Conventional wisdom says that when the ball drops on New Year’s, our inner Charlie Sheen should unleash a slew of “winning” ideas for the twelve months ahead. Behold, our New Year’s resolutions are born.
But here’s another piece of conventional wisdom: New Year’s resolutions fail. Miserably.
Despite all of our good intentions, most of us find that one day’s laziness turns into two, and by June we forget that we resolved to do anything in the first place. So this year, say no to typical resolutions. Instead, do something that will help you make real change: Set goals. And not just any goals—set SMART goals.
“What are SMART goals,” you ask? Widely adopted in the corporate world, the SMART framework was developed to remove ambiguity and lead to measurable success. While this is helpful in the workplace, it can pay big dividends in your personal life, too. This works by creating goals that are:
Does your goal have multiple interpretations? Resolutions like “learn a musical instrument” are too broad. Is buying a guitar good enough? Does watching Jimi Hendrix videos on Youtube count? Is plucking “Mary Had a Little Lamb” considered mission accomplished?
Could an objective outside person easily measure your success? One could measure if you “attend a local book club weekly” but could never definitively quantify touchy-feely resolutions like “be more outgoing.”
It’s great that you want to cure cancer. Or invent time travel. Or have your mother appreciate all you do for her. But you need realistic goals that you can actually attain. If you want to paint a Monet but have never picked up a brush before, you might want to consider some Bob Ross classics first.
When your goal is complete, you should view it as a worthwhile accomplishment. You could try to beat my all-time high score for Pac-Man (good luck with that), but is it really worth your time?
Be specific about your time frame. Words such as “soon” or “quickly” lay the groundwork for failure. Instead, set start and completion dates; if it’s long term—more than two months—break up your goal into smaller time frames to provide checkpoints along the way. You’ll feel more accomplished and invigorated to stay on the path.
For instance, maybe you resolved to “be healthier” this year. That’s a great sentiment but woefully vague. In contrast, consider what a SMART version could look like:
“I’m going to do cardio for thirty minutes three times a week from January through March.”
This one hits all our SMART criteria: It’s specific (do cardio), measurable (thirty minutes, three times a week), attainable (fits my schedule), relevant (exercising to be healthier), and time-bound (January to March). Now when you get to March—or the end of each week—you can clearly see if you accomplished what you set out to do.
I’d like to offer one tweak to the traditional framework, too: Double up the “A” to make it Attainable and Accountable. In the workplace, it is assumed that your boss will hold you accountable for your goals. In your personal life though, you are your own boss—which makes cheating on goals far too easy. So tell a friend your plans, and encourage them to regularly check on how you’re doing. It will help keep you motivated and give them permission to remind you that you wanted help with this.
One more word of advice: The SMART system is meant to make your goals more achievable, not less. If you find that you are consistently falling short, evaluate whether it was a good goal to begin with, refine it, and start again. Choosing to persevere may be the SMART-est resolution of all.
Jeff is the CEO of Page Vault and has more than twenty years of experience managing teams and projects with SMART goals at best-in-class companies such as Intel and Motorola Research Labs.
Photo Credit: e for elizabeth