45% of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions, while another 17% make them occasionally. Of those who make resolutions, only 8% successfully achieve their goals.
That’s pretty depressing.
We’re all about self-improvement around here. While I don’t usually set New Year’s resolutions, I set goals and work to build better habits all the time. With that in mind, let’s look into making better resolutions so that you can set yourself up for success.
Setting SMART Goals
In the early 1980s, SMART goals swept through the business world. At the time, the idea was that each department of each company employing the method should set objectives that were Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-Related.
Eventually this framework was adapted to individual goal-setting. In adapting to the needs of the individual, some of the criteria had to change. Now, individual goals were to be:
Just by running down this list, we can see why a lot of resolutions fail.
“I want to lose weight and get more in shape” is not specific or measurable. Neither is “I want to spend less and save more” or “I want to spend more time with family.”
Making your goal Specific and Measurable forces you to avoid the vagueness of typical New Year’s resolutions. Instead of “I want to lose weight,” you can decide “I am going to lose 20 pounds.” Instead of “I want to save more,” you can say “I am going to max out my 401k and my IRA.”
Setting Attainable goals means that your goal should not be impossible. You can, and should, still set your sights high, but just avoid setting them so high that you become demoralized with your progress. If you can barely do three pushups in a row on December 31, maybe avoid declaring that you will be able to do 1,000 pushups in a row by the end of January.
Another key with Attainable goals is to avoid setting goals that others have control over. Instead of saying “I will get promoted this year,” you could say “I will work with my boss to figure out everything she thinks I need to be able to do to get promoted and then build each of those skills.”
The advice to set Relevant goals may seem unnecessary, but it is included for reasons beyond just the fact that nobody outside of Boston would want to set SMAT goals. Does your goal advance your bigger picture goals? Does it push you in the direction that you want to go? Is it worthwhile? You want to make sure you are setting a goal because it helps you in some material way, rather than just because you think you’re supposed to. If you are comfortable with your weight, then don’t worry about losing more.
Finally, we need to make sure our goals are not only Time-bound, but are bound within an appropriate amount of time. Most New Year’s resolutions are set for a full year. This is often too long of a time frame. It is very easy to push things off or even forget about them with a one-year time frame. If you have a plan to lose 20 pounds in a year, you don’t have much incentive to get started right away.
There are two ways to address this. The first is to break the goal up into monthly targets. “I will lose two pounds each month during 2017.” The second is to set a shorter timeframe for the goal. “I will lose 20 pounds by April 1, 2017.” Decide which makes the most sense for your particular goal and get to work.
Something that I have learned throughout the course of my own self-improvement is that habits are much more powerful than goals.
I promise I did not just waste your time by making you read about goal-setting. Goals are still appropriate in a lot of situations.
I wanted to hit a certain weight before my wedding. I set a goal. I hit it. Boom. Problem solved.
If you are trying to learn a certain skill or run a certain distance, then set a goal.
But if you are trying to change your behavior for the better for a long time, think about whether your goal could be turned into a habit. Or maybe even turned into a habit in conjunction with a goal.
If I want to lose weight, perhaps I can set a goal to lose 20 pounds by April 1, and also build the habit of keeping a food journal to track what I eat. The habit will make it easier to hit the goal and then will make it easier to keep the weight off in the future.
As soon as possible, go read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin. The Power of Habit teaches you everything you need to know about the importance of habits, the science of habits, and the various techniques for building habits. Better Than Before helps you identify what type of personality you have and which habit-building techniques work best for your personality type.
I have recommended books before. I do it quite often. But these recommendations could literally be life-changing. I mean that sincerely.
Here are a few other big-picture tips for achieving your resolutions this year:
- Don’t set too many goals at once.
When you only set goals for the new year, you tend to want to cram a lot of self-improvement into your resolutions list. Avoid the temptation. If you set too many goals at once you will be unable to sufficiently focus on any one of them. Instead, try setting shorter term goals. Maybe set two goals for January through March and then plan to add two more once April 1 hits.
- Write down your goals
Writing down your goals actually helps. Distill it down to a sentence or two and put it on a Post-It note on your desk. Write it on a piece of paper that lives on your night stand. Make it the background of your phone. Get your goals written somewhere that you will see them every day and you will be far more likely to achieve them.
- Tell others about your goals
Whether you want to start a blog to document your debt repayment, tell your spouse that you want to go to the gym three mornings per week, or start a betting pool with your friends over who can save the most money, tell someone about your goals. In addition to forcing you to actually formulate a clear goal, putting it out to the world creates an extra layer of accountability that you cannot get if you keep your goals to yourself. Knowing that you would have to admit your failure to someone else creates a solid incentive to keep going until you achieve success.
So what are your resolutions? Have any goal-setting tips that I missed? Found any methods that work better than others for you? Let us know in the comments!