an accountability partner. But those reasons don’t make it easier to make resolutions that turn into reality.

So, this year I decided to dig into the behavioral science literature to see what I could uncover as it relates to creating achievable goals for 2021. Not surprisingly, the answer lies in the social science of goal theory. Goal theory focuses on the relationship between a goal’s difficulty, how much effort we put into achieving it, and how well the goal is reached.

What I found is a simple 4-step plan to up the odds for ensuring that you have the most successful 2021 possible.

It All Starts with Identifying Your 2021 Goals     

Goal theory suggests that there are two types of goals: functional and aspirational. Functional goals are the things that come to mind immediately when you look at yourself in the mirror and ask the question, “What do I want this year?” These goals are easy to identify and often easy to solve for. For example, some of my common functional goals I set for myself each year is to lose a few pounds, pick up a new sport, and spend more time reading.

The problem is these functional goals don’t ultimately drive sustained action. Yes, they get me going for a few weeks, but ultimately fail to provide me the deep, inner drive to achieve any significant New Year’s Resolution. After all, just because I want to lose a few pounds doesn’t mean I’ll be able to resist the desserts left over from Christmas. 


If you want to increase your chances of maintaining your commitment to yourself in 2021, you’d be wise to focus on the second, more important goal type: your “aspirational goals.”  

Aspirations are what we focus our attention on when we make important decisions, whether we’re aware of it or not. We buy healthy cereal to feel that we care for ourselves, overpriced workout gear to feel prepared to sign that gym membership, and a Peloton to feel proud of ourselves for taking our health seriously this year. 

Notice that the words I underlined are NOT the goals themselves. Rather, they are the feelings we will experience when taking positive steps towards reaching our goals. This is a small but vital part of setting your New Year’s resolutions. Focus on capturing your aspirational goals and making these your New Year’s Resolutions. 

Here’s why:

  • Aspirational goals are what makes our hearts flutter because if we reach them, we get closer to becoming better versions of ourselves.
  • As we get closer to becoming better versions of ourselves, we inevitably begin to feel more positive emotions. 
  • When we consistently feel more positive emotions, we tend to begin to halo that to our lives and begin to more positive about ourselves. 
  • These sustained positive feelings get you to keep going after your goals once you have a minor set-back.  

Now we can see why aspirational goals are more achievable and effective than functional goals. So where do we go from here? Well, here’s the simple plan to set emotionally compelling goals that will get you to care and act.    

Step 1: List Out Your 2021 Functional Goals 

Take a few minutes and do what probably comes naturally to you: Imagine all the things you want to accomplish over the next year and list them out on one sheet of paper. 

Things like: 

  • Lose 15 lbs.
  • Read a chapter of fiction each night
  • Reestablish date nights 

No need to go crazy here. Ten to fifteen good functional goals are all you need.   

Step 2: Ladder Each of These into Aspirational Goals

Laddering is a research technique that helps you uncover the real “why” behind your goals.  When you know the real why, you are better able to envision your subconscious aspirations. There is a very simple technique to do this and it only involves asking the question “why” twice.   

For example, you may have on your functional goal list that you want to lose 15 pounds by March. To ladder this into an aspirational goal, ask yourself why losing 15 pounds is important to you. You may come back with an answer like “to look younger and in shape.” 

Next, ladder this answer an additional time by asking yourself why (insert the answer to Ladder Step 1) is important to you. In this case you may think that it’s important to “look younger and in shape” because you “don’t want to feel excluded from other guys in the neighborhood.”  

Functional     Goals

Ladder Step 1:Why is this important?

Ladder Step 2: Aspirations                    

     Why is THAT (Ladder Step 1) important?

Lose 15 lbs.

To look younger and in shape

Being perceived as the old guy of the group excludes me from certain parties and activities that I’d love to be a part of.

Read fiction  at night

Reading fiction will give my mind a break from the constant stress of the day

Being too stressed out causes me to be overly critical at home and feel angry at myself for snapping at the smallest of things. 

Reestablish date nights 

We need to spend more alone time together where we can just go on a date. 

When we spend time together, we both feel more connected and happier.


Step 3: Make Meeting Your Aspirational Goals Your 2021 New Year’s Resolution. 

Now that you have your list of aspirational goals, make these the goals the 2021 resolutions that you set for yourself. Next, create a plan to help you reach that goal by including the functional goals that you started out with. Maybe set a reminder on your calendar for workouts, reading time, or weekly date night.

Step 4: Review Your Aspirational Goals Weekly. 

Now that you have your list of aspirational goals, make it a habit to reflect on your 2021 aspirations, but more importantly the feelings you desire and experience when going after your aspirational goals. These feelings are the fuel that you need to keep pursuing your aspirational goals and to fulfill your 2021 New Year’s Resolutions.  

As you can see, by converting your New Year’s resolutions into aspirational goals with feelings attached to them, you can develop the emotional fuel required to make continuous, positive changes in your life.  

Make Your New Year’s Resolution to Achieve More from Your Marketing

If 2020 was a tough year for you in terms of marketing results, you’re in good company. Thanks to the pandemic, many marketers struggled to persuade customers to act—and even lost loyal customers they had for years.

Don’t let 2021 end the same way. Start your year off on the right foot by implementing Mindstate Marketing into your strategy. To get started, click the button below to watch my free training video. In this free training video, you’ll learn the basics of Mindstate Marketing and three ways you can grow your reach, get more impactful results, and drive customers to take action.

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Topics: Marketing to Mindstates, Marketing, Motivation, Behavioral Science