Some people love making goals at the beginning of a New Year. Others do not. I’m in the loves-making-goals camp, but if you’re not, you’ll get no judgement from me. I think it’s more about how different brains work — some people get inspired by goals, and others get discouraged and prefer non-goal motivations. My personal tendency is to make big ambitious goals — shoot for the moon! — and if I don’t reach them all, that’s fine. I enjoy picturing the possibilities either way.
For those of you who are interested in making goals this year, here are two methods that research has shown to work really well.
Grab a notebook and pen (Write it down. Make it happen!) and let’s get started.
First up, the S.M.A.R.T. method for setting goals. This method is very popular because it’s really easy to take your goal-setting up a notch by applying this technique. Be aware, different people describe each step with slight variations.
S stands for Specific.
Making the goal really specific and adding in details really helps with keeping the goal.
Instead of saying, “I want to eat healthier this year,” you might say, “I want to eat the recommended servings of vegetables every day,” or “I want to eat leafy greens four times a week.” From there, you’ll write in detail how you plan to accomplish that. To eat more veggies, you might decide to join a local CSA or co-op, or you might decide to plant a garden.
M stands for Measurable.
Measuring goals on a regular basis will help keep you on track. This may include making a check mark on a calendar, or using an app or an online calendar. For the healthy eating goal, maybe you would do something fun like draw a carrot or leaf of kale on every day that you reach your goal.
Secret #1: It may seem like you don’t have much to measure, but doing something simple, like drawing a little carrot on the calendar on the days you eat your vegetables, turns out to be incredibly motivating. So whatever the goal is, find some way to measure it and acknowledge it daily.
A stands for Attainable or Achievable.
Setting unrealistic goals leads to failure. Take things one step at a time. If you absolutely hate vegetables and aren’t in the habit of buying them or cooking them on a regular basis, you are going to have a hard time meeting a goal like eating 5-7 servings of vegetables each day. Instead, start with biting off a tiny bit of the bigger goal. For example, you could try buying one new vegetable each week and learning how to prepare it. Then, work up to the 5-7 servings a day.
If you have a goal to climb Everest, it probably won’t happen in the next few weeks unless you’ve been training for months and months already. This doesn’t mean you need to choose only goals that are easily achieved. Keep a good balance of a few hard ones and some that are easier to reach. Be realistic. Which leads us to the Rs.
R stands for Review, Revise, and Reward.
Review your goals often. Check in daily or weekly to see how you are doing. If you’re having trouble with a particular goal, modify it a bit. Don’t feel like a failure, simply realize that you might not have been as realistic as you thought. Revise when needed. It’s totally okay! Secret #2: Flexibility is key to keeping your goals. The more rigid you feel about a goal, especially a challenging goal, the less likely you’ll keep it.
Reward is the best part. For the healthy eating goal, the reward might be a fancy dessert on Sunday, or it could be something not food-related, like watching your favorite television show, seeing a movie, spending an afternoon shopping with a friend, or picking up fresh flowers. Whatever you think would be a great reward for meeting your goal.
T stands for Timetable or Timely.
Having a timetable is another essential for successful goal-making and keeping. If you make a general goal — something like “I’m going to be a Better Person” — it has no timetable. Be better when? Today? Next week? On December 31st? Make the timetable specific too. In regards to eating more veggies, the timetable might say, “By the summer I will work up to eating the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables.”
If the S.M.A.R.T. method isn’t appealing to you, here’s another one to consider. It works well because there isn’t anything to remember that you didn’t learn already in grade school. It’s based on the basic journalism questions: Who, What, When, Where, Why, How?
For this example, let’s say you’ve made the goal to go on a fun family vacation.
Who is involved in this goal? The whole family — Mom, Dad, kids, and maybe even Grandma and Grandpa.
What is your goal? A family vacation.
Also, what do you need to complete your goal? Make a list: passports, airline tickets, hotel reservations, advance tickets for concerts, time off work, luggage, etc.
Again, a timetable is important! When are you going to take your vacation? Set deadlines to help you get ready for your vacation. When will you have the money saved up? What time of year is the best time to travel to your destination? When do you need to get passports and buy airline tickets, and make hotel reservations and other arrangements? Keep track on a calendar. Is this something you’ll be able to do in a few months, or will it take a few years?
Europe? Disney World? Bali? Costa Rica? Cross-country road trip? A nearby National Park? Where do you need to go to make your travel arrangements? Where do you need to go to get passport pictures, etc?
Why do you want to do this thing? Perhaps it’s simply to have fun and make memories together as a family! Or to see relatives who live far away. Or to immerse yourself in history and another culture. Or all of the above.
Make a detailed list of the resources you’ll need to complete your goal and decide how you’ll accomplish each thing. Maybe it’s going to take a few years to save up the money. How will you change things in your day-to-day to save money? Does that mean cooking at home more often? Will you take on a few extra freelance jobs to earn a bit more? You get the idea.
Secret #3: The trick to the How part of this is making sure the steps you write down are very detailed, very small, and easy to check off. Seeing the progress and forward movement — even tiny movements — will help keep you motivated.
Still need more help? Here is one more practice known for aiding the accomplishment of goals:
Secret #4: Enlist the help of friends. Start or join an online group or in-real-life group with people who have a common goal. Commiserate about how horrible turnip greens taste in your morning smoothie, or high-five about how good it felt when you ran your 8 1/2 minute mile. Cheer each other on. You don’t even have to have the same goal, just have someone you can check in with and do the same for them.
I hope these secrets have helped you get excited to think about goals and resolutions this year! And if you have any tips to add to this list, please add them in the comments below.