Setting a New Year’s resolution is easy, but keeping it is much harder. Many of us find ourselves energized about making a change for the new year, but the motivation can quickly drop off if you don’t see the success and results you desire.
Why People Struggle with New Year’s Resolutions
According to the History Channel the practice of setting New Year’s resolutions dates back to the Babylonians nearly 4,000 years ago. The ritual included paying debts, returning barrowed objects, and making promises to the gods. Babylonians believed that if they broke their promises to the gods they would fall out of favor and would be impacted for the rest of that year.
The practice of setting a New Year’s resolution is now mainstream and has largely separated from religious practices. Present day, many people use New Year’s resolutions to improve diet, exercise, finances, or mental health according Forbes. A large number of individuals will set some kind of New Year’s resolution this January. However, only some will complete all or a portion of their specific goals.
Goal setting can be hard if you don’t know the best approach. Many people set goals that are not attainable due to the size of the goal or the time frame constraints set around achieving the goal. You end up biting off more than you can chew, get discouraged, and give up. This is why it’s common to see gyms full on January 1st and empty by the end of February. It’s okay to set a large goal, but there is an effective way to create the goal that can set you up for success.
What are SMART Goals?
SMART goals are an easy way to structure your New Year’s resolution to increase your likelihood of reaching your goals and tracking progress along the way. SMART goals are often used by therapists to help their clients reach their goals. The acronym SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound.
Specific means that the goal should have outlined boundaries. For example, someone might say that they would like to improve their self-care, but what does that really mean? This intention may be hard to reach because it is not goal specific. A better way of phrasing this goal would be “I would like to improve my self-care by sleeping 8 hours each night and getting weekly massages.” This goal defines self-care and provides more specificity.
Measurable refers to the how you measure the goal. Do you want to improve your health through taking walks or limit your time spent on social media? Great, what does that goal the really mean and how do you measure success? A measurable goal would include how many walks you plan on taking per week and the distance or time you plan on walking during each walk or how many hours you plan to allot per day to social media usage.
Attainable refers to a goals’ achievability. A goal that is too far out of reach will not be attainable. Be aware of your limitations and make sure you create a SMART goal that is within reach. Attainable goals are reinforcing and help us achieve future goals.
Realistic goals are necessary for achieving mastery and feeling proud of yourself. For example, setting a goal on January 1st that you will volunteer 500 hours each month at your local dog shelter is likely an unrealistic goal if you factor in your work, family, and self-care needs. A more realistic goal may be volunteering 3 hours weekly.
Time-bound goals give you a limit on how long you have to achieve the goal. Do you plan on completing your goal within one year or do you plan to make an ongoing lifestyle change? An example of a time-bound goal is training for a race. You have a deadline for which you need to be ready for the competition.
Using SMART Goals to Set Resolutions
According to ABC News about 80% of people who set a New Year’s resolution do not fully complete their goal. Using the SMART goal technique can help increase your chances of achieving your goals this New Year. When thinking about your New Year’s resolution, take some time to sit and write SMART goals down. Make sure it is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound.
If you have a major goal in mind, it may also be helpful to break that larger goal into smaller SMART goals. The most effective way to keep moving forward with your goals is to see results. Results help us feel proud and accomplished and those feelings are reinforcing. Set yourself up for success with your goals this year. Allow yourself to focus on the things that feel important or that were overlooked this past year. Get curious about how you can improve yourself, your relationships, or your experiences this upcoming year.
Pick a New Year’s resolution that you are excited about. Sticking with the same goal you have dropped after 4 weeks each previous year may not be the best way to start the next year. Pick a new goal, allow yourself to master SMART goal setting, and have some success. After that, circle back to the goals that have been difficult in the past.
There can be a lot of pressure to set huge New Years’ goals this year, but take your time, get curious, and set yourself up for success by using SMART goals.