By now, you have likely had time to consider taking the next step towards making your New Year’s resolution. Despite more than half of all resolutions failing within the first month, that does not mean yours will too! This article will help you set and keep your resolutions by providing insight into some helpful strategies to keep you from becoming another statistic of failed resolutions.
Resolutions can be difficult to keep for a few reasons. First, your resolution should be based off something that is important to you, not based on external pressures or what society might be encouraging you to change. Another challenge might be that your resolution is not specific enough. Lastly, your resolution may not be sustainable if you do not set a realistic plan for how to achieve your resolution.
To set the foundation for success, aim to keep your goals and resolutions “SMART” – an acronym developed by George Doran and expanded upon in his article published in the Journal of Management Review (1981). The acronym stands for: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound.
Specific. Your resolution should be clear and concrete. Instead of “I want to be more active,” try to be more specific by asking, how much activity do I want to accumulate per day/week, etc. By setting clear goals, you can measure your results more accurately and know what you are aiming for. For example, your goal might be to spend 30 minutes doing moderate activity 4 days per week.
Measurable. Logging your progress whether it be through pictures, journaling, or making notes in your phone or through an app. Tracking your progress and behaviors can reinforce gains made. There are numerous apps designed to help keep track of your progress for a variety of goals. This is also helpful to know how you will decide when your goal has been met or not. For example, wearing a watch that tracks your activity levels or perhaps logging activities in a journal or app.
Attainable. Ensure your goals are achievable or attainable. Ask yourself if you can realistically accomplish this goal within a particular time frame. Studies have shown that people are more motivated by setting challenging goals, but not too challenging. By developing attainable goals, you will be left with less disappointment and increased motivation as you make incremental steps towards specific milestones. For example, starting off with a goal of spending 1 hour doing moderative activity 7 days per week might be unrealistic depending on your lifestyle. However, aiming for 30 minutes of moderate activity 1 day per week may not elicit enough of a spark to push you towards your goal.
Relevant. Think about what goals are important to you. Consider your values and ask yourself if your goals align with these values. If your doctor tells you to increase your activity but you still feel ambivalent about it, you may not be as driven towards reaching this goal. However, if you recognize improvements in your mood, sleep, and joint pain when you increase your activity, you will be more likely to stick to your goal of increasing your activity levels.
Time Bound. Similar to being attainable, the timeline toward reaching your goal should be realistic, too. In other words, breaking down bigger goals with smaller, more attainable goals will help build up to your ultimate goal. Emphasize the smaller wins to motivate you along the way as you make gradual progress. Setting time bound goals will keep you accountable rather than having a vague end point of “someday.” For example, “In 3 months I want to be more active and will reevaluate how it’s going to plan my next steps from there.”
How to Apply SMART Goals
To understand how to apply SMART goals for your own personal resolutions, here are some examples to get you started:
- Meditate Regularly
You might notice yourself struggling with anxiety or feeling overwhelmed by daily stress. You decide you want to meditate more regularly to improve your mindfulness skills and better manage stress. Now, let’s make it SMART!
S – To make the goal specific, set the goal to be, “I will meditate for 30 minutes five days per week.”
M – To measure the goal, track the amount of time spent meditating and the level of stress you feel at the end of the week.
A – To make the goal attainable, set realistic expectations for yourself recognizing the time and how many days per week as to not overburden yourself.
R – To ensure the goal is relevant, consider meditation and other types of stress reducing techniques that have worked for you or that you are familiar with. Since meditation is proven to reduce anxiety and stress, it will likely help you towards your end goal.
T – To make the goal time bound, identify a time frame where you would like to see your stress and anxiety be better managed. An example being, “I will meditate 30 minutes per day for five days a week for the next 3 months and will re-evaluate how I manage my stress at that point to plan my next steps.”
2. Improve Relationships
You might notice yourself feeling isolated or withdrawing from friends and family which has led you to feeling down or depressed. You decide you want to improve your relationships to ultimately improve your mood and increase connection. Now, let’s make it SMART!
S – To make the goal specific, set the goal to be, “I will develop my relationships with my partner and my parents.”
M – To measure the goal, set criteria for how you will monitor this progress. Perhaps scheduling a call to each person twice per week. Or maybe scheduling dinner plans once per week.
A – To make the goal attainable, set realistic expectations for time constraints and consider how these individuals have mentioned wanting to talk more or spend more time together.
R – To ensure the goal is relevant, reflect on the value of deepening these connections. Noticing how it might help you feel more loved and supported while also being there to support the ones you love – likely moving you towards your end goal.
T – To make the goal time bound, identify a time frame where you would like to see your relationships improved. An example being, “I will continue with this plan for the next 6 months and then re-evaluate how I feel and the improvements that have occurred in each relationship to plan my next steps.”
Setting Yourself Up For Success
While setting SMART goals can be a helpful strategy to make goals more attainable, it should also be noted that obstacles are likely to arise. It is important to anticipate hurdles that might come up and adjust your mindset towards them accordingly. Use a nonjudgmental approach and focus on what you have been doing well rather than the setbacks that may have occurred. Having a plan but being flexible when life gets in the way will help you stay on track.
A study from 1988 (Norcross & Vangarelli) found that individuals who are unsuccessful in maintaining their goals were more likely to use self-blame and have wishful thinking that their problems would settle on their own. On the other hand, those with supportive relationships, supportive environments, and individuals that hold you accountable to your goals, were more likely to maintain their resolutions at the two-year mark. Thus, it has been demonstrated that setting up a supportive community and space around you can propel you towards reaching your resolutions more successfully than attempting to reach them on your own.
Stress Management Tips
Stress is a normal and expected response when taking on new challenges. To help manage this stress, here are a few tips and strategies to feel equipped to tackle your New Year’s resolutions:
- Get enough sleep to allow your brain and body to recharge. The quality and amount of sleep can significantly impact your mood, energy levels and ability to tolerate various stressors.
- Exercise regularly by going for a walk, joining a dance or yoga class, or anything that gets your body moving and is something you can enjoy.
- Eat well, incorporating a balanced diet to help stabilize your mood.
- Manage your time by prioritizing activities and creating a schedule to help you feel less overwhelmed by daily tasks and deadlines.
- Schedule time for yourself and the things that make you feel good. Some examples include, reading a book, watching a movie, getting a massage, or spending time with your pet.
- Practice relaxation, whether that be through deep breathing or mediation to help calm yourself. Taking a break to refocus can have benefits in helping manage stress more effectively.
- Limiting alcohol, caffeine and substance use as these habits tend to exacerbate feelings of stress.
- Talking to someone and connecting with others can provide support and offer a distraction to help combat stress.
- Seek counseling if the stress and challenges you might be experiencing feel too overwhelming. Therapy can be a helpful place if you find your typical coping strategies have not been working to manage your stress. Working with a therapist can help you identify sources of stress and learn new coping skills to manage your stress in a helpful way. Our team at STEPS is always available to help and you can contact us at 631-301-4888 for more information or you can visit our website at traumaprofessionals.com to learn more about how we can best support you.
Edwin A. Locke. (1968). Toward a theory of task motivation and incentives. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 3(2), 157-189.
Doran, G.T. (1981) There’s a SMART Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives. Journal of Management Review, 70, 35-36.
Locke, E. A., Shaw, K. N., Saari, L. M., & Latham, G. P. (1981). Goal setting and task performance: 1969–1980. Psychological Bulletin, 90(1), 125-152.
Locke, E. and Latham, G. (1990). A theory of goal setting and task performance. Englewood Cliffs: Pearson College Div.
Norcross, J. and Vangarelli, D. (1988). The resolution solution: Longitudinal examination of New Year’s change attempts. Journal of Substance Abuse, 1(2), 127-134.