Using backdoor to changing your life – a better way to set your goals

It’s this time of the year when many of us start thinking of the New Year as a new beginning, a carte blanche, and the evergreen: New Year’s Resolutions. It gives us hope and opens up new possibilities while filling us with motivation. 

However, the statistics about the NEW YEAR’S resolutions are not overly optimistic, so I propose a slightly different approach to goal setting this time.  

If you’re reading this, you’re probably motivated to change a few things in your life ( I know I am!). And most likely, you have tried different things in the past – and probably failed, at least to a degree. So, at least for now, you feel motivated. But are you ready?

The Present You makes all the fancy plans and immediately reaps the rewards. Just making plans makes us feel good and accomplished, even if we haven’t done any real work yet! 

To make it even sweeter, we often REWARD ourselves by THINKING of all the hard work we’ll put into achieving our goal. 

Whenever I think of taking up a new activity like sport, I usually start thinking of a new fitness app or a gym membership, and to make myself even more motivated, I reward myself with new training shoes & sportswear.  

That’s like eating all the cake before ever touching your dinner. Then all that’s left is the hard work… Not fun. 

Our willpower may carry us for a bit, but then we skip one class (because we were drained that day & promise ourselves to work twice as hard next time). 

Then we realize it wasn’t realistic to think we’d have time to hit the gym 3 times a week. So we try going there two times a week. But then something comes up on the day we were supposed to go…. You know what happens then.  

By the end of February, many of us don’t even REMEMBER we had the goals we once had. Until next December, when it’s time to make some New Year’s resolutions.  

You might have a list of goals you would like to achieve in the next year, week, months, etc.  

If you don’t have your list yet, it’s probably a good idea to start working on one. Unless, of course, you’re a fan of aimless sailing through life.  

If you set goals before and failed to achieve them, you may feel discouraged. Why bother setting goals or New Year’s resolutions if you know from previous years, it’s so damn hard to achieve them? 

Well, the good thing is, you have most likely failed because of the wrong system.  

Yes! Good news! If you change your approach to goal setting, you’re likely to enjoy a much better result.  

  • trying too ambitious instead of a small, incremental change
  • not figuring out why exactly we want to achieve our goal (connecting to your WHY or seeing the big picture)
  • overrating how achieving our goal might make us feel 
  • not examining our past failures
  • not stating where we really are – jumping into action while we’re still in a contemplation or preparation state
  • sticking to limiting believes (we’re too old, too young, or lacking in some other department)
  • focusing more on planning than starting the work
  • relying on willpower and motivation to achieve our goals instead of focusing on creating better habits (motivation is more like relying on hitchhiking to get somewhere; habits are like buying your own car)
  • not improving our systems (changing our environment first to support our goals)
  • giving in to perfectionism and all-or-nothing thinking
  • not celebrating and rewarding enough our progress
  • criticizing ourselves when we fail to stick to our plans and fall off the wagon

Goal setting and planning are great, but there’s one more danger to it: don’t mistake it for actual work. 

  • Lift the pressure by starting NOW. Don’t wait for the clock to strike midnight on New Year’s Eve. Don’t wait until next Monday or the beginning of a new month. There’s usually something you can do right now to move you a little closer to where you want to get. 
  • Make your mind a Guilt-Free Zone. What if you fail to get the work done? Just pick up where you left it: no guilt trips, no negative self-talk. We avoid doing what makes us feel bad, so if you associate a specific activity with feelings of guilt, shame, or any other hardship – you’re toast. 
  • Eat your veggies first, otherwise known as do the hard thing first, definitely before another, a more pleasant one, so there’s something to look forward to.
  • Bury the medicine in sugar. Some parts of our goal may excite, other – not so much. Try to think of bundling something you don’t love with something nice (listening to an audiobook while running or decluttering your home). Be creative! There’s usually a way to make something more fun.
  • Improve your systems so that getting the work done is as easy as possible.
  • REWARDS & CELEBRATION. We want to do what makes us feel good. Do not rely on willpower to push through things. Before doing something challenging, think of a reward first.

It doesn’t have to be anything big or fancy.  

Often times, your reward can be something you would do anyway. All you have to do is to move it to AFTER you do something hard.  

EXAMPLE: I wanted to start doing yoga in the morning – something I would consider quite difficult to do.

To make it more rewarding, I moved my second coffee of the day (the first coffee is my constitutional right and non-negotiable) to after the yoga sesh. 

So really, I haven’t added a reward to the mix. I just named what I was already doing a reward and simply changed the order of my actions.

I now think of my morning yoga as something leading to more coffee. Win-win! 

  • REMOVE ANY FRICTION -MAKE IT STUPID SIMPLE. Don’t leave any room for potential excuses. If you want to get fit, but you’re not a fitness freak, don’t start by getting a gym membership, where you first need to drive for 25 minutes, only to get to a class that you know you don’t like. Start small, where you are, with what you have, or at least make that your backup plan (you can do a lot in your living room, with no equipment necessary and in very little time).

In the early stages of change, it’s best to put some effort into simplifying everything you can think of on the way to your goal.


This time, start different and escape the sad loop.

Start now and start small. Lift the pressure. This is a NO GUILT ZONE.  

Improve your systems so that getting the work done is as easy as possible.

And what if you still fail to get the work done? Just pick up where you left it: no guilt trips, no negative self-talk.  

And the critical thing: always REWARD yourself (with some sort of adequate celebration) AFTER you’ve done the WORK.  


Good luck. You can start now. I mean, NOW

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[…] As I wrote before in the post on better goal setting, when we make plans, our Present Selves get all the rewards while pushing all the hard work onto our Future Selves. Not cool, dear, not cool. […]