NESI Blog: Reflecting and goal setting as a new year begins

One of my best friends insists that New Year’s Eve is overrated – why should we celebrate time that’s going to pass anyway? I, by contrast, am an aggressive reflector/goal setter who buys a new set of underwear and lets the fresh air in (no matter the weather) for the first of the year.

Wherever you fall on the New Year’s spectrum, it’s not a bad time to make sure you’re grounded for the new year as a student or early career researcher. I’m going to walk you through the process of reflection and goal-setting I go through every year. Take what you like, leave what you don’t, and find what works best for you!

Reflect. Pull up your calendar(s), open your photos app on your phone, gather your planners and/or journals, and open up the latest version of your CV. The next part is straightforward – start in January and scroll/flip through all of the things you’ve done in 2023. Take note (literally!) of everything that catches your eye, big or small, work-related or not. For example, my list puts defending my PhD dissertation and going on hikes with my pup on the same list.

Bonus: this first step is a fabulous opportunity to make sure your CV is up to date and you’re up-to-date on doctor’s appointments of all kinds.   

Celebrate your wins. Some things that happened in 2023 might not feel great. Feel your feelings but take an extra moment to really appreciate what you’ve accomplished this year. Finally get that manuscript submitted – heck, started? Brought on a new student and saw them learn a new skill? Networked like it was your favorite activity at the NESI dinner in Sweden? Prioritize spending some quality time with your family?

Take a moment and really pat yourself on the back for the things you’ve done that make you feel proud. 2023 flew by, but when you take the time to think about how much you’ve done it can be staggering.   

Lay your plans out for 2024. Now that you’ve assessed what you’ve accomplished in a year, set your sights to next year. This is a brainstorming session – with no judgment write down all the things you think will help give you those same feelings of pride when you’re reflecting in December of 2024.

Some people like to think of this in terms of work versus non-work. I highly support capturing multiple areas of your life in these goals, but I put work and non-work into the same bucket and use five different categories that one of my creative pals suggested to me 10 years ago:

  1. Livelihood & Lifestyle: I like to think of this bucket as my day to day and overarching support bucket. If I wanted to land a new grant in 2024 or if I’m a relatively new PhD grad on the job market and want to land a job in 2024 (ahem…), here’s where those goals live. This is where my travel-related goals go too! 
  2. Body & Wellness: This can be a very full bucket for nutrition and physical activity researchers, and I don’t think I need to give personal ideas here, but don’t forget about work-related ones too. Maybe you want to start a lunch swap Friday with your lab, so you stop buying lunch or take more walking meetings? Maybe it’s getting a walking pad for your remote work set-up?
  3. Creativity & Learning: If I want to learn a new statistical software, for example, that goes in this bucket. So would attempting to strengthen my Spanish-speaking skills or (re-)learning how to knit.
  4. Relationships & Society: These are my personal relationships, my interactions with my local and global community of folks, but also goals like joining a NESI committee might go here.
  5. Essence & Spirituality: I’m a green physical activity researcher – lots of my time in nature goals go in this bucket. Whatever’s going to make you feel grounded in 2024, put in this bucket.

Edit your plans for 2024. We’re researchers, we’re going to overestimate the number of manuscripts we’ll be able to produce in a given year. You have evidence of what you’ve accomplished in 2023. Is that list way shorter than your goals list for 2024? Be realistic – and don’t get rid of the goals you don’t want to prioritize, just make a B- (or C!) list in case you accomplish all of your A-list goals by May.

This is also where you can add some timelines, objective measurements, or break these goals into more month-size chunks. Once again – I think I can trust this group with goal-setting informed by behavior change research! But since this is a NESI blog post – think about how NESI might be able to help you accomplish your goals. Here are just a few ideas:

Communicate those plans. This can be a fun list to share with your lab or work group, mentorship group, or friends – even if you want to keep some goals private! In my PhD lab, we made semester plans every few months and this is the process I used to help think of my plans on a smaller bite-size scale. If you’d like, find ISBNPA over on Twitter (X) or LinkedIn and use the hashtag #NESI_ISBNPA to share one of your goals! 


I can’t wait to see what 2024 brings all of you. Let me know if you give this a try or your own process for goal setting. Good luck and Happy New Year!

Amanda Folk is a health and behavior change researcher who uses quantitative and qualitative methodologies to answer research questions that bring us closer to health equity and social justice. She’s particularly into outdoor physical activity and the role social media play as health communication tools. You can find her spending too much time on LinkedIn.