Whether you believe in creating New Years Resolutions or not, the beginning of a new year is a great time to reflect on the previous year and create goals and intentions for the next year. Creating new goals is a great way to grow and to challenge yourself, but how do we go about actually achieving these goals? We are constantly creating New Year’s Resolutions and then joking about how we never follow through with them. Statistically, more than 80% of New Year’s Resolutions never come to fruition, most attempts being lost come the second week of February. So what can be done differently so that your goals do not fall by the wayside like so many others? I would like to suggest two changes: how you go about setting your goal, and how you go about setting your mindset to achieve said goal.
Could there be a specific formula in creating a goal that can put it at better odds of coming to fruition? Don’t we set goals all the time? Must we really have a lesson on creating a goal? We have all been met with an overwhelming desire to eat healthier, move more, drink more water, get more sleep – do we really need to learn how to create a goal? While these are all excellent ideas, there are a lot of pieces missing. A system for creating clear goals with actionable steps to achieve them is summed up in the mnemonic SMART.
WHAT IS A SMART GOAL?
Specific – Drink more water, eat healthier, exercise more. These are great, but what they lack is specificity. What exactly does it mean to “eat healthier”? When will you know if you have actually “exercised more”? Up your goal setting game by making your objective very specific. For example, consider the examples of eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. This goal is far more specific as opposed to “eat healthier”. Alongside the actual WHAT of the goal, you can consider the specifics of WHEN you will take the steps to achieve this goal (every meal, I will eat a serving of vegetables), WHERE this action will take place, and WHY this goal is important to you (I feel better when I include more fresh produce in my diet).
Measurable – Once you have created your specific goal, now is the time to figure out how you will track your progress through measurement. How will you know you have achieved your goal? Let us consider the above goal again of eating more fruits and vegetables. Rather than vaguely defining “more fruits and vegetables”, be specific and state that you will aim to eat 5 servings. By adding a specific measurement, you can assess where you are now (perhaps you only eat 1 serving every day), what your next steps could be (aim to eat 2 servings), and you will be able to know exactly when you have successfully achieved your goal.
Achievable – We are all pretty familiar with the saying “Your eyes were bigger than your stomach” with regard to food. Well, this same idiom can be used with regard to setting a new objective. It is certainly a worthy goal to want to run a marathon, but if running isn’t part of your normal exercise routine yet, aiming for a more achievable goal like running a 5k will set you up for greater success. Goals will probably stretch your ability, in fact we often do the most growing by being in uncomfortable situations, but they shouldn’t be so out of reach that they become impossible.
Relevant – Why would achieving this goal be important to you? How could this add to your life? Answering this question can help keep you going when you might want to otherwise give up. Other questions to ask yourself to find out if this is the right goal for you right now could be: Does this goal align with the other values in my life? Does this goal match the effort that I am willing and able to give? If you answer yes to these questions, then you are well on your way toward success.
Time-bound – Finally your goal should have a deadline to help keep you on track and focused. What steps do you need to take today, this week, this month to get closer to your deadline? When we don’t create a deadline for ourselves, it is easy to let other actions take priority.
So you have created your goal with the SMART principles, now what? What else can you do to set yourself up for success? Maybe you have created goals that follow SMART and you still weren’t able to succeed. What gives? The truth is that with change comes a lot of discomfort, and we as humans don’t really like to be in uncomfortable situations. Unless we address our mindset and environmental structures that are constantly acting against us, we might still struggle to succeed, even with a super specific and measurable plan. But fear not, here are some ideas to consider:
Think small – start breaking your goal down into the smallest means possible. Will this take longer? Perhaps. Will this be more sustainable and more beneficial? Absolutely. As stated before, we don’t like being uncomfortable. However, overcoming mild discomfort lights up the reward centers in our brain and propels us forward. As you continue overcome small obstacles, your brain will start saying, “I like this”, and you will be motivated to keep going.
Keep your commitments to yourself – If you make a commitment with a friend, you generally would hold yourself to it, right? We don’t often make lunch plans with people and then constantly cancel on them. Why not? Because we care about these people and respect their time, and additionally we all know after a while of continuing to do this, people might not want to make plans with you. So consider this goal as a commitment to yourself that you will keep because you value yourself and this is certainly worth the effort. YOU are worth the effort.
Set up your environment for success – Identify things in your daily life that are constantly battling your efforts. Perhaps you wish to eliminate processed snacks from your diet, but that bag of chips in your cupboard is constantly laughing at you and looking to derail your progress. Perhaps you are trying to limit your fast food intake, but the golden arches are calling your name as you drive home from work absolutely ravenous. Don’t approach these challenges as something you must endure, rather use this as information to create a plan to make this easier on yourself. Don’t bring things into your environment that don’t serve you. Set up your kitchen so that it will aid in your success, if this is applicable; only bring home foods that put you closer to your goal and throw out what sets you back. Pack healthy snacks if you find yourself constantly battling hunger at 4:00pm.
Build your support team – there is strength in numbers, and along with the personal pressures that you might find yourself battling, we are constantly inundated with societal influences and pressures that might not be beneficial to you. Create a team to help you carry out this objective or that will encourage you toward the finish. Speak to your partner about dietary changes you would like to make so that they can either do this alongside of you, or at the very least, be aware of the changes you are making for yourself. Consider making a weekly walking date with a friend to keep you accountable with movement. You shouldn’t have to do this alone, and people like to be there for others in support. Who knows, perhaps the people in your life also want to make changes, and you vocalizing yours might be the springboard they need to take steps in their lives. Sometimes we never really know the positive effects our actions may make on those who observe them.
Now that we have provided you with some steps to create a path for success, go forth and conquer!