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Is Your New Year's Resolution Smart? | Using S.M.A.R.T. Goals to Achieve Your Resolutions!

Updated on December 24, 2014
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"S.M.A.R.T." Defined






Get S.M.A.R.T. with your goals!

What are "S.M.A.R.T." Goals?

Face it: we all have things to work on in life. And setting good goals can be a very effective way to work towards whatever it is you need to work on. When you make a New Year's resolution, you are setting a goal for the new year, and hoping to start off the year on the right foot. But how can you be sure that the goals you make are appropriate, and that you are setting yourself up for success? "S.M.A.R.T." goal setting is a tried and true method for constructing good, practical, and achievable resolutions, and is based on the "S.M.A.R.T." acronym. S=specific, M=measurable, A=achievable, R=relevant, and T=timely. Read on for explanations regarding each of these tools, tips on how to apply each to your new year's resolution, and examples of "S.M.A.R.T." and not so smart new year's goals. Make sure to complete the quiz questions in each section, so that you can construct S.M.A.R.T. goals for yourself, and once you finish, post your goal in the comments to receive feedback!

Tips for Making "Specific" Goals

In the "S.M.A.R.T." context, specific goals are those which are clearly defined and very distinct. Specific goals answer the 5 "w's:" who, what, where, when, and why. By meeting these 5 metrics, specific goals provide narrow and unambiguous elements to be accomplished, define the context under which the goal will be reached, and give a good reason for the creation of the goal in the first place. To illustrate this tool, consider the example below.

"Meet Your Goals" Song #1

Example Resolution: "I will get healthier." Does this resolution pass the S.M.A.R.T. test? Is it "specific" by answering the 5 "w's?" The "who" is obvious in the "I" making this goal, and you could argue that "get healthy" MAY be specific enough, but where and when will this resolution be pursued? And why was the goal made in the first place? By not being specific, it is unlikely that this goal will ever be met, because it is far too ambiguous for whoever made it to hold themselves accountable (more about this later.) Importantly, it isn't clear exactly what the resolution is trying to accomplish, and how, and so this resolution fails the S.M.A.R.T. test miserably.

Better Resolution: "I will improve my mile time by a minute before March by running on the track three times a week, in order to improve over all health." This goal may look long and feel a bit clunky, but by being very specific, it makes clear exactly who (I), what (improve mile time by a minute), where (on the school track), when (by march) and why (to improve over all health) is trying to be accomplished. By being so specific, this goal passes the first step of the "S.M.A.R.T." test.

"Specific" Quiz

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Tips for Making "Measurable" Goals

Measurable goals are those which have a clear metric for success. In order to be measurable, a goal should answer quantifiable questions like "how many" or "how much?" By being quantifiable, it is more likely that a goal will be met, because you will be able to tell if you are making progress or not. Let's turn back to our example from earlier to illustrate this principle.

"Meet Your Goals" Song #2

Example Resolution: "I will get healthier." In determining if this goal is measurable, ask yourself, "how will I know when this goal is met?" Can you answer with something quantifiable, like a number or something that you could plot on a graph? In this example, the answer is clearly no: we don't know when we will be "healthier" or even what "healthier" means in the content of our goal, because we haven't made a goal that is measurable.

Better resolution: "In order to be healthier, I will lose five pounds in one month by cutting my sugar intake, and being sure I exercise at least 3 times a week." Again, this style of goal setting can feel clunky at first, but it sets you up for success. In this example, the goal is specific, and it is also measurable: we have crafted the goals to ensure that we know how much weight we are trying to lose, and we know when we will lose it by, and we can put a number (in the form of pounds) or our progress. By making our goal measurable in this way, our resolution is much more likely to be achieved.

"Measurable" Quiz

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Tips for Making "Attainable" Goals

Attainable goals are those that are realistic, and that we can achieve reasonably. In crafting an attainable goal, think back to your accomplishments in the past, and be honest with yourself about how much you can reasonably do in any given period of time. If your goal is so big that you can break it up into lost of smaller parts, consider doing so: when goals become too enormous, they may not be attainable, and are not likely to be completed. Returning to our example, which I've added to for this part of the exercise.

"Meet Your Goals" Song #3

Example Resolution: "I will get healthier by losing 100 pounds" Is this goal attainable? Maybe, but maybe not: it is a little hard to imagine that anyone could lose 100 pounds in one go, and this goal would be a lot more attainable if it was broken in to smaller parts. While all goals are possible, we have to be very conscious of those that are realistic, and not try to accomplish things that are too massive.

Better resolution: "I will lose 5 pounds in a month by sticking to a professionally crafted diet and exercise routine." This goal looks a lot different than the first example at first, but think about the implications of setting small goals which are attainable: while it is almost impossible to lose 100 pounds straight away, if you set your eyes on a smaller prize and reach it, it will encourage you to keep working.

"Attainable" Quiz

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Tips for Making "Relevant" Goals

A relevant goal is one that is right here and now, and the most important goal to work on at any given time. Relevant goals are different for everyone, so before making a time consuming goal, take some time and be honest with yourself and answer "is this REALLY what I should be working on now?" Think about a few things when you answer: am I the right person to accomplish this? Is there something else I should be working on? Is this the right time for this goal? Looking at our example:

"Meet Your Goals" Song #4

Example Resolution: "I will get healthier." Is this goal relevant? Again, such this depends so much on the exact situation of whoever makes it, this question can be hard to answer in the abstract sense. If the person making this goal is on the brink of death, or has some serious health issues that they can work on realistically, maybe this is the most relevant goal they should be working towards. If they have a lot of important deadlines that their relationships or career depend on, health unfortunately might need to take a back seat until a better time. Again, to determine if a goal is relevant, you need to be very honest with yourself.

"Relevant" Quiz

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Tips for Making "Timely" Goals

A timely goal is one which is time-bound, and has a definite timetable for completion. This can get connected to being "measurable," but stands alone as a separate metric because of it's importance. If a goal doesn't have a time limit, how will you know how well you are progressing, or if you have completed your goal? In the case of a New Year's resolution, it may be easy to set timely goals, as there is a built in 1 year time limit suggested. Let's return one last time to our example resolution to illustrate.

"Meet Your Goals" Song #5

Example Resolution: "I will get healthier." When will we complete this goal? How often can we reasonably check in and see if we are progressing? Does this goal have a definite deadline? If you can't answer all of these questions right away, your goal may not be time bound as it should. In the case of our example, it is clear that this goal isn't very timely, as we can't be sure of when we can check for it's completion.

Better resolution: "In order to get healthier, I will eat less ice cream and exercise every other day to lose 5 pounds by the end of the month." This goal is timely, because it has a definite ending period: one month from when it is made. Additionally, it meets all of the other "S.M.A.R.T." metrics: it is specific (we know exactly what we are trying to do), measurable (we know how much weight we want to lose), attainable (for most people at least, 5 pounds is a good goal for a month of good, healthy diet and exercise), relevant (case by case, again) and timely (we know exactly when we need to lose the weight by). By being S.M.A.R.T. it is more likely that we will meet this goal.

"Timely" Quiz

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Tying it All Together: Making "S.M.A.R.T." Resolutions

Why should we make our resolutions S.M.A.R.T.? By keeping our goals S.M.A.R.T. we are more likely to accomplish them. It is easy to make a resolution every year, but it isn't easy to keep your goal: if you approach resolutions from a S.M.A.R.T. perspective, we know exactly what we want to accomplish, when we are going to accomplish it by, and know that the goal is relevant and realistic.


How do we make resolutions S.M.A.R.T.? For starters, remember to be specific: answer the 5 "w's" for your goal, and make sure that it is clear what you are trying to accomplish. Be sure to make your goal measurable: can you quantify it to be sure that you are progressing? Make your goal attainable by being sure it is realistic for you to complete, and look back at your past experiences to determine if you are making a realistic goal. Make sure your goal is relevant by being honest with yourself about whether you are the right person to do it, whether it is the right time to complete your goal, and whether it is the most important thing you should be working towards. Finally, make sure your goal is timely by asking yourself" do I know when this should be accomplished by? By following these simple steps, you will be able to craft a S.M.A.R.T. resolution that you can stick to.

Final Quiz: Are These Goals "S.M.A.R.T.?"

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Congratulations! You are Ready to Make SMART Goals!

If you have completed all of the steps above, you are ready to make a S.M.A.R.T. New Year's resolution! After you have crafted your S.M.A.R.T. goal, post it in the comments to receive feedback.

Get started! Post your goal in the comments for feedback!


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