Progress over perfection

Tips and tricks for taking small steps to achieve big goals.

For many, the start of a new year comes with a new sense of motivation for self-reflection and self-improvement. We all have great aspirations come January, but typically fall off the wagon before achieving those goals, whether they are personal, professional or somewhere in between.

According to a survey conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Forbes Health, the average new year’s resolution lasts up to three months — at best — for most people1. Out of the 1,000 people surveyed in October 2023, only 5% kept up with their new year’s resolution through June.

Whether your goal is to lose weight, be more mindful, advance in your professional role, or something else entirely, it’s important to make a plan toward achieving that goal, as well as a means for following that plan. When it comes to setting goals, one common problem is shooting too high, or setting unrealistic expectations that are more likely to result in disappointment than success. According to the experts, the best approach is to start small2.

For example, in the book Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results by James Clear, he suggests every goal or positive habit can be boiled down into a two-minute version3. If your goal is to run three miles per week, you could start by tying your shoes, or referring to yourself as a runner in casual conversation. These tactics might sound ridiculous, but science shows taking small steps like these over time can lead to significant results toward achieving a larger goal.

Clear also argues that a goal is only as good as the system used to achieve it. This is why it’s important to be intentional and methodical in your goal setting endeavors.

In a 2020 study published in PLOS ONE, Martin Oscarsson and his fellow researchers suggest approach-oriented goals are typically more successful than avoidance-oriented goals4. Approach-oriented goals refer to maintaining a desired outcome, while avoidance-oriented goals are centered around eliminating bad habits or undesired outcomes. So, instead of setting the goal of “losing weight,” changing your perspective to “eating healthier” or “exercising more” — in essence, taking steps toward a positive outcome rather than spending time and energy avoiding a negative outcome — could result in a better success rate.

Aside from starting small, the American Psychological Association also suggests focusing on one goal at a time to get the best results, as well as sharing your progress (and setbacks) with friends and family to keep yourself accountable2. Most importantly, seek support when you need it, and remember to give yourself grace. It should be about progress, not perfection.


[1] Forbes Health. “New Year’s Resolutions Statistics 2024.” Accessed Jan. 8, 2024, from

[2] American Psychological Association. “The secret behind making your New Year’s resolutions last.” Accessed Jan. 8, 2024, from

[3] Clear, J. (2019). “Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results.” Penguin USA.

[4] Oscarsson, M., Carlbring, P., Andersson, G., and Rozental, A. (2020). “A large-scale experiment on New Year’s resolutions: Approach-oriented goals are more successful than avoidance-oriented goals.” PLOS ONE, 15(12), e0234097.