How to Set Goals in Your Senior Years

When you ask someone about their New Year’s resolutions you will typically get one of two types of responses:

  1. Laughter, accompanied by a few reasons why they think New Year’s resolutions are a joke.
  2. Excitement, often combined with a long list of ambitious goals.

No matter how you decide to answer this question, a new year is quickly approaching and many of you will find it hard NOT to wonder if 2018 is going to be YOUR year. Will this be the year you will finally lose the extra weight you’ve been carrying? Will you finally learn a second language? Or perhaps your intentions are far less complicated and you would love nothing more than to quit your life-long habit of hitting the snooze button on your alarm clock.

While the effectiveness of having New Year’s resolutions can be argued, make no mistake; having goals is important. Researchers have repeatedly shown a positive correlation between those who set goals and those who report higher levels of happiness and well-being. If it takes a new year for you to start thinking seriously about the things you want to accomplish, so be it. Here are a few mistakes people make when setting goals as well as a few suggestions to help you ensure you can meet yours.

Common Mistakes People Make When Setting Goals

While an estimated 42% of Americans claim to make New Year’s Resolutions, only about 9% feel they successfully achieve them. With nearly 90% of Americans failing to keep their resolutions throughout the year, it’s no wonder New Year’s resolutions have such a bad reputation. Here are a few of the most common mistakes people make when creating their resolutions.

Mistake #1: They take a “New Year, New Me” approach

Many people fail to meet their new year’s resolutions because they try to change too many things at once. Try making a few changes at a time as opposed to trying to change too many things at once.

Mistake #2: They don’t make their goals adjustable

One of the most common mistakes made by people when setting goals is they don’t make them adjustable. Having the ability to recognize and accept that your goal may need to be adjusted can be the difference between completely failing to make your target slightly larger. Know that so long as you are making progress towards your overall goal, that is still something worth celebrating.

Mistake #3: Associating your happiness with your goals

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is thinking the achievement of your goal will lead to an unrealistic level of happiness and well-being. It is no secret that health problems increase with age; it is also common knowledge that those with poor health are at a greater risk developing depression. What you may not know is, studies have shown that if older adults who set conditional goals (i.e. If I can just… then I will be happy) come to the conclusion their goals are unattainable, they significantly increase their chances of becoming depressed. This is because they often inaccurately associate their ability to achieve their goal with an inability to achieve.

Mistake #4: They don’t write it down.

When you decide what your resolution(s) will be, write it down. Studies have proven that those who write down their goals are more likely to achieve them. Writing it down not only holds you accountable, but it also prevents you from making changes.

Mistake #5: They don’t come up with a plan.

If you want to meet your goals, you need to come up with a plan. Make sure you know the steps you need to take to reach your objective.

Set SMART Goals

Many people have had success with using the acronym SMART as a guide for setting their goals.

Since weight loss is one of the most common New Year’s Resolutions we will use that as the basis of our example. (*21.4% of Americans made their 2017 New Year’s resolution to lose weight or eat healthier.)

S is for Specific. 
First and foremost, the goals you set should be specific. Setting your New Year’s Resolution to something like, “I want to lose weight,” is not going to cut it. How much weight do you want to lose? Are you trying to lose fat? Muscle? Water weight?

A smarter resolution would be, “I want to lose 30 pounds, and have a BMI of 20.”

When specifying your New Year’s Resolutions, answer the following questions.

  • What do you want to accomplish?
  • Who is involved?
  • What resources are available to you?

M is for Measurable. 
If you want to make your resolutions more achievable, you need to be able to measure them.

Make sure the track your progress by during your journey as opposed to just the beginning and the end. This will allow you to see how long you have until you meet your goal as well as see how far you’ve come.

Having a resolution such as aiming to lose 30 pounds of fat allows you to gauge how far you are from your goal and it also motivates you by showing you how much progress you’ve made so far. You can do this using a variety of methods such as recording your weight, taking measurements, getting a body scan, or even taking progress photos. The method you use to measure your progress doesn’t matter as much as you use the same method each time.

Make it a habit to measure and record your progress on a regular basis  (i.e. weekly, biweekly, or monthly).

The main question you should answer is, how will you know when your goal is accomplished? 

A is for Attainable/Achievable.
When you create an unrealistic resolution, you are essentially setting yourself up for failure.

If you are planning to lose 30 pounds of fat this year, figure out exactly how you are going to do it. You can decide to jog 5 days a week for 30 minutes, or maybe you are going to restrict calories.

Regardless of what you want to do, you need to realistically plan for it with your skill level and ability taken into consideration. Saying you are going to lose 30 pounds this year by waking up at 5 am every day to run on the treadmill two hours is likely unrealistic. Especially if you are not used to working out regularly.

To make sure your goal is attainable, answer the following questions.

  • How will you achieve this goal? What is your plan?
  • What might prevent you from achieving this goal?
  • Are you 100% in control? (i.e. Getting a promotion is something your superior has control over)

R is for Relevant. 
When setting your resolutions this year, make sure your goal is relevant to you are your life. You can think of this as your “why.”

  • Why is this important for you?
  • Is it worth your time?
  • Are you the right person to achieve the goal?

T is for Timely. 
The final component of setting a goal is to make sure they are timely. Give yourself a deadline.The main question to answer here is, when do you need to have your goal complete? For the sake of a New Year’s resolution, having your goal complete by the end of the year is appropriate.


“To live a fulfilled life, we need to keep creating the “what is next”, of our lives. Without dreams and goals there is no living, only merely existing, and that is not why we are here.” – Mark Twain


“How to Set Goals in Your Senior Years,” Ashley LeVine, Amada Blog Contributor.

Download the pdf

Download: Setting Goals in Your Senior Years



Depression in Older Adults: exploring the relationship between goal setting and physical health

New Years Resolution Statistics


Striving For Realistic Goals in Old Age

Don't forget to like & share!