Another January has come and gone, and there is likely the regular crop of people who have made and dropped the infamous New Year’s resolutions.
At this point, New Year’s resolutions are little more than the butt of many jokes. But instead of dwelling on those goals from the beginning of the year that didn’t work out, I suggest a more effective tactic: Make effective goals and try to make yourself better throughout the year, rather than at one specific time.
First, let’s address the problems with New Year’s resolutions. Psychology Today did an article on things that generally make resolutions go bust. A common problem is lack of motivation — doing a goal because you feel like you should, not because you want to.
You could probably imagine what these types of resolutions are — the classics, like going to the gym more often or losing weight. Besides perhaps not being what you actually want to do, they’re not super detailed, which leads into the next reason resolutions fail: being unrealistic.
If you create a super-difficult goal, with no steps between how you are right now and who you want to be after you’ve accomplished it, it’s like trying to climb a ladder that’s missing all the rungs except the first and the last, and expecting yourself to make it up easily.
Goals take time, and if they’re unrealistic, like our ladder example, it makes it easier to be impatient too. Impatience is also a big factor in dropping resolutions, especially if it’s a goal that doesn’t pay dividends quickly.
The best way to make your goals work is to make them strong and smart. A good technique to do this is to follow the SMART acronym. Each letter represents something necessary to remember when creating a goal.
S is for ‘specific’
The first requirement is that the goal needs to be specific; you need to choose what you want to accomplish.
This isn’t necessarily a list of every intermediate step, but you do need to answer the basic questions: Who is going to be involved (whether that be to give help or just to keep you on track), what you want to accomplish (it’s good to get detailed), when you want to accomplish the goal, where it might be (which isn’t always relevant, but if there is a specific location then make sure to notate it), which requirements do you need (such as skills or resources) and why do you want to do it (motivation is huge!)?
If your goal isn’t specific enough, it can be difficult to imagine yourself accomplishing it.
M is for ‘measurable’
A good goal needs to be measurable, which means there needs to be steps that you can record. You also need to specify how you can measure it, like the number of push-ups you want to do or the distance you can run, as well as where and when you plan to do so.
By giving yourself a way to measure your goal, it creates a tangibility — meaning that success seems so much more real and possible — that can’t be afforded otherwise. This helps with creating limits for the goal too.
A is for ‘achievable’
Your goal should be something that you are motivated to do, but it also can’t be too lofty. For example, if you can’t do a single push-up, setting a goal to do 25 push-ups in a row is probably not the right goal for you. More likely than not, a goal like that will intimidate you, making it difficult to see yourself accomplishing it and therefore making it more likely for you to just give up.
Good questions to ask yourself to learn whether the goal is achievable could be: How important is to you? Do you have the necessary resources to perform it? And what you need to do to get them?
R is for ‘relevant’
A good goal should work with your current goals and activity. In business, for instance, a goal to release a new product should align with existing business goals.
As in some of the other areas, this tip emphasizes that trying to suddenly change something about your life probably won’t be effective. If your goal has nothing to do with anything you’re working on in life right now, it’s difficult to make yourself turn around so quickly.
A better way to create a goal is to set up a series of smaller steps on the way to the larger one. Rather than using the broad idea of wanting to save money, for example, think about what your income is, how much money you want to save and how much you plan to save each month or paycheck.
T is for ‘timely’
Ideally, it shouldn’t take too long to achieve some aspect of your goal, even if it’s small. If you have an ambitious goal that takes a long time to accomplish, try breaking it down into smaller goals so you experience success every once in a while on your way to the larger goal.
For example, if your goal is to do 25 push-ups, but you’ve never been able to do a push-up, a good smaller goal would be to be able to do one. This helps because if it takes too long to accomplish something, it’s easier to lose motivation.
A target date for completion also helps, to make sure you have proper urgency to complete it on time. Timeliness is related to the measurable aspect; both are about creating circumstances that ensure results within a reasonable amount of time. It’s all about creating a time frame and a set plan for your goal so you know what you want to accomplish within what time.
It’s important to remember that these aren’t necessarily hard and fast rules — they’re guidelines. Now that you’ve learned them, you can use your knowledge to go out and make yourself better — all year-round!