Goals and Resolutions – The Difference and Why It Matters

by Jan 2, 2020Life3 comments

For the past two years, I’ve been restricting myself to just one new year’s resolution. The logic behind this decision was that each year, I made these long lists of resolutions and I would never accomplish a single one. 

In 2018, my resolution was to take better care of my hair. It was easy enough, and my hair grew thicker, longer and healthier. In 2019, the resolution was to drink 2l to 3l of water every day. I managed it for the first two months of the year, then I moved to Cape Town and, well…

The other stuff I wanted to accomplish, I called goals. So publishing a book, going to school and launching a website were some of the goals I set for myself. Interestingly, this thinking made me achieve much more than my long list of “resolutions” had ever done. And since this is the beginning of the year – and the dawn of a new decade – I’ve been thinking about what my resolution would be, and what goals I’d set for myself. 

Obviously, this led me to think about the difference between a resolution and a goal, and why – if at all – it matters. And like any logical person, I googled it.

Interesting results popped up: The National Eating Disorders blog defined a resolution as a firm decision to do or not to do something, while a goal was defined as the object of one’s ambition or effort. Another definition I found striking was from Wings to Soar, where they defined a resolution simply as a promise to yourself, while a goal was defined succinctly as a target. 

I then skimmed through an article on Life Hacker, and they mentioned that a goal was a specific achievement such as running a marathon, while a resolution was meant to be a permanent change to your life, like drinking more water.


A resolution is a firm decision to do or not to do something, while a goal is the object of one’s ambition. In other words, a resolution is a promise to yourself, while a goal is simply a target.


With this in mind, I can begin to understand why my ONE resolution policy worked much better than the lists I’d bombarded myself with in the past. Without realising it, I made my resolutions things that I would want to carry on doing for the rest of my life (taking good care of my hair and drinking enough water every day). And because these were permanent changes – and it was only one change at a time – I was more determined to stick with it.

Another thing that helped was something that Vusi Thembekwayo mentioned in a tweet around this time last year. He said a resolution should be personal, so none of that save-the-world rubbish that tends to wear us down before we recover from the New Year’s party hangover. He also said it should be measurable so you can see the results as you go and, finally, it should be fulfilling – something that contributes to your purpose and makes you happy. 


The Connection Between My One Resolution and My Goals

Since I only have one resolution, I have room to set goals that are finite, like gain a certain number of subscribers and finally publish a book (seriously, I need to get this done). You can see that this is something that I wouldn’t do as frequently as, say, drinking water.

Having a few of these goals in all the areas of my life – health, spirituality, finance, education – is definitely a good way to make sure I am improving my life constantly. But calling them resolutions restricts my mindset to an all-or-nothing mentality because subconsciously, I know that resolutions are permanent. So now when I fail at something, I don’t quickly throw my hands up but I can reorient myself and try again. 

How You Can Change The Way You Plan Your Year

My suggestion is, while you plan for your year, think carefully about the stuff you want to change permanently in your life and the stuff you want to achieve just for this year. Let’s take exercise for example. A goal would be something like, “lose my belly fat” while a resolution would be “go for a walk every day”. Both involve exercise, but one is finite. Once you lose the belly fat, there’s no more belly fat to lose and you’ll need a new goal. Also, how you lose the belly fat may vary – you could do planks or sit-ups or yoga. 

On the other hand, going for a walk every day is a more permanent addition to your life. Whether you lose the paunch or not, you can still take a walk each and every day of your life. You can measure how it improves your wellbeing by reflecting on the person you were before you started taking walks and contrasting that with the person you are, say, three months after the fact. All this to say, have your list of goals (hopefully not overwhelmingly long) and a smaller list of actual – permanent – resolutions.

Here’s to a prosperous 2020, filled with exciting opportunities and achievable goals, and most importantly, resolutions that allow you look inwards and make life decisions that will positively impact you for the rest of your life. 


PS: In case you’re wondering, my resolution this year is to regulate my sleep pattern, which means I’m going to sleep early and wake up early. Every day. For 365 days, and then for the rest of my life. Here goes nothing…