New Year’s resolutions can be difficult to keep, especially when they’re not fully thought out. Most resolutions likely fail because they aren’t specific, measurable, achievable, relevant or time-limited, according to websites like the New York Times and Mayo Clinic. Both websites are quick to reference a 1981 paper titled “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives” written by George T. Dorian. The paper was originally written to help company executives set goals and objectives.
S.M.A.R.T. stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-limited. The method is straight-forward. A goal should be specific so that there is a clear way to approach it. Just saying “I want to exercise more” is a great first thought, but figuring out where, when and how to achieve the goal is the next step.
Measurable means that there should be a way to determine how much progress has been made regarding the goal. It ties into being specific about the goal, such as wanting to run two miles in 20 minutes. Progress towards that goal can be measured by how far off the person’s mile time is, or how far they were able to run.
A resolution should also be achievable. In other words, if the goal is to go to the gym and exercise an hour a day, but you can’t commit to that every day, then it isn’t realistic. Consider going to the gym just a few days a week, or figure out some exercises to do at home, whenever there’s a commercial on TV. Unfortunately, there are only 24 hours in a day.
The next step of S.M.A.R.T. is to make the resolution relevant so that it matters to you. As clich? and cheesy as it sounds, wanting to improve should come from a genuine and good-hearted mentality.
“If you do it out of a sense of self-hate or remorse or a strong passion in that moment, it doesn’t usually last that long,” Dr. Michael Bennett, a psychiatrist, said in a New York Times interview.
Lastly, the resolution should be time-limited. There should be a date that the resolution should be achieved by. This will help motivate you by establishing an end date. It could also help set up mini-goals along the way that will show that some progress has been made and how much further there is to go.
Preparing for setbacks is also key, according to the mental health website PsychCentral. Just knowing that there will be times where you may not feel like going to the gym or are having a bad day and can’t resist a donut will help prepare for that eventuality. Just because there’s one setback or mistake doesn’t mean that it’s time to abandon the whole resolution. Just think about what has been accomplished so far. Something is better than nothing.
Combining the S.M.A.R.T. method with the analysis approach Patty Gardner proposes in a FranklinPlanner blog is another way to stay motivated. Instead of doing all of what the S.M.A.R.T. method suggests, Gardner proposes having a few general goals, such as lose weight, eat healthier and exercise more, and then keep track of what you do to achieve those goals. Throwing out all the solid advice of the S.M.A.R.T. method is a waste, but keeping some sort of journal and writing what you did and how much progress has been made toward the goal could come in handy during a particularly discouraging day.
Making a goal with someone else could also help get you through the tough times when a boost of motivation is needed. Exercising with a friend might be the reason you decide to go to the gym even though you’ve had a hectic day.
In order to avoid the vicious cycle of broken New Year’s resolutions and self-hate, it’s important to realize that taking the first step is significant, but creating a S.M.A.R.T. resolution and not being too hard on yourself when setbacks occur is really the key to achieving the goal and not giving up by February. Keep a positive attitude and remember that some progress is always better than none.