- Goal setting widespread but most common among young adults, college grads
- Goals most commonly involve improved health and fitness, better finances
- Only a third of goal-setters plan to take three key steps to help reach objectives
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Seven in 10 U.S. adults are poised to set goals for themselves at the start of the new year, with one-third telling Gallup they are “very likely” to do so and another 38% “somewhat likely.”
Goal setting is more common among younger than older Americans, although majorities of all age groups intend to do it. About eight in 10 adults aged 18 to 34 (79%) and 72% of those aged 35 to 54 say they are likely to set goals, versus 62% of those 55 and older. Age differences are also evident among those “very likely” to set goals, falling from 40% of the youngest age group to 25% of the oldest.
Goal setting is also more common among high-income adults and college graduates than their counterparts, while there is no difference by gender.
These findings are from a Gallup Panel survey of 1,803 adults aged 18 and older interviewed by web Dec. 5-19.
Improving Health and Finances Are Most Common Goals
Survey respondents who said they were at least somewhat likely to set goals for the new year were asked to indicate whether their goals will fall into each of six different categories.
- Personal health or fitness goals are the most common, cited by 80% of goal-setters.
- Financial goals are next, at 69%, followed by personal development goals (59%).
- Half of goal-setters say they will set work or career goals, but this rises to 59% when based on goal-setters who are of preretirement age (younger than 65).
- About four in 10 adults are likely to set goals for their relationships or social life.
- About a third will set religious or spiritual goals.
Basing these results on all U.S. adults -- encompassing goal-setters and non-goal-setters -- reveals that a majority of Americans will be focused on improving their health or fitness in 2023, and about half will be doing the same for their finances.
A Third of Goal-Setters Plan to Take Steps to Achieve Them
Goal setting is widely touted as crucial to success in various life domains. But scores of personal development experts insist that achieving goals requires writing them down, determining the specific steps needed to reach them and tracking one’s progress.
So how closely will Americans hew to this familiar advice this year?
- 48% of goal-setters say they will write their goals down
- 49% say they will create an action plan that lists the specific steps needed to reach each goal
- 95% say they will continue focusing on their goals throughout the year
Taking all three behaviors into account, most goal-setters fall into one of two groups. About a third (34%) will likely wing it, saying they will neither write down their goals nor create action steps to reach them but plan to focus on them throughout the year. Another third (32%) might be described as diligent planners, intending to adopt all three strategies.
Fifteen percent, the "memorizers," prefer to keep track of goals in their head, saying they will create action steps and continue to focus on their goals all year, but won’t put them on paper. Meanwhile, 13% are generalists. They will record their goals and plan to maintain their focus on them, but won’t create action steps.
The remaining 6% admit they won’t focus on their goals throughout the year, likely rendering moot any efforts they may make to write them down or create a plan to achieve them.
Separately, the poll finds that goal-setters are highly optimistic about reaching some of or all their goals -- 95% say they will. At the same time, 55% admit they will likely set the same goals for themselves next year, perhaps indicating the difficulty of ever realizing one’s full potential in these areas.
Many Say Their Past Successes Not Linked to Goals
How important have goals been in people’s lives thus far? Nearly six in 10 Americans say that some of the major successes in their life have been the result of setting specific goals for themselves that they worked to achieve. On the other hand, 40% say they have been successful without setting specific goals.
The perception that goals have been a factor in their success is similar across major subgroups, especially by gender and age. However, Americans in the lowest-income households reviewed (those earning less than $48,000 annually) are less likely than middle- and upper-income Americans to attribute their successes to goal setting. The same is true for college nongraduates compared with college graduates.
Seven in 10 U.S. adults heading into 2023 are inclined to set specific goals for themselves to work toward, with a third very likely to do so.
Even if all who intend to set goals follow through, many may not attain them without heeding the ubiquitous advice of writing them down, making detailed plans for reaching them and focusing on them throughout the year. Altogether, about one in four Americans seem intent on getting what they want by adopting these practices. Others may be able to reach them less intentionally, or else try again in 2024.
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