Setting goals you can achieve

After the holiday season, the theme of New Year’s resolutions caught my attention. Although many of us set up resolutions each year, very few stick to them after the first weeks of January.

How to set goals that you actually can achieve?

Overview: This concept came out of the capstone project of the Interaction Design Specialization of the University of California, San Diego.

Timeline: 10 weeks

My Role: Product Design, UX & Visual Design.


The road to goal achievement is full of good intentions. Studies say that more than 45% of Americans will be making New Year’s resolutions, but only 8% percent of people will actually achieve them.

To better understand why this happens, I conducted interviews with people aged between 25 and 60 — but tried to focus less on demographics and more on behaviors and common traits.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Some people would like to achieve big things in life but don’t know where to start, they have difficulty defining a long term goal.
  • Despite setting specific goals, some people don’t have an efficient way to follow-up on them and can’t measure their progress. They say that existing apps are time consuming and frustrating — they’d rather use a paper calendar rather than digital tools.
  • Some people tend to overlook the long term and have only short term plans that are not measurable. Their pain point is to get consistent results in the long term because of this lack of commitment.
Understanding needs and opportunities

Ideation and prototyping

Taking into account the findings of the research, it’s time to map the needs and opportunities and start to develop solutions. In the ideation phase I like to go for quantity first and then refine towards quality. It’s fast and makes better ideas without getting too attached to any of them.

The initial concept came out from a Japanese tradition: the Daruma.

“The figure’s eyes are both blank white. A user [think in a goal] and paint in one of the figure’s two eyes. Once the desired goal is achieved, the second eye is filled in” — Wikipedia
A Daruma doll

You place the Daruma in a highly visible spot, so his empty eye will always remind you that you have work to do.

After producing some sketches, a limitation with this structure emerged: by putting too much focus on the end result, this will not be of much help during the journey. I had to change my approach to a more complete solution, and for this I spent some time understanding the science behind habit formation.

Prototype, test, repeat

Using paper prototypes to get early feedback were critical to better understand the users and iterate quickly. This feedback helped to discover pain points: the initial flow was not clear, so I had to make it more intuitive.

As a result of the tests, I moved on to the next round of prototyping.

I did more user testing, now with a defined set of tasks (create a goal, add tasks to that goal, see your plans for today, check your progress). From this testing I received valuable feedback to improve the onboarding process and continue working on the flow, which eventually led to the final solution.


The distinction between Initiation and Maintenance of behavior is vital.

  1. Write down your goal. The process of writing down your goal forces the subconscious to accept the commitment you have made.
  2. Divide Goals into smaller routines. It allows you to keep your short term actions aligned with the long term goal.
  3. Keep the focus on the end result. Commit to doing at least one thing every day will keep you moving a little closer towards your goal.
  4. Feel the progress. Looking back over your accomplishments increases motivation and engagement.
Wireframes for Initiation and Maintenance of a Goal

1. Starting the behavior

To reduce the friction to create a goal, I set up categories based on important areas of life: Health, Wealth, Intellect, Relationship and Emotions.

Goal Types: based on the important areas of life

Create a goal should feel friendly and intuitive. An interface that speaks to you like a robot doesn’t inspire confidence.

List of goals takes into consideration mental accounting: the tendency for humans to sort things in groups for different purposes.

Also, having a limited amount of simultaneous goals and tasks you can add is good to keep focus and assure that you actually can do what’s in the app.

Motivation vs. Intention

Many studies shows that is not motivation, but rather your plan for implementation that will have a meaningful impact on your behavior.

The Formula for Success: Implementation Intention

Implementation Intention is a concept introduced in 1999 by psychologist Peter Gollwitzer. The basic structure is usually phrased in the following way: “When situation X arises, I will perform response Y.”

It’s a simple but effective strategy: simply write down when and where you intend to implement a particular habit, and it will help you to develop an inevitability thinking, eliminating excuses and automating decisions. The way to apply this strategy in our app is to fill out this sentence:

I will [ACTION] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].

It leads to a better perception, attention and memory concerning the situation. After some repetition, the behavior which had been defined before will then be performed with less conscious effort.

2. Maintaining the behavior

When we start a new behavior, the excitement about future outcomes keep us motivated. The harder part is to maintain it when the motivation goes down.

Daily Missions

After the user has already written his own goals, this list will not be perceived as just another “To-Do list”, but a meaningful set of tasks that are ultimately leading to a major outcome, making it less likely to abandon the behavior.

Compound effect

“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” — John C Maxwell

This law is not new. The accomplishment of any goal is the progressive accumulation of small steps taken consistently over time.

Positive feedback

A.J. Rothman’s theory of Behavior Maintenance suggests that the ability to maintain a behavior is dependent on the perception of benefits. When we receive positive feedback, we become more engaged and perform better.


Tracking and self reporting are very helpful to stick to the new habits until they become internally driven.

Visual design

Colors: The color palette is designed to be accessible, approachable and inspiring. Purple conveys a sense of energy and stands out among the traditional green and blue used in most goal setting apps.

Typography: Brown is a friendly geometric sans-serif released by Lineto. For the type scale, I wanted to assure good readability and contrast.

Next steps

Set up for fail — Sometimes you won’t be able to complete the newly created habit. It’s perfectly fine to miss a day or two, as long as you keep the commitment from there. Which solutions can be developed to help you getting back on track?

Include social features — When we make our goals public, social pressure increases the chances of actually taking action. If you have an accountability partner or a coach you don’t want to disappoint, we are more likely to do it

Effective planning strategy can help you achieve goals

I expect with this concept to have a positive impact on people’s habits and routines. I believe it can effectively help people to start and maintain positive behaviors that will support them to have a better, healthy, happy life.

Thanks for reading! Let me know if you like this article 👏 and leave a comment.