Many of us start the New Year with a list of high level or even unachievable resolutions e.g. to lose weight or to run every day for a year (OK, so maybe that’s achievable for some, but I imagine not for a lot of us mere mortals) so it’s not surprising that we get to the end of the year feeling despondent and unenthusiastic about the resolutions we had made. We may start with good intentions, but how many of us get to a few months into the year with dwindling enthusiasm to keep up our resolutions?
This time last year, I sat with a notepad, ready to write some new year’s resolutions. Usually, I’d make a list of vague resolutions that I either didn’t keep or completely forget about. Up to that point, I had resigned myself to the fact that new year’s resolutions were pretty useless and meaningless. But I wanted 2015 to be different – a turning point for me where I really made some changes to my lifestyle and wellbeing.
Having dismissed new year’s resolutions for a few years, I took the start of 2015 as an opportunity to look afresh at my life and the things I wanted to change. I didn’t want another list of vague promises of things I wanted to start doing or things I wanted to stop doing. I needed specific goals that would help me on the journey to a more balanced, healthier life. So rather than a list of the same old woolly promises to lose weight, eat more healthily and do more exercise, I took a more structured approach to changes I wanted to make.
A SMARTer approach…
Whenever setting goals within business, I’m always sure to make them S.M.A.R.T goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused (or Relevant) and Time-bound.
I’d never really thought to take this approach to new year’s resolutions. Armed with a list of things I wanted to achieve in 2015, I set about making a set of SMARTer goals for the year.
What to SMART goals actually look like?
Specific: Rather than high level, vague resolutions, I needed to be as specific as possible. So rather than a high level resolution of ‘I’ll do more exercise’ my SMART goal was to complete the NHS couch to 5k running programme. This helped to give me a specific focus as well as a structured approach to achieving my goal of getting more exercise.
Measurable: Making goals measureable is a great way to keeping track of the progress you’re making. The couch to 5k running programme is a 9 week running schedule so that was a pretty easy goal to make measureable. But my resolution to deal with stress more effectively was too vague to make measureable. Instead, I set myself a specific goal of 10 minutes of meditation, three times a week. Making goals measureable means it’s much easier to know when you have accomplished it rather than open-ended resolutions.
Achievable: One of the biggest barriers to keeping new year’s resolutions is in making them unachievable. There’s no point me telling myself I’m going to lose a stone in a month as it’s just unrealistic for me and my willpower! But losing a stone in a year or losing two pounds a month is much more achievable. Likewise, telling myself I’ll complete the couch to 5k is much more achievable than running a marathon. There’s no harm in having longer term goals, but I’m much more likely to stick to an achievable goal in the meantime.
Results-oriented: With any goal I make, I want and need to see results. That’s what keeps me spurred on to keep going. So thinking about each of my SMART resolutions, I gave a lot of thought to the results I wanted to see at the end of the year. So whether that was losing a stone, completing the couch to 5k or drinking a litre of water a day, I needed to know what the results were in order to know whether I had achieved the goal.
Time-bound: Thinking about time frames for my goals helped me to determine whether they were achievable, but also meant that I was able to break down larger goals into more manageable and measureable steps. There were also some longer term goals that I knew would take more than a year to achieve, but there were specific and achievable steps that I could take towards those longer goals. Setting time-bound goals helps to track progress and made it more likely that I would keep those resolutions.
Do SMART resolutions work?
They did for me! By the end of 2015 I had achieved each one of my resolutions. By making each of my goals SMART, I was able to keep track of my progress and see results of the changes I was making. After years of fighting to keep my new year’s resolutions, 2015 was the year where they actually helped in giving me focus and helped me in making some positive changes to my life.
So if you have a list of vague new year’s resolutions, I’d urge you to take a look at them and see whether you can make them into SMART goals for the year. I now have a list of goals for 2016 and feel more motivated than ever to achieve them!