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Beyond Resolutions – Unleashing The Power Of Visionary Goal Setting

Written by: Gillian Jones-Williams, Senior Level Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Gillian Jones-Williams

As the calendar heads towards December 31st, fuelled by a desire for self-improvement and personal growth, many people’s attention turns to the annual tradition of crafting New Year's resolutions. It is, of course a great time to take stock of where we are, learn lessons from the year that has just past and get more specific about what we want to achieve, or what we want to stop doing. Yet, statistics tell a sobering tale (excuse the pun): by mid-February, a significant number of resolutions have fallen by the wayside. Many don’t even make it until February – I have observed people smoking their ‘last’ cigarette at midnight on New Year's Eve, only to wake up the next morning and light one up within hours. The gyms are always jam packed on the 2nd of January, but a couple of weeks later the numbers quickly dwindle! Why do these well-intentioned promises to ourselves often crumble? The answer may lie in the limitations of resolutions and the transformative potential of visionary goal setting.

The beginning of the year 2023 that continues to line up the year of the future.

The pitfalls of resolutions: A fragile foundation

Resolutions, with their abrupt start dates and often vague objectives, (sometimes actually during a New Year's Eve party!), create a fragile foundation for lasting change. They often focus on losing something, or not doing something, which the brain then finds hard to process – the minute we think about depriving ourselves, the minute the brain only focuses on that thing, makes us desperate to have it. My favourite book over the last few years is by behavioural science expert James Clear, author of "Atomic Habits,". In his book, he emphasises that resolutions typically fail because they lack the framework required for true transformation. Instead of focusing on the end goal, Clear suggests honing in on the systems and habits that lead to success – his saying, “you don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems” has really led me to look carefully at my systems for achieving a goal – ensuring it really will work and that it is my system and not another person.

Unrealistic expectations

Let’s take a look at how this very abrupt, vague and ambitious ‘resolution’ approach works.

Example: A common New Year's resolution is to lose a significant amount of weight within a short timeframe, i.e. 5kgs in a month. This ambitious goal may lead individuals to adopt extreme diets or excessive exercise routines. When the results don't materialise as quickly as expected, frustration sets in, and the resolution is abandoned. These unrealistic expectations often lead to disappointment which causes a psychological impact – a feeling of failure with erodes self-esteem and motivation and therefore will make it even more challenging to continue on the journey to achieve the goal.

But what if they are slightly less specific, i.e., someone resolves to "be healthier" in the new year without defining what that entails? The lack of specificity makes it difficult to create actionable steps or measure progress, leaving the resolution open to interpretation. Does eating the proverbial apple each day actually make you healthier if other habits don’t change?

Without a clear roadmap, or system, individuals may struggle to stay focused, and the vague nature of the resolution makes it easy to rationalise deviations. This lack of clarity contributes to a higher likelihood of abandonment.

Considering our motivation for setting a goal is also critical. If we set a ‘resolution’ based on societal expectations or external pressures rather than personal desires, then the chances of failure are heightened. One example I see a lot, is pursuing a particular career path to please parents. If our resolutions are not aligned with our values then it will be difficult to maintain motivation.

Also, too often the focus is on the goal, i.e. writing a novel in a year without considering the daily writing habit that you need. If we focus purely on the end product rather than the incremental and consistent efforts required, then we are not setting ourselves up to succeed. And with big goals such as this, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the enormity of it, which can lead to procrastination, paralysis, and eventually giving up on the goal.

The other thing that can get in the way of our new goals is criticism, whether that is external or internal. The pressure to meet the expectations of others or having to listen to the harsh inner critic that lives in our head, can be demoralising or can cause us to question our abilities and commitment. This can result in stress which gets in the way of our productivity and inevitably sabotages our success and our desire to set future goals. So, recognising that this can get in the way is the first step to approaching goal setting with a consistent, incremental and positive approach which will really help.

Embracing the power of visionary goal setting

I have been a fan of visioning for many years – I have read many stories and articles on the power of being able to visualise a goal, whether that be long term or short term. There is a part of your brain that becomes activated to believe you have already achieved it when you visualise. Many years ago, I read about Muhammed Ali and his ability to predict the outcomes of his boxing matches through visualisation and was fascinated. His quote “if my mind can conceive it and my heart can believe it, then I can achieve it” has been an inspiration throughout my life.

Identity Shift: The key to lasting change

Another gem from James Clear in Atomic Habits introduces the concept of identity-based habits, arguing that in order to change our behaviour sustainably, we need to change our identity first. This is critical in goal setting — if we adopt the identity of the person, we aspire to become it propels us towards success. For example, if we want to study and learn, if we were to read a chapter of a book every night for two weeks, we would be starting to adopt the identity of a student. If we can align our goals with a new transformed self-image through identity, we are able to forge a connection between our aspirations and the small actions that we are taking which is incredibly powerful.

Regular Realignment: The secret sauce of visionary goal setting

However, unlike resolutions, visionary goal setting is an ongoing process and one that requires regular reassessment. Goals are not static; they are continuously evolving with us. It is vital to periodically check in and evaluate our progress. If we haven’t made any, was the goal really that important to us? Was the goal more about external pressure or societal expectations or was it really ours? For us to be truly successful, desire, belief and abilities all need to be aligned and if one of these is not 100% then we are going to falter. Maybe we need to refine our visions, or certainly check our systems. Life is unpredictable, so being flexible enough to adapt is key. But when we craft goals independently, we have a deep personal connection to our objectives which enhances our commitment and perseverance.

A 10-year vision: charting the course for personal growth

On our women’s development programme RISE, one of the things that we do is to work with women on their 10-year plan. They are often horrified at the thought to begin with – pleading that they can’t even think about next week let alone 10 years. But when you can vision your life in 10 years, where you will be living, how much you are earning, and what your life will be like, professionally, personally and emotionally, it then becomes much easier to work backwards to 5-year goals and then think about where you want to focus in the next few years. So, as we stand on the precipice of a new year, maybe it is time to move our focus from fleeting resolutions to enduring visions. Once you have that vivid picture in mind, you may find that you achieve your goals naturally – the opportunities are all out there but if you don’t know where you are going, you won’t talk about your vision and therefore, people may not offer you support.

In conclusion, as we pursue personal growth, resolutions may feel like a temporary fix, but visionary goal setting offers a sustainable, transformative journey. If we also integrate the principles of identity-based habits, aligning our systems to our goals, and remaining fluent as we learn more about ourselves on the journey to achieving our goals, we can pave the way for a more fulfilling and successful year ahead. As we bid farewell to 2023, let’s also say goodbye to resolutions and usher in a new era of purposeful goal setting and visionary aspirations.

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Gillian Jones-Williams Brainz Magazine

Gillian Jones-Williams, Senior Level Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Gillian Managing Director of Emerge Development Consultancy which she founded 28 years ago. She is a Master Executive Coach working with many CEOs and managing Directors globally. She is also an international speaker and in 2020 was named by f: Entrepreneur as one of the leading UK Female Entrepreneurs in the I also campaign. This year she has been nominated as a finalist for Leader of the Year by the Women’s Business Club,

Gillian founded the RISE Women’s Development Programme which is delivered both in the UK and the Middle East, and Saudi and is her absolute passion.

She is also the co-author of How to Create a Coaching Culture, 50 Top Tools for Coaching, and the author of Locked Down but Not Out which is a diary of the first 3 months of the pandemic to raise money for the bereaved families of the NHS workers who died during COVID-19.

If you want to know more about our training and development solutions or our Managing Anxiety programmes, please do contact us. For more information contact us on 01329 820580 or via



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