Raise your hand if you have a love-hate relationship with New Year’s Resolutions! Our hands are certainly raised. On one hand, setting goals and visualizing the future is important for long-term success in any area of your life. On the other, more often than not, our New Year’s Resolutions dissipate into thin air around the holidays. Before we get into how to set SMART and effective goals, let’s take a quick look as to why despite our best efforts, most New Year’s Resolutions fail.
Reason #1: They are too broad.
How many times have you said something like “I want to eat healthier” or “I want to start exercising more” as you entered the New Year? I’m going to bet at least once! While eating healthier and exercising are admirable goals, they are too broad. It’s important that your goals are specific. In this scenario, you might shift these goals to say, “I want to eat a piece of fruit every day with breakfast” or “I will go to two yoga classes every week.” Now you have a goal you can actually practice!
Reason #2: They are focused on the outcome not the process.
How many times have you set out with the goal “I want to lose weight”? I would bet to say at least once! The problem with this goal is that it’s focused on the process, not the outcome. A good way to shift your goals is to think about something you can practice every day that will make you healthier. If you can’t practice it, it’s not an effective goal. For example, “I’m going to walk 10,000 steps per day” or “I’m going to take a real lunch break instead of eating in front of my computer” are goals that you can practice everyday that will certainly impact your health, even if they don’t change the number on the scale.
Reason #3: They are unrealistic.
The promise of the new year can sometimes lead us to be a tad too ambitious. Maybe eliminating sugar and exercising two hours every day isn’t the best way to create long lasting health (especially if it only lasts for one day). Reach for the low hanging fruit. What small steps can you take every day that can easily fit into your life as it is now (not the magical future life when you have more time, money, and energy!).
Reason #4: They defy our true nature.
While it might seem possible to wake up an hour earlier every day to exercise, if you’re simply not an early bird, it’s likely not going to be a goal that sticks too long. The worse part about setting goals that defy our true nature is that we often feel like failures when we realize we can’t wake up that early, or can’t “stick to” our plan. Think about setting goals that make sense for who you are and how you best form new habits. If you’re someone who despises waking up early and likes flexibility, work your goals around your true nature, instead of trying to force yourself to be someone you’re not.
Reason #5: They focus on subtraction, instead of addition.
Instead of thinking about all of the things you’re going to give up in the new year, (dessert, alcohol, coffee!) think about what you can add to your life. Add more fruits and vegetables, add more movement, add more time with good friends. When you add more healthy habits and activities into your daily life, there is just naturally less room for the unhealthy habits to take over.
If at this point you’re nodding your head “Yes! I’ve done all of these things before!” Read on to learn how to set SMART and effective goals for the new year.
SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Timebound. As an example for demonstration, let’s use the super common goal of “eating healthier” in this scenario.
Like we mentioned above, it’s really important that your goals aren’t too broad. The more specific the better. You can make your goal of “eating healthier” more specific by changing it to “eating more vegetables.” Now that you’ve gotten a bit more specific, it’s important to make this goal measurable and actionable. How many servings of vegetables will you eat every day?
This is the point where I recommend putting your goal through the to-do-list-test. If this is something you can check-off on your to-do list, then it’s Specific, Measurable, and Actionable. It would be hard to check off “eating more vegetables” since you haven’t specified what actually counts as “more.” Let’s change this to “eating at least three servings of vegetables every day.”
After you do your to-do-list-check, it’s time for a reality check! Is this realistic? If you’ve never eaten vegetables before, jumping to three servings a day might be a lot! Make sure your goal is realistic, and again, doesn’t defy your true nature. The last step is to make this Timebound. That means, setting an amount of time you will work on this goal. While this is certainly a goal you can work on for the rest of your life, I always recommend checking in with yourself every month or so, as this goal (like you) might evolve over time.
The last component, that isn’t included in this acronym, is Flexibility. I think it’s important that we be flexible and gentle with ourselves. If our goals are too strict or rigid, we feel like failures when we can’t stick with them. Remember, you are a human being, and life isn’t perfect. Be kind to yourself, and be open to troubleshooting your goals throughout the year.
Now, let us know in the comments below! What are your SMART goals for 2017?