But come Jan. 1, this good, solid, step-by-step thinking all but disappears, and the pressure is on. We not only think that every step has to count big, but we're actually convinced that any misstep is evidence that we've failed and should abandon ship. Here are five ideas to keep your head and not let worry get in the way of your vision this year.
Think small - change takes time. The bigger the goal, the less likely we are to achieve it, or even approach it. Don't frighten yourself off with a big goal on a tight timeline; instead, break it down into smaller goals that are specific and achievable. Create momentum by crossing smaller things off your list, and experience success sooner and more often.
Open the door to your doubts and fears. Change brings fear and doubt, but don't let your imagination run you off the track. Pin down your fears to see if there's anything to them. Give that tiny voice in your head less authority. Change the question: Ask yourself what you are really afraid of, rather than what's the worst and most unlikely thing that you could possibly imagine. Sync your plans with reality.
Master perfectionism and procrastination. Perfect is a dangerous illusion. The more pressure we feel to hit the bull's-eye, the less we are willing to try - and then we end up finding 10 other, more important things to do, like alphabetize our canned goods. We've scared ourselves off from our goals because they are unattainable. Go for excellence, not perfection. And notice how this change will mean that you are no longer afraid to approach your life.
Make your expectations flexible. Dispense with the thought, "I have to do X, or else!" Or else what? Or else you're human. Normalize the ups and downs: Go with the spirit of a goal rather than the letter. If you generally go to the gym a few times a week, but skip a few days or even weeks here and there, focus on the trend, not the outlier or exception.
Raise the barn together. We are connected virtually to 500 friends online, but feel stymied in asking one person a favor. Do something radical: Make this the year of the buddy system. Run things by your friends, have your next get-together be a painting party, or organize a focus group for a big change you're considering. Communities work.
Whatever your goal may be - from the big-ticket items (a new job, starting or leaving a relationship) to the small, healthy habits (being more organized or more grateful) - when you set out this year, let the real breakthrough be giving yourself a kinder, gentler, and more effective mind-set. This is the gift that gives back every day, all year long.
Tamar Chansky is a licensed psychologist. Her new book, "Freeing Yourself From Anxiety: Four Simple Steps to Overcome Worry and Create the Life You Want," comes out this month.