It’s that time of the year again. The time when we make New Year’s resolutions, in the hope that this time we will stick to them and make them happen. We put all our goodwill in writing down our goals and imagining what a positive benefit they will have on our life. We usually decide to make healthier choices, quit bad habits or improve our financial situation. Most of the time we swear to make life-changing choices, other times we are more realistic and decide to commit to smaller changes. Yet the majority of New Year’s resolutions barely last past the second month of the year.
The problem with New Year’s Resolutions
According to studies, around 80% of people fail to stick to their New Year’s longer than February. That is around six weeks out of 52 in a whole year. And these failures are often due to the fact that our goals are too ambitious and we don’t get an immediate reward out of our efforts.
So before making the next New Year’s resolution destined to fail by February, maybe it’s useful to take some time to really think it through and create both an achievable goal and a plan to reach it. In fact, just setting a goal is not enough. We also need a plan, a step by step guide that will help us stay on track, Often it can help to set intermediate smaller goals, stepping stones to our ultimate goal. There is a quote that I think of very often by Alan Lakein that says “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
But before talking about the planning part, it’s useful to talk about how to properly set SMART goals.
What are SMART goals?
SMART is an acronym that stands for: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based.
First of all, it’s important for goals to be specific. Avoid vague goals like “Being healthier” and get specific. For instance, you might decide to eat certain foods and have certain specific habits.
Secondly, you need to be able to measure your goal and track progress. Instead of setting a goal to “lose weight”, set out to lose x pounds/kilos or y centimeters/inches around your waist. This will also allow you to break down your goal in smaller milestones and most importantly to know when you have finally reached it!
A goal should be attainable. Failing to reach your goal will demotivate you from setting other goals in the future so make your goals achievable! If you know you have a limited amount of time or limited resources, you might want to lower the bar on your goal. It’s better to set a more realistic goal and reach it than vice versa. Just make it ambitious enough that you will be motivated to work towards it.
You will also want your goals to be relevant. There is no point in setting a goal that will not have an actual purpose for your life. Don’t set out to learn a skill that has no benefit in your life vision. You will not be motivated to reach it if you don’t feel that it will be relevant for you.
Finally, and probably most importantly, goals should be time-based. Otherwise, they are just desires or wishes that you want to achieve someday but most likely never will. You need to put a deadline on your goal. Based on this, you will also divide your main goal into smaller ones to achieve at specific time intervals.
What happens after you chose your New Year’s resolutions?
Setting a goal is only the first step. To set out for success you should also make a plan that will allow you to track your progress, make adjustments and stay focused.
We already mentioned that your goal should be measurable and time-based and these two criteria are of fundamental importance. Divide your goals into smaller milestones and give yourself deadlines to reach each one of them. This will help you stay focused and motivated and will allow making any needed adjustments.
Secondly, create an action plan. Write down what exactly you need to do each day in order to get closer to your goal. You might need to learn additional skills or complete additional tasks necessary to reach your goal.
For instance, let’s say your goal is to write a 400-page novel within three months. You might break this down in writing 150 pages in the first month, 150 in the second one and 100 in the third one. Note that this is not equally divided. It’s good practice to schedule more of the work in the beginning and less towards the end. This can help in case of any unforeseen events that might slow down your progress in the first phases.
You can then decide to dedicate a certain amount of hours to research, others to creating your characters and others to actually writing. All these tasks will make up your action plan and will include the main task, in this case, writing, and other transversal ones like research.
Finally, make sure to track your progress and see if you need to make any adjustments to your action plan. You don’t want to get close to your deadline with only 20% of the work done.
A few important things to note
Your attitude will define whether you will reach your goal or not. If you have set your goal properly, you should start motivated. But there will certainly be ups and downs so you should be prepared.
We previously talked about the power of visualization in reaching your goals. Take a few minutes to visualize yourself when you have finally reached your goal. Also, remember that you need to believe that you can reach your goal. And finally, keep a positive attitude. Daily affirmations can be a powerful tool in keeping yourself motivated even when you feel like you are lacking willpower.
Now it’s time to choose your New Year’s resolutions. Remember: set SMART goals, create a plan and make them happen!