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  • Barbara Mayfield, MS, RD, LD, FAND

Want to achieve your goals? Reflect first, then take action.


Woman writing goals in a planner

Do you set New Year’s resolutions? If so, you’re not alone. Research indicates that more than 40% of Americans set resolutions at this time of year.


Making resolutions at New Year’s has been an annual practice for more than 4,000 years, attributed to the ancient Babylonians.


The most frequently made resolutions include changing negative behaviors related to health and finances. Exercise more. Spend less. You get the idea.


Are resolutions the same as goals?

Resolutions are considered statements of commitment to change whereas goals are considered statements of what one desires to achieve. Synonyms with a slight difference in focus.


Could the failure rate of resolutions be related to their emphasis on change and our aversion to change?


With an emphasis on achievement, goals may be the better focus for New Year’s. Let’s take a closer look at how we can be successful in achieving our goals.


Want to achieve your goals? Reflect first, then take action.

Goal setting begins with careful reflection on one’s current situation and where one wants to be or what one wants to become. This is followed by further reflection on why we want to achieve this goal along with an acknowledgment of what needs to be different in order to achieve it.


Only after thoughtful reflection are we ready for taking action.


To be most successful, stop to reflect after taking action and before taking further action.


The illustration below is based on the work of authors Bill Joiner and Stephen Josephs in the book Leadership Agility (1). They describe the essential practice of an agile leader as the ability to take “reflective action.”


First, the leader steps back to gain insights related to the people involved, the situation, the outcomes desired, and the actions or changes needed. With these insights, the leader takes action, followed by further reflection and more action.


Reflection without taking action, or action without careful reflection, can lead to disaster. When combined, reflective action leads to success.


For more on this topic, read Are you an agile leader?

Diagram showing reflection followed by action followed by further action and back to reflection
Source: Joiner WB, Josephs SA. Leadership agility: Five levels of mastery for anticipating and initiating change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Wiley. 2007

How can I use reflection effectively for goal-setting? Ask 5 questions that inspire action:


#1 Where am I now and where do I want to go?

#2 Why do I want to take action?

#3 What needs to change?

#4 Who can help?

#5 When will I take steps toward my goal?


For more on this topic, download tip sheet #18 and the Action Plan worksheet.


“The more reflective you are, the more effective you are.” ~ Pete Hall and Alisa Simeral


1. Joiner WB, Josephs SA. Leadership agility: Five levels of mastery for anticipating and initiating change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Wiley. 2007.


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