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Be SMART and Avoid Failing at New Year’s Resolutions

Do you know people who have a hard time maintaining their big New Year’s goals past February? Who are the people around you who joke, “Yeah, I made a resolution to lose weight, but then Valentine’s Day came around.” Or “I made a resolution to quit smoking, but then I needed a break at work.”

If making and sticking to goals is hard for you, it does not mean that you are helpless, hopeless, or should give up trying. Far too many people make goals that are too big, too general, way too difficult, and without any tracking tools. People tend to create large, grandiose, long-term goals with no short-terms goals to guide the process. Follow the SMART method below to reach your resolutions for 2016.

Make long-term goals as well as a few corresponding short-term goals.

Make sure each goal follows the SMART acronym below:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

Let’s take a look at this resolution: For 2016, I am going to work out more.

This goal is not specific at all. What exactly does “work out more” mean? What does “work out” mean? What activity are you referring to — dancing, swimming, running on the treadmill, taking a yoga class, going for a walk? What does “more” mean?

Tip: Add one to the number of times you swim/hike/dance/walk now.

How can you measure “work out” and “more”? Make sure you consider how often and for how long you want to do this activity. For how long can you enjoy it? 10 minutes? 30 minutes?

Tip: If you are starting from zero, consider starting at just five to 10 minutes, instead of jumping straight to 30 minutes. This will help you avoid fatigue and coming to hate the activity.

As your goal fleshes out, consider whether the details you are choosing are attainable. Think about your past experiences when trying to achieve this goal. How can you make this goal as easy as possible for yourself with just the slightest hint of challenge so that you are more likely to succeed?

Is your goal realistic so far? Do you have time for it? Do you have the energy or the physical capabilities for it?

What’s the time limit on your goal?

Tip: Keep the time factor shorter than one month for your short-term goals so that tracking progress is much easier.

An example of a short-term goal is: I will hike or swim for at least 30 minutes once a week for the month of February.

An example of a long-term goal is: I will participate in a cardio exercise for at least 30 minutes three times a week by the end of the year.

Create a chart or use a calendar to chart your progress.

With the above goal, mark down each day that you were able to hike or swim for at least 30 minutes. At the end of the month, write down how many weeks during the month of February you were able to reach your goal.

Modify your goals to reach your long-term goal.

Perhaps during the month of February you only achieved your goal two out of the four weeks. For the month of March, you can choose to keep the same goal, or make it a little easier. For example, “I will hike or swim for at least 30 minutes at least twice during the month of March.”

Or perhaps during the month of February you achieved your goal and hiked or swam for 30 minutes every single week. Now you can choose to keep the same goal for March or you can make it a little harder. For example, “I will hike or swim for at least 45 minutes once a week for the month of March” or “I will hike or swim for at least 30 minutes twice a week for the month of March.”

Congratulate yourself every step of the way. The biggest step is in taking the time to create SMART goals in the first place.

Resolutions word cloud image available from Shutterstock

Be SMART and Avoid Failing at New Year’s Resolutions


Jessica May Tang


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APA Reference
Tang, J. (2018). Be SMART and Avoid Failing at New Year’s Resolutions. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/be-smart-and-avoid-failing-at-new-years-resolutions/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.