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The Seeker: Goal Setting in the New Year

It's about more than Dry January

Katie Grant looks ahead and smiles
Katie Grant, The Seeker. (Photo by Lauren Mazzella)

As humans, we feel it is important to set attainable goals for the new year. We use goals to better ourselves and as a tool for connection. Think about it: How many conversations did you have with friends, families and co-workers about plans for the new year? My team even used goal setting as an icebreaker at work during our monthly meeting. It was a fun and interactive way to turn a typically passive practice into a motivational conversation piece.

Discussing goals within a group setting can be a helpful process — it helps clarify personal goals or career path. By having a better understanding of what you want to achieve, you’ll also understand where to focus your efforts. Note: This also highlights distractions that can potentially derail you!

Drink more water. Drink less booze. Do more yoga. Eat more vegetables. This is what my personal goal setting looks like year after year, but New Year’s resolutions as we know them didn’t always look this way.

According to, the Babylonians were the first to make these resolutions approximately 4,000 years ago. Their new year began in March, once the crops were planted. It was then that they also made promises to the pagan gods to pay their debts and return anything borrowed — the precursor to our New Year’s resolutions. If the Babylonians were true to their word, their gods would view them favorably. Otherwise, it was a situation no one wanted to experience. 

Fast forward four millennia. 

I recently attended a virtual goal-setting exercise via Zoom, where the only person I have to worry about disappointing when I don’t meet said goals is myself. The Beauty Boost hosted the virtual event, titled Not Your Mama’s Goal Setting, an interactive online workshop that created a space for women to feel healthy, empowered, and beautiful. They focused on what healthy means for each person by offering retreats, life-development coaching, health coaching, and sweat sessions, among other things, with many of these available virtually (I guess we can thank the pandemic for a few things in terms of accessibility, though it’s a shame it took a deadly plague to make it happen).

Elevating goal setting beyond a solo practice to a collective one, Not Your Mama’s Goal Setting was an evening to cultivate, connect, prioritize and organize intentions for the new year. Suppose you are a regular follower of my self-help adventures around the city. In that case, you already know I’m constantly seeking modalities to help me bloom into my best self. Not Your Mama’s Goal Setting was the perfect way to dig deeper, providing cues to look beyond my typical resolutions and visualize who I want to be in this world.

Our facilitator provided us with a digital workbook and on-screen visuals because, let’s be honest, without a visual aid, Zoom sessions can be a snoozefest. The first topic of conversation: the habit loop. Our coach taught us the most effective way to break a bad habit is to replace it with a new one. For example, if you are trying to cut back on workday drinking (or drinking altogether), instead of coming home and pouring your favorite adult beverage, try replacing that experience of relaxation with a hot bath and pajamas. Habits are all about psychology! Our brain uses a lot of energy for a repetitive action, which transitions it from conscious to the unconscious mind, thus making it a habit. I love brain science!

Another key takeaway is “habit stacking.” I learned about this trick on a podcast recently, so not only was I learning about making habits stick, I was also knee-deep in the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, in which you learn an obscure piece of information, word, or phrase only to see it again somewhere else. But back to habit stacking; it is an accessible concept because you essentially take an existing habit and create a new cue-routine-reward cycle right after it. For example, if you want to floss your teeth more, do it right after brushing them, and voila! There’s your new habit. 

Another key takeaway: Don’t overwhelm your brain. No one is making you set resolutions but yourself, so be kind. Start with smaller goals, because small actions are more sustainable and yield bigger results because they are easier for the brain to automate. Rewarded behaviors are repeated behaviors! 

As we set goals for the new year and access our life’s trajectory, it’s important to remember that we cannot expect change if we keep doing what we’ve always done. We need to do something drastically different. 

And with that, I will leave you with a quote from Jim Rohn to inspire you along your goal setting journey: “It’s not the blowing of the wind that determines our destination; it’s the set of the sail.”

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