Typically at the start of a New Year we are feeling more motivated to make positive changes within ourselves, and our lives. We are putting the previous year behind us, and looking toward the future with more hope. Enter: New Years resolutions.
New Years resolutions are goals that we put in place for ourselves to strive for in the New Year, and can certainly be great motivators. However, have you ever set a New Years resolution for yourself that you simply could not keep up with? Maybe for a couple of weeks you were able to uphold it and put a lot of time and effort into making it happen, but after a while you felt like giving up or simply no longer had the time or energy to maintain this drive? Perhaps the goals you set out for yourself were too vague, and therefore lacked a distinct plan for how to achieve it, thus leading to your loss of motivation.
The month of February is typically the time when New Years resolutions begin to lose their appeal for the majority of people, leading to feelings of failure and disappointment which can take a toll on one’s mental health. So how can you help yourself create goals that you can actually keep up with? How can you help yourself to feel more accomplished? SMART Goals!
SMART is an acronym that is used not only in the field of psychology, but also in the business and teaching world, and entails a set of five steps that help you to set distinct goals. If you search it up on Google, you may be able to find templates that you can download and use to help you keep track of your goals. The acronym works as follows:
S - Specific
M - Measurable
A - Achievable
R – Realistic/Relevant
T - Timely
When we talk about making goals specific, it means setting goals that are not vague or long-winded. For example, “I am going to eat healthy this year” is quite a vague New Years resolution. So, how can this goal be made to be more specific? For one, we can say, “I am going to eat up to five fruits and vegetables every day this year, and reduce my intake of carbs and sugar”. By identifying what you intend on eating throughout the year, you are making the goal more specific and thus less vague. Questions you can consider to help make your goals more specific can include: What exactly do you want to accomplish? Which resources can help you achieve this goal, and what limits could there be?
Next, we want our goals to be measurable. This means we want to create a goal that allows us to track our progress. A good question to ask yourself when trying to make your goal measurable is: How will I know when my goal has been accomplished? If we are using the previous example, you can keep a tally either on paper or your phone of how many fruits and vegetables you are eating per day, or per week, throughout the year.
Once your goal has become more specific and measurable, you want to make sure that it is achievable, and this goes hand in hand with the realistic/relevant component of SMART goals. When creating achievable goals, you want to consider what is the most relevant and realistic goal for you. The more achievable, relevant, and realistic your goals become, the easier it will be to reach them. For these steps, you may want to consider these questions: How realistic is your goal in relation to your finances, energy levels, or schedule? Is this the right time for you to be setting this goal for yourself? For example, let’s explore another common New Years resolution that has already been made specific and measurable. The goal is to work out for at least two hours every day by doing an at home workout in order to lose 10 pounds within the next five months. If you work a nine to five job five days a week, this goal may not be as achievable, relevant, and realistic for you based on the amount of time you may have in your day, as well as the amount of energy you may have, among other potential obstacles. Do you really see yourself working out for two hours after an eight-hour workday or before an eight-hour workday? What if you have additional responsibilities throughout your day, like caring for a child or grandparent? Is this goal truly something you can realistically achieve? As such, when creating achievable, relevant, and realistic goals, it is important to consider your values and priorities, as well as all of the current factors in your life and how they may impact your ability to reach your goals. Going back to our previous example, perhaps after thinking about your priorities and the various areas of responsibility in your life, you decide that what would be the most realistic, relevant, and achievable goal for you is to work out four days of the week rather than every day, for one hour instead of two.
Finally, making our goals timely involves setting an appropriate timeline for when we wish to achieve our goal. In the previous example, the goal was to lose 10 pounds within the next five months by working out four days a week for one hour. However, this may still be too vague in regards to a timeline, and therefore may lead to a decrease in your drive and motivation over time. To make the goal more time sensitive, perhaps you want to consider a specific date you would like to achieve the goal by, or break the goal down further into mini-goals. For example, you could aim to lose two pounds by the end of each month.
Now that you have learned some basic skills to make your New Years resolutions SMART, there is one last thing to be considered: self-compassion. Even after making our goals SMART, there is a chance that we may not be able to achieve exactly what we set out to achieve, and this frequently leads to feelings of disappointment, low self-worth, anger, resentment, sadness, and more. However, we need to try and remain compassionate towards ourselves in these moments, and not put so much pressure on ourselves. Just because it may have taken you longer than you had anticipated to achieve your goal, or something came up in your life that put a wrench into your plans, it does not mean that you are a failure or that you cannot succeed in what you set out to do for yourself. If you are feeling like you are entering into this self-criticizing headspace, consider coming up with a sentence or two that can act as a mantra to remind yourself to practice using self-compassion in these moments.
While it is great and exciting to be ambitious with our goals, if you are someone who has a tendency to feel defeated around this time of year because you have not been able to keep up with your new goals, consider breaking your goals down into mini-goals. In doing this, it is more likely that you will feel a boost of confidence and a greater sense of achievement. It is much easier to begin with something smaller that you know you can realistically attain, rather than shooting for the biggest goal right away and then becoming disappointed when things don’t go your way.Sometimes when we shoot so high right out of the gate we overwhelm ourselves and put too much pressure on ourselves, which creates negative feedback when trying to achieve our goals because it no longer becomes fun, but rather feels like a job or a chore. This can therefore cause us to avoid our goal altogether, again leading to feelings of failure and disappointment.
So, remember to make your goals for this New Year SMART, and continue being kind to yourself.