Go Ahead - Set Some S.M.A.R.T. Goals!
Resolving to nix our bad habits is a widely-practiced and long-honored tradition for many people in the United States during this time of year. If you’ve come across this blog post, you’ve probably been doing some research on how to avoid new year’s resolution burnout, and if so, good for you.
Because as it turns out, less than 10% of resolutioners who set goals on January 1st are no longer working towards them by January 10th. If this sounds like you from last year, then you’re in luck because this blog post is designed to help you set – and maintain – your new year’s resolutions past the first two weeks of 2016.
Setting specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-oriented (a.k.a., SMART goals), has been a trick I’ve used to help me with my own life plans since I first read about them years ago.
To start with, get some clarity on what it is you actually want to accomplish. Find out what the motivation behind your goals is. Here’s a hint: if you can find a reason that generates a strong emotional response within you, stick with it. Nothing drives change like passion.
Once you’ve got that, then:
The more specific you can get with your goal, the better. Make it something you can picture in your mind; this helps keep you motivated when presented with challenges. An example of a specific goal is: “I will jog a 5k in January 2016” versus “I will exercise more in 2016.” The first one works because it talks about a specific action that you will take; the second one doesn’t because it is general (and not easily pictured).
A measurable goal is one that you can observe with one or more of your five senses. An example of a measurable goal is: “I will jog one lap around Greenlake at a pace of 6 mph, 3x/wk” versus “I will go jogging around Greenlake.” The first one works because it can be observed by an outside party; you either did or did not complete the task as described. The second one doesn’t work because, again, vague and too open to interpretation. (How fast do you have to move for it to be counted jogging?, for example).
This is important, and I suspect that this is where a lot of new year’s resolutioners miss their targets. Don’t set yourself up for failure by taking on too big of a challenge (for example, right now, I don’t think I’d be able to jog around Greenlake 3x/wk going at 6mph, so that’s not where I’m going to start). Great examples of attainable goals are the incremental changes listed in the Couch to 5k program.
The trick in setting achievable resolutions is to start small, then add changes in small, sustainable increments. This way, you build confidence in your abilities and set yourself up for success rather than burnout.
Relevant, as in don’t do something just to say that you did it. Instead, focus your time and energy on tasks that align with the overall purpose of your new year’s resolution. And it's even sweeter if they align with your personality and preferences. For example, if you’re a social person and are resolving to increase your time spent practicing the art of mindfulness in 2016, consider attending a Buddhist meditation group.
Don’t worry, if you’re an introvert like me, there are plenty of free and low-cost apps on the App Store and Google Play for you to try out.
Set a due date for yourself – one that isn’t too extreme - in order to keep yourself on track. Most people find it easier to set short deadlines (i.e., ‘To-Do List For This Week’ or ‘Just For Today I Will…’) rather than set deadlines out a month or more in advance. Shorter deadlines help keep you accountable by leaving less room for procrastination and by leaving less space for you to fill up with lofty, overwhelming changes.
To continue with the mindfulness resolution from above, a good example of a time-oriented goal would be: “I will sit silently and will non-judgementally observe my thoughts and emotions for 20 minutes right after dinner” versus “I will meditate when I get home from work tomorrow.”
Combine the five elements of S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting and you will be giving yourself a real shot at achieving your new year’s resolutions for 2016!