Renaissance Ranch

Why Setting Goals Works Better than Making (and Breaking) Resolutions

Jan 11, 2022

It’s that time of year again – the moment we look at ourselves in the mirror and say, “I’m going to accomplish all of my New Year’s resolutions.” And, just like every year before this one, by mid-January, our determination fizzles, and when someone asks how it’s going, our reply is more like, “What resolution?” This is why you should consider framing this in terms of setting goals rather than making resolutions.

While we often use the terms goal and resolution interchangeably, they aren’t the same. The Oxford Languages definition of a goal is “the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.” A resolution, however, is defined as “a firm decision to do or not to do something.”

Setting Goals for Recovery

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By definition, a goal is powered by desire and ambition, whereas a resolution is more an act of will to force a necessary outcome. Doing something because you want to rather than because you have to always yields better results.

Resolutions often have that ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ finality about them, as well. You either did it, or you didn’t, and now you’re done. If that failure translates into relapse, it can be devastating, even more so if you believe that’s truly it.

Finally, resolutions tend to be vague. For example, you can see how “I’m going to stay sober” doesn’t give you any bite-sized specifics on how exactly to accomplish your resolution and sets you up for failure almost before you begin.

Having a goal means you continue working toward the “desired result” – sobriety – despite all of the mishaps along the way. Goals give us more flexibility to fail and restart. The road to addiction recovery is filled with twists and u-turns, a few steps forward and multiple steps back. Goals keep us focused and get us back on track when the road gets rough.

How do we create goals in a way where we give ourselves the best shot at achieving them? Addiction recovery center specialists will tell you one great way to set goals is by using the S.M.A.R.T. method – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This method lets you address the important questions of who, what, where, why, and when that are so crucial to success.


What is your goal? Let’s say you want to stay sober. If you have already been to an alcohol rehab facility or an AA meeting, you know this is not a simple goal. A more specific goal would sound something like this: “I want to stay sober. To do this, I will regularly attend my AA meetings, engage with my friends in activities where drinking alcohol isn’t an automatic go-to (e.g., hiking, kart racing, art-gallery hopping, etc.), eat healthy meals, and exercise three times a week.”


A specific goal is a measurable one. Are you attending your AA meetings? What activities did you do with your friends this week? Did your activities make it easier or more difficult to stick with your goal of staying sober? If the answer is more difficult, it’s time to reassess the activities. How often did you eat in? Are you having well-balanced meals? If not, why? If you’re too busy, try planning out your menu in advance, and pick meals that are quick, easy, and nourishing.

Did you get to the gym (or treadmill downstairs) this week? How often? How did you feel after you worked out? Is the exercise helping to improve your mental state? If not, are there other things you can try, like meditation or Tai Chi? Taking stock of each of these things regularly will help you stay on the path to completion.


How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! The saying may be cliche, but it’s entirely allowable when we’re talking about goal-setting. Since achieving a goal like staying sober is quite an elephant-like task, having a multi-pronged, specific goal is perfect for dividing into smaller portions. And smaller wins, too.

For example, this week you went to your AA meeting, and you had a really great discussion with the group. You left feeling uplifted and hopeful. You accomplished that part of your goal, as it helped you achieve your overall desire to stay sober. Before you know it, you’ll have a year’s worth of daily and weekly accomplishments, and all those add up to ultimate success.

Make the time to reward yourself when you accomplish these steps along your journey. You’ll have plenty of losses, and you’ll need to keep your spirits up to power through the tough times. Alcohol rehab is hard and whether big or small, every achievement is worth celebrating.


Make your goal relevant to your situation. If you have been sober now for five years and your goal is to remain sober, you may already have in hand many of the lifestyle adjustments mentioned in the example above. You know to stay away from bars and other venues where alcohol is readily available, and you have regular sober-friendly activities with friends.

Hence, your goal to stay sober might involve some different things, such as getting involved as an AA sponsor, going back to college to get a better job, or taking up a new hobby. Everybody in treatment has the goal to stay sober. The bigger question is, how will you break that goal down to fit your personality and your needs?


Nothing ever gets accomplished without a deadline. As much as some people chafe against that dreaded word, a deadline actually is your best friend when it comes to making and accomplishing goals. By establishing a specific time to reach your goal, you are holding yourself accountable for its completion. This is true for your smaller steps, too.

For example, it’s Sunday, and part of your goal is to get your friends to enjoy more sober-friendly activities with you. If you don’t put a time limit on it, you may never get to planning something or asking your friends to participate until late Friday night, if at all. Life has a way of sucking up all your time without you realizing it.

So, you task yourself to do some research and set something up by Tuesday for this Saturday. Bravo! By making Tuesday your deadline, you just upped your chances for successfully planning an activity this week.

SMART goal-setting may involve more planning and effort than writing down a one-sentence resolution. It will be worth it, though, when at the end of January, you’re still on track for reaching your goal, and you have quite a few smaller successes under your belt, as well.