19% of resolution-setters don’t even know if they reached their goal last year

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. When planning out goals, I focus on “themes” a lot more, since they let me look at the year ahead with a broad lens. Once I know what my theme is for the year, I can start thinking of creative and meaningful ways to drive toward that theme.

Here’s an example I like to give: if my theme is “make new friends,” I can plan events to meet new people or think of ways to meet new people at events I already planned on attending (e.g., check the guest list beforehand and email them to grab coffee).

But just like there’s more than one way to live a Rich Life, there’s more than one way to think about what you do at the beginning of a year to set yourself up for success.

So the team at IWT was curious to hear what YOU think about New Year’s resolutions.

Do you set them? What are they about? What do you do to set yourself up for success? DO you actually succeed?

Here’s what they found.


We sent our survey to the entire IWT community and wanted the full picture of your 2018 resolutions: the goals, the strategies, AND the outcomes. So instead of asking about what you’re planning to do this year, we asked you to reflect on what you resolved to do last year, in 2018.

A few of the key takeaways:

  • 66% of you said you set a resolution for 2018. That’s higher than the 44% of people setting New Year’s goals this year, according to an NPR/PBS/Marist poll.
  • Of those who did set a resolution, 44% said they achieved it.

    • 36% said they didn’t quite get there.
    • 20% said they weren’t really sure whether they met their goal or not.
  • The most popular areas where you set resolutions were:
    • Career (23%)
    • Money (21.6%)
    • Fitness (16%) 
  • The most popular system used to hit goals:
    • Creating a schedule (56%)
    • Getting an accountability buddy (28.5%)
    • Setting up rewards for yourself (29%)

“Why wait until January 1 to start something new?”

33% of people say they didn’t set a resolution last year. The biggest reason: viewing the first of the year as some be-all-end-all of goal-setting is pointless. 

“If you want to do something you should start doing it,” one person said. “Why wait until January 1 to start something new?”

That’s fair. There are 365 days in a year — proclaiming January 1 THE day to set goals because that’s when advertisers break out their best “New Year, New You” banner ads is pretty arbitrary.

And if you missed the New Year’s deadline this year and wait all the way until next year to set goals for yourself, all you’ve really done is cost yourself 364 days when you could be taking action.

Need help following through on your goals whenever you set them? Check out this post on how to motivate yourself.

The “Big 3” resolutions: Career, money, fitness

We asked the 66% of respondents who did set resolutions last year to tell us which category their resolution fell under, and the top three were:

  1. Career (23%)
  2. Money (21.6%)
  3. Fitness (16%)

Those first two categories in particular are pillars of I Will Teach You To Be Rich. Here’s more detail at the kinds of career, money, and fitness goals readers are setting — and the results they’re getting.

Goal #1: Get out of a soul-sucking job

When it came to career-related resolutions, people talked a lot about wanting to advance in their career. And for most of them, moving up meant moving on.  

New years resolutions -- Cubicle
So long, cubicle.

For some, that meant transitioning out of the corporate world to try their hand at freelancing. (Sound good to you? Learn how to start earning money on the side.):

“I resolved to quit my corporate job to freelance. I assessed my finances, secured some part-time income to supplement my savings early on, and made the leap. I made myself commit to leave by April of 2018. My last day in a cubicle was February 9, 2018.”

Another reader told us about hatching a career plan with a friend over Facebook Messenger that they called “The Escape”:

Every time one of us would slack on something or show signs of laziness, we would say to each other ‘What happened to escaping X company in a year?’ … In just under a year, we both landed new jobs. He now works for a bank with a $20K raise, and I completely pivoted industries from finance to marketing at a large media agency.”  

Sometimes setting a goal and not quite getting there can be better than not setting a goal at all, since you still wind up farther along than where you started.

One person told us about the work they put into boosting their salary from their current $65K toward a $105K goal:

“I read books and watched YouTube videos, and practiced negotiating skills. I networked and set myself up to be an ideal candidate for 8 different jobs that I wanted … I landed a job that paid $96K. I chose that one because it had the most opportunity for career growth and development in my field.”  

Aiming for $105K and landing at $96K might sound like a failure on paper. But the important thing is: they set a goal, they made a plan, and then they TOOK ACTION. They took control of what they could control.

Plus, they’re putting themselves in an even stronger position for 2019: “Next year, with my promotion, I am aiming for closer to $120K.”

If a pay raise is on your to-do list for 2019, check out our Ultimate Guide to Boosting Your Salary.

Goal #2: Break down money barriers and go after Big Wins

On the financial side of things, a big theme was taking control of financial situations on two fronts: getting out of debt, and boosting savings for retirement and other goals.

“I made a promise to myself to save a total of $10K by the end of the year between emergency fund and retirement contributions. I put $3,000 into an emergency fund before the end of last year. Now, my e-fund is at $6,500, and my IRA contributions YTD are at $3,500. $10K achieved! On top of that, I was able to pay off my car, double my student loan payments, and go on vacation, guilt-free. Thanks, Ramit!”

We love stories like this, because they’re all about focusing on Big Wins. Not how many lattes you can cut or micro-managing your budget to within an inch of its life. Big Wins, like automating your finances and investing early, pay dividends for years after you start them — and they put you miles ahead of everyone else.   

New years resolutions -- Printing money
You can’t print money. It’s illegal. But you CAN take control of your finances by focusing on the Big Wins.

There’s a limit to how much you can save, but there’s no limit to what you can earn. If our survey responses are any indication, it’s a lesson a lot of you have taken to heart.

One reader told us about their goal to add $100K to their net worth OUTSIDE their day job by the end of 2018:

“I finally decided it was time to get serious about making money. I set a goal of adding $100,000 to my net worth by the end of 2018 (outside my day job) and I’m on the brink of accomplishing it.”

On top of looking for ways to increase their earning potential, some respondents mentioned financial goals that involved changing their relationship to the money they already have.  

For one person, that meant committing to a year of no shopping:

“I unsubscribed from emails from all the brands that I followed (makeup, yoga clothes, kitchen stuff, etc.), and throw out catalogs as soon as they come in the door,” she explains. “I haven’t been 100% for the year, but I’ve determined that what some people call ‘shopping’ is, for me, ‘looking for things to want.’

Spending money, in and of itself, isn’t the problem. The problem is when the way you’re spending doesn’t line up with what you value (i.e., your Money Dial), or what allows you to live your own personal definition of a Rich Life.

Goal #3: Putting that gym membership to use  

On the fitness side of things, the big recurring theme was looking for systems and strategies that get you into the gym — even when every ounce of your energy is pulling you toward the couch.

Here’s one respondent who was so determined to make fitness work for them, they picked up knife fighting. KNIFE FIGHTING!

“Fitness can be boring, so I committed to stick/knife fighting, which was lethally exciting enough to keep me engaged for a few months and build up some strength/endurance.”

New years resolutions -- Pulp Fiction
She’s talking about her workout routine, guys.

Somebody else shared how, after more than 10 years of making fitness their New Year’s resolution — and falling short every time — they finally found a model that set them up for success:

The cool thing about having failed to achieve my fitness goals is that I figured out what doesn’t work for me  I schedule my sessions, three times a week, and I set them in stone on my calendar. I have had to move a couple sessions, but I have not missed a single workout since I started.”

The lesson here: If a goal is important to you, don’t stop pushing because ONE strategy didn’t work out. Regroup, rethink your approach — and then try again.

How to follow through: Set a schedule. Talk about it. Treat yourself.

Talk is cheap. There’s setting New Year’s resolutions — and then there’s actually following through on them. According to our survey, 44% of resolution-setters said they succeeded with their 2018 goal.

Here’s a rundown of the most popular ways respondents stayed on track to achieve their goals:

  • Created a schedule (56%)
  • Got an accountability buddy (28.5%)
  • Put a rewards system in place (16%)

Digging deeper, we found they’re also the top three most effective at helping readers reach their goals: 

  • Created a schedule (56% of successful people)
  • Got an accountability buddy (22% of successful people)
  • Put a rewards system in place (16% of successful people)

Put it in your calendar. Or … shower.

“Creating a schedule” isn’t the sexiest strategy there is. But with more than half of the successful resolution-setters saying that setting schedules was a secret to their success — simpler can mean smarter.

One reader explained how the act of just committing to a schedule for their weight-lifting goal made it easier to follow through:

“People wanted to schedule things on Tuesday or Thursday night, I didn’t have to think about it, I just knew the answer was ‘no’ because those were lifting nights.”

There are plenty of easy, user-friendly apps out there to help with scheduling. Our readers told us all about their favorites, from OmniFocus to OneNote to JotForm to Evernote. 

New years resolutions -- Dr. Who
Dr. Who has an app for that.

One person even told us that finding the right tech solution was the thing that convinced them they could make a resolution stick in the first place:  

I have learned to change my scripts from ‘This habit isn’t for me’ to ‘How can I make this habit for me?’ And in that arena using tech is my usual go to.” 

For others, good old-fashioned pen and paper (plus a laminator) is all it takes to get the job done:

“I had [my goals and targets for 2018] laminated and put it in my shower. The idea was to read it every morning and every night … Having the plan and seeing it daily kept me on track more than not having it at all.”

Hit your goal? Treat yourself. 

Good old-fashioned bribery. It’s simple, but it works — and many respondents said they put it to work to help them see their goals through.

One person told us how they built a reward system on their phone that transferred money into their bank account whenever they completed a positive behavior.

But rewards don’t have to be monetary. For example, every time one respondent followed through on their goal to practice piano more regularly, they rewarded themselves with something simple, like a soda or a piece of candy.

And you can even get creative with this.

“In January, I used a random number generator to pick four numbers between 1 and 52 — I marked those weeks in my planner as ‘reward’ weeks,” said one respondent.  

The randomized reward weeks added spontaneity and surprise along her path to reaching her goal.

Get your friends to ask you: “Hey, how’s that goal coming?” 

There’s value in telling other people what you plan to do solo, according to our survey.  

“I shared my goal with multiple friends who I knew weren’t afraid to keep me accountable,” one person said. “After having a few of them check in with little to no progress made, it made me want to take a step in the direction of accomplishing the goal.”

Telling other people what you’re trying to do doesn’t have to mean putting pressure on them to keep you honest either.

“I made sure to tell people about my goal. Not that they would hold me accountable necessarily — but it made me feel like I owed it to them to keep my resolution.”  

There’s a caveat to having an accountability buddy: only 22% of readers who used this strategy actually succeeded in reaching their goal.

“My friend and I got gym memberships and agreed to start going 4 days per week,” said one person. “It started off well but then came scheduling conflicts and eventually he stopped coming.  Guess what? Soon after I stopped going also.”

The takeaway: when you tap others to work toward goals together, things get complicated — you’re only really as motivated as the least motivated person in your group. So don’t depend on other people to BE your motivation. That’s on you.

Learn how to create habits that stick for life 

It’s easy to be excited about new goals at the start of a new year, when everything is bright and shiny, and there are motivational posts coming at you from all sides amping you up.

But the real test is what you actually do in the boring, ordinary, unsexy everydays that come after.

And that’s when things get tough.

One thing to remember — failing to create habits and meet goals is not about laziness. It’s about not having the right systems in place to create your own success.

We’ve spent years studying the systems that set people up for success and put all of our best insights in our Ultimate Guide to Habits. 

Enter your email below, and we’ll send you the Ultimate Guide to Habits now.

19% of resolution-setters don’t even know if they reached their goal last year is a post from: I Will Teach You To Be Rich.