Being SMART About Making Positive, Sustainable Changes

It’s hard to believe that another year is almost done! Like many of us, as we approach the new year, you may be considering some resolutions to set. But were you aware that nearly 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail? And by February, no less.

We’ve all been there: feeling energized about a new goal—determined to make it happen—only to fall off the wagon three weeks later, get discouraged and give up. It happens to the best of us (we’ve all been part of that 80% statistic at one point or another!) What can you do differently in  the coming New Year? How can you set yourself up for long-term success?

Let’s first outline why your resolutions might have failed in years past:

1. You shot for the moon, but didn’t land among the stars

Many goals fail because they’re made too big. Considering the outcome of the goal—losing 30 lbs, increasing your income by 70%, going on X number of dates per month to find your soulmate—might sound great and provide a lot of motivation… at first.

That motivation rarely lasts when we set out goals that are too big. In fact, it often overwhelms our brains, making the outcome feel impossible when we hit our first bump in the road or begin to face the reality of the work required to reach the goal.

2. You’re setting your goals for someone else

Let’s say your spouse really wants you to learn Spanish before your trip to Mexico together. You reluctantly agree to set the resolution to learn… but secretly have no interest in becoming fluent over the course of a year.

You keep up with lessons for a few weeks, only to start skipping them as time passes. You don’t want to disappoint your partner, but also realize you didn’t have any genuine interest in learning Spanish in the first place.

This is the trap many of us can run into when setting goals. We decide that we want to lose weight, quit an unhealthy habit, or invest in stocks because of the pressure from others, rather than our genuine desire to achieve the goal. True intrinsic motivation is key to making huge changes in life.

3. You have no accountability or plan

Ben Franklin summarized it best when he said, “By failing to plan, you are preparing to fail.” You are more likely to hit your goals if you plan to make them happen. Specifically, the plan needs to feel realistic and achievable, not overwhelming.

Accountability is important, too. To quote another familiar idiom, “It takes a village…” You can apply that saying to any goal: weight loss, healthy eating, increasing your daily step average—anything! When you feel completely on your own with your goals, it can be hard to follow through or maintain motivation when the going gets tough.


So, what can you do differently this year? Refresh yourself on SMART goals

You might have learned about SMART goals in a high school PE course, but rest assured they’re just as relevant now as ever. SMART goals are a simple and clear way to create attainable, actionable goals—ones that help you land in the 20% of successful new year’s resolutions, rather than the 80% of failed goals!

SMART stands for…






To go deeper on each…

Specific: Specificity is key to clearly outlining your goals. A vague goal garners vague results. For example, let’s say you want to eat more vegetables in the new year. Consider the following options…

“I want to eat healthier in the New Year” versus “I want to eat at least two servings of vegetables per day in the New Year”.

Which do you think will be easier to follow through on? If you said the second option, you’re correct. The vagueness of “eating healthy” muddles your goal, creating more potential for inconsistency and failure in the resolution.

Measurable: Going hand in hand with specificity is creating goals that are measurable. You should be able to track your progress towards your goal, or at least track the effort and work you’re putting into the goal. Take the following example:

Let’s say you want to get in shape in the new year, and you’re particularly interested in taking up weightlifting. Consider the following two goals:

“I am going to increase my deadlift personal record by 10 lbs every month” versus “I want to feel stronger by the end of 2023”.

Do you see how the first option is much clearer? It’s a sizable goal, but not such a huge leap that it becomes overwhelming. You can tangibly measure how much weight you can lift via your personal records.  

Achievable: Let’s circle back to the idea of “shooting for the moon” here. Your goals should be big and exciting for sure, but if they’re too large they’ll overwhelm you and lead to feelings of defeat. You want your goals to stretch your capacity, but still feel achievable. This is the happy medium where you can build trust in yourself without creating additional stress or anxiety about reaching your goal.

If we expand on the last example, let’s say you’re planning to join a gym to increase your weight lifting abilities and overall strength. You haven’t been on a regular gym schedule in years. At first, you want to go all in: “I’m going to go to the gym 5x / week!”

This attempt at a goal is a great example of shooting for the moon… but landing nowhere near the moon, stars, planet, anything! If you’re going from 0 gym trips / week to 5 trips, you likely will lose momentum and end up back where you started.

A more achievable goal would be to aim for 3 trips to the gym / week, but making a minimum of 2 trips per week your absolute non-negotiable. Set aside specific times that you’ll dedicate to your goal to make it all the more achievable.

Relevant: You need to be motivated to reach your own goals. Like we mentioned earlier, if you’re “setting goals for someone else,” you will likely struggle to maintain motivation and actually reach your goals.

When considering how relevant your resolutions are, you should ask yourself: “Why do I want to pursue this goal? Why is it important for me?” Relevant goals will have an authentic and compelling answer to this question. Irrelevant goals will likely have answers that include the wishes of another person.

Give yourself permission to put yourself first and pursue goals that you are passionate about.

Timely: Add a timeline to your goal. Consider when you want to reach major milestones to keep yourself accountable and motivated! Nothing feels better than checking in on your goals and realizing your hard work is genuinely paying off—that’s the goal with making your resolutions timely.

For example, let’s say you set a goal to read 20 non-fiction books in the New Year (see how that’s measurable and specific?). You read 15 non-fiction books this year (achievable—you’ve done something similar before and now you’re ready to expand), and you simply love learning through books (relevant—it’s something YOU want to do!).

To make this goal timely, you’d set the goal of reading 10 non-fiction books by July 1st—the halfway point of the year!

That sums up the SMART goals process. Apply this to your goals to weed out those that perhaps aren’t relevant to you, and focus your energy on achieving those you care the most about! And maybe, this year, you set the resolution to be SMART about your goals and really make them happen. Use these tips to become part of the 20%!

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