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How to Set Effective Goals

Happy New Year from everyone at Niagara Defeat Depression! As we enter 2022, many of us have set New Year’s resolutions, such as to start running every other day. This is to be expected, as time-based milestones such as a new year are often used to set new goals due to the ‘fresh-start effect’.¹ Unfortunately, adherence to new year’s are notoriously difficult and drop to as low as 19% after two years.²

In a study with over 1000 participants, individuals were placed into one of three groups with varying degrees of support in achieving their resolutions. These groups included a) no support, b) some support, and c) extended support. It was observed that participants that were given more support were more successful in attaining their goals than those left to go through it alone.³ These supports include social support, setting S.M.A.R.T. goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound), and setting multiple interim goals every few months. At the same time, those with approach-oriented goals were more successful than those with avoidance-oriented goals (58.9% adherence vs 47.1% adherence).³

In the example of running every other day, a practical takeaway from this is to develop goals revolving around working toward a habit, such as ‘I want to run more often’ as opposed to avoidance-oriented goals such as ‘I want to stop sitting on the couch so much’.

The first step in reaching a goal is setting one, and the New Year is a great opportunity to set goals. The next step is to put yourself in a position to achieve these goals. To recap, the best goals are a) approach-oriented, b) implement multiple supports, and c) are properly managed via SMART goals divided into smaller interim goals. Whether it’s trying to run more often, or to build a better morning routine, all goals require a plan. With these tips, any goal can be yours for the taking!

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry


  1. Dai H, Milkman KL, Riis J. The Fresh Start Effect: Temporal Landmarks Motivate Aspirational Behavior. Manage Sci. 2014;60(10):2563–2582.

  2. Norcross JC, Ratzin AC, Payne D. Ringing in the new year: The change processes and reported outcomes of resolutions. Addict Behav. 1989;14(2):205–212. pmid:2728957

  3. Oscarsson M, Carlbring P, Andersson G, Rozental A. A large-scale experiment on new Year’s resolutions: Approach-oriented goals are more successful than avoidance-oriented goals. PLoS One. 2020;15(12). doi:

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