Depending on your outlook and personality, the thought of New Year’s resolutions may fill you with either dread or excitement. People who approach resolutions with dread likely recall the disappointment of unmet goals in years past. Those who approach resolutions with excitement have usually figured out how to set goals that are attainable and satisfying for the long haul.
If you have lofty ambitions for the coming year but are worried about setting yourself up for disappointment, you need to know how to create resolutions that will work for you. Reasonable and actionable goal-setting can propel you toward the future you desire.
Resolutions vs. Goals
Americans often approach their New Year’s resolutions as lofty ideals rather than goals to set and meet. But lofty ideals aren’t effective behavior modifiers. And behavior modification, more than anything, is what will help you harness your ambition and actually reach your desired destination in life.
For instance, anyone can say, “I want to be a better person in the new year” or “I want to lose weight so I can feel better about myself.” However, these classic resolutions have very few application points for the everyday behaviors that make a difference in the long run.
It’s better to approach New Year’s resolutions as attainable goals rather than vision statements for your future. It’s completely acceptable to resolve to be a better person, but that resolution without accompanying goals is unlikely to move you from your couch and into action. If you set reasonable and clear goals, however, you’re far more likely to modify the behaviors that will help you fulfill your vision for the future.
Consider the difference between these two statements:
- New Year’s Resolution: “I’m going to lose weight in the new year.”
- New Year’s Goal: “I will lose 15 pounds by spring break. I will do so by working out three days per week while also reducing my food intake to 1,500 calories per day.”
The goal is different than the resolution because it’s specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-limited (S.M.A.R.T.). Statistically speaking, you’re far more likely to lose 15 pounds with the goal than you are to lose any weight with the resolution. You can still make New Year’s resolutions, but if you want resolutions with staying power, you need to break them down into S.M.A.R.T. goals.
Characteristics of a S.M.A.R.T. Goal
A good goal is one that firmly spells out who is responsible for the desired outcome and how they are responsible for meeting that outcome. By setting goals for your New Year, you name yourself as the party responsible for the end result, and you clearly indicate what success must look like.
A firm goal has the following S.M.A.R.T. characteristics:
- Specific. A good goal is a specific goal. It indicates the who, what, when, where, and why of your vision for the future. It tells you not only what you eventually hope to accomplish, but also the steps you must take to get there.
- Measurable. Effective goals also specify what success looks like, and they do so by including measurement. In the example above, the goal-writer indicates that success means losing 15 pounds. This specificity is much more effective hoping for a vaguely worded outcome.
- Attainable. You can set ambitious goals, but make sure you break them down into attainable steps. You can do this by breaking your goals into measurements you can reach within a couple of months. If you need to lose 100 pounds but haven’t had success with losing more than 20, then make yourself an attainable goal of losing 15 pounds. You can lose additional weight by setting a new goal once you reach your initial “success measurement” of 15 pounds. Giving yourself the ability to meet your lofty goals in a piecemeal manner helps you avoid discouragement along the way.
- Realistic. Goals can’t just be attainable – they must also be realistic. Realistic goals aren’t only those goals you’re able to attain; rather, they’re the goals that you’re willing to attain. For example, if you’re fed up with stepping on and off the bathroom scale, but you don’t want to do the work to actually lose weight, then don’t set the goal. It will only lead to discouragement. You can pick up the goal when you’re ready to pursue it and have the ability to do so. Another alternative is to word the goal in a way that excites you. For instance, instead of setting a goal of losing 15 pounds, set a goal of going for a walk four times a week. It’s your goal, and you can approach it however you want.
- Timely. Finally, a good goal is one that is time-limited. Rather than simply stating you want to lose 15 pounds, put a deadline on the goal. It can be a special event, such as spring break or a wedding, or it can be a date that’s about three months away. You’ll find that giving yourself a time frame will boost your motivation. Just don’t make the time frame too short, because you want to give yourself time to complete the goal while also making the behaviors into a habit.
Examples of S.M.A.R.T. Goals
Here are three examples of how to turn typical New Year’s resolutions into S.M.A.R.T. goals with staying power.
1. Reducing Debt
On January 1, many Americans resolve to get out of debt. The problem is that debt comes in many forms, and debt problems are often so complex and overwhelming that people can lose hope quickly after setting the resolution. However, the resolution can be less overwhelming when it’s turned into a S.M.A.R.T. goal.
Instead of simply resolving to “get out of debt,” a savvy goal-setter specifies the type and amount of debt, as well as the behaviors that can lead to goal attainment. A S.M.A.R.T. goal might be, “I will reduce my credit card debt by $2,500 by March 15. I will do so by applying all of my commission bonuses to the balance, rather than making minimum payments each month.”
Similar to debt, many Americans are overrun by household clutter that’s both stressful and unsightly. Rather than resolving to “declutter the house,” a S.M.A.R.T. goal-setter might say, “I will reduce the clutter in my house by emptying my home office of everything I haven’t used in the last three months. I will complete this task by mid-February.” Once this goal is met, the goal-setter can create an additional goal to tackle other rooms in their home.
3. Drinking Less
Rather than saying, “I’m going to quit drinking this year,” a S.M.A.R.T. goal-setter puts some serious thought into how to create a realistic and attainable goal. If there is any kind of addiction to alcohol, they need to account for the necessary support and medical services.
A better goal, in this case, would be, “I will see my doctor within one week for information about rehab, and I will visit local Alcoholics Anonymous meetings weekly. By completing these tasks, I will remain sober for 30 days, and I will reassess my progress on January 30.”
It’s easy to become an idealist when the new year rolls around, but it’s important to remember that New Year’s resolutions are ultimately a tool to help you grow into the person you want to be.
Take some time this New Year’s Eve to really consider who you want to be in the future, and then employ S.M.A.R.T. goals to help you fulfill your vision. Making a resolution to live your life with purpose and passion is a beautiful and exciting thing, not something to dread.
What has helped – or hindered you from – attaining your goals?