Photo of a person sitting down with sticky notes to set goals for the year.

Do you have goals you’d like to accomplish this year? Whether you participate in New Year’s resolutions or not, goals can play an important role in our lives. Over time, you may set different goals for your education, career, wellness, family or other important areas of your life.

Setting goals can also help you articulate the things that are most important to you and help you develop your strengths. Here are a few tips and tricks to help you set up successful goals for 2023.

Choosing the right goals for you

Start small

Sometimes, when we try to tackle large goals or too many goals all at once, it can feel overwhelming. Set yourself up for success by focusing on smaller goals that you can accomplish one at a time that will eventually help you work towards larger ones. It can also be helpful to start with goals that you know you can accomplish. Starting small can help you build confidence in your abilities and help you form habits long-term.

Here are a few examples of small goals that can help you build toward larger ones:

Academics

  • Use a planner to track deadlines, assignments and tests
  • Schedule study sessions in advance
  • Visit office hours regularly
  • Reach out to resources (e.g. tutoring, libraries, etc.)

Work

  • Set a time limit for checking emails
  • Use a planner to track deadlines and milestones
  • Talk with your supervisor about your goals
  • Turn notifications off at night (e.g. Outlook, Teams)

Physical health

  • Identify activities you might enjoy long term
  • Schedule 15-20 minutes/day for movement
  • Carry a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated
  • Try new recipes that include a variety of food groups

Finances

  • Review your current spending habits
  • Find areas where you can reduce spending
  • Pick a reasonable amount to save each month (e.g. $15-100)
  • Schedule automatic transfers into your savings account

Assess strengths and challenges

As you start narrowing down your goals, it can be helpful to think about your current habits and the things that may have prevented you from achieving your goals in the past.

For instance, if you’re not a morning person, it may be difficult to start jogging in the early mornings before class. Being honest with yourself will help you identify barriers and find ways to overcome them. For this example, it may be easier to jog in the afternoon between classes or in the evening before dinner.

Creating goals around habits or routines you already have in place will help you accomplish them with fewer setbacks.

Staying on track

Recruit a support system

It can be hard to stay motivated, especially if our goals span a longer period of time. When we get discouraged or feel like we’re not making progress, it can help to have a support system in place to keep us on track. Think about the people in your life who can encourage, motivate or hold you accountable. Recruit them to be part of your support system, and lean on them when you’re in need of encouragement. Spending time with people who are supportive of our goals and are willing to help us overcome challenges can make all the difference.


Use the SMART method

Sometimes we may find that the goals we set are too general or unrealistic. Setting SMART goals can help us set more specific and meaningful goals. Here are some things to consider when setting SMART goals:

Specific

Narrow down your goals to something clear and specific. 

Ask yourself: What am I specifically trying to accomplish?

Measurable

Quantify your goal, so you can keep track of your progress.

Ask yourself: How will I know when I’ve made progress or reached my goal?

Attainable

Make sure your goals are realistic and within your control.

Ask yourself: How confident am I that I can achieve this goal? Is it something I can influence or control?

Relevant

Choose a goal that feels worthwhile, matches your efforts and sets you up for success long-term.

Ask yourself: Why do I want to achieve this goal?

Timely

Goals should be time-bound with a start and end date in mind to keep you on track.

Ask yourself: What can I accomplish in six months, six weeks, today, etc.?

Things to remember along the way

Practice flexibility

While being specific can help us set meaningful goals, it’s also important to allow ourselves to change course and practice flexibility. In some cases, we may find that our initial goals aren’t a good fit or have become difficult to maintain. 

Sometimes this happens because the original goals we set for ourselves aren’t as realistic as we thought they would be. Other times, we may encounter setbacks that make it difficult to move forward or make progress.

Remember to check in with yourself and reassess your goals regularly. Evaluating your progress and making adjustments as needed can help avoid overextending yourself or feeling burnt out.

FUN goals

If you are struggling to achieve or maintain your goals, try to keep these things in mind to create “FUN” goals:

F: Flexibility

Life happens, things change. Allow your goals to shift with the seasons of life. For instance, if you get sick this year, it may not be reasonable to expect yourself to go to the gym everyday while you’re ill. The same concept applies to your mental health, physical health and individual circumstances.

U: Uplifting

Betting yourself shouldn’t be a punishment. In fact, it is often helpful to focus on the things you want to add to your life, rather than the things you want to subtract from your life. For example, if you want to eat healthier, it may be more helpful to add fruits and veggies to your meals as opposed to subtracting food groups from your diet.

N: Numberless

New Year goals often revolve around specific numbers. While this can be helpful when setting SMART goals, it’s important to keep in mind that numbers aren’t everything. For instance, it’s unlikely that your life will radically change because of the number you see on the scale or the number of books you read this year.


Celebrate small successes

Achieving our goals can give us a great sense of accomplishment. However, if we only focus on the end result, we may miss out on important milestones along the way. In fact, it’s important to recognize and reward smaller successes on the way to larger achievements. This can help keep us motivated and celebrate our progress.

Think through some milestones you may reach while working toward a larger goal. After you achieve each of your milestones, reward yourself with a feel-good activity. For instance, you could treat yourself to a fancy coffee, enjoy a celebratory dinner with friends, relax with an at-home spa day or make plans to do something you’ve been looking forward to.


Reach out to support resources

You don’t have to do it alone. Support resources can help you set realistic goals, identify important steps along the way and stay on track if you feel overwhelmed. Here are a few support resources available on campus.

Resources for students

Peer Wellness Coaching

Meet one-on-one with a trained Peer Wellness Coach to set wellness goals and connect with campus resources. Coaches are available to help you create a plan to manage stress, time management, academics, sleep, relationships and more.

Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS)

CAPS provides drop-in hours, consultations, screening appointments, groups and workshops to all CU students. Counselors are available in person and online to help provide insight, solutions and information about additional resources related to academics, stress, anxiety, substance use, relationships and more.

Weekly programs

Health Promotion offers weekly programs to help you develop healthy habits, participate in self-care and take a break from academics. Programs are available throughout the week and are free to all CU Boulder students.

Nutrition Services

Meet with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) for a variety of services, including nutrition assessments, food allergies or intolerances, sports nutrition, meal planning, disordered eating support and more.

Collegiate Recovery Community (CUCRC)

The CUCRC provides community, support and connection for students in recovery or seeking recovery from a wide range of behaviors. They host weekly support meetings and offer recovery coaching for all CU students.

Personal training services

The Rec Center’s nationally certified personal trainers can help provide motivation, education, guidance and instruction to help you improve your overall fitness and achieve your goals. They are also here to support you through assessments that can help maximize your workout while minimizing risk of injury.

Resources for staff and faculty

Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FSAP)

FSAP provides free mental health services for all CU Boulder staff and faculty, including brief individual or couples counseling, community referrals, workshops and support groups

Wellness Wednesdays

Wellness Wednesday workshops are available for staff and faculty to engage in self-care activities, learn about campus resources and build community. Themes rotate regularly, allowing participants to come and go as they please.

Healthy living workshops

The Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FSAP) provides free workshops and support groups related to physical health and well-being.

Rec Center memberships

CU employees, retirees and their spouses/dependents are eligible for a membership to the Rec Center. Staff and faculty can also get a $25 one-month trial membership that provides access to both campus facilities, locker rooms and free group fitness classes.

Free employee group fitness classes

The Rec Center hosts a variety of free group fitness classes for staff and faculty twice per month. All levels are welcome, no membership required.

Collegiate Recovery Community (CUCRC)

The CUCRC provides community, support and connection for students in recovery or seeking recovery from a wide range of behaviors. They host weekly support meetings and offer recovery coaching for all CU students.