by Mary Meadows
It’s that time of year again. A time when many of your friends and family talk about the resolutions they’ve made for the new year. According to some estimates, more than 40 percent of Americans set New Year’s Resolutions.¹ That’s roughly 130 million people setting goals!
Perhaps you’ve made some resolutions yourself. Maybe there’s some weight you want to lose, or books you want to read. Maybe you want to make more time for family, or commit to a healthier diet. No matter the goal, beginning a new resolution on January 1 can be an inspiring way to create positive change in our lives.
Sadly, this feeling typically wears off around the second week of February.
The harsh reality is that most of us do not achieve our New Year’s resolutions. We jump into our goals with gusto, only to have them fizzle out like a sparkler on New Year’s eve. According to U.S. News, 80 percent of resolutions fail by the beginning of February.² Other sources say that only a meager 9.2 percent of people actually achieve the goals they set for the new year.³
So, why do most resolutions fail? How can we set ourselves up for success, not just in the new year, but every time we set a goal?
Setting SMARTER Goals
The concept of SMART goals was created by Peter Drucker as part of his Management by Objective theory (MBO).4 Drucker believed that every tier of management should participate in the strategic planning process. Within an MBO system, each level of management identifies and sets goals for their spheres of responsibility. These goals are shared with team members and will ultimately guide each individual as they fulfill their roles. To make these goals more efficient and sustainable, Drucker used the acronym SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound) as a way to ensure the team’s success.
As a Christian who has been recreated to lead in your circles of influence, SMART goals can provide a framework for you (and your team) to pursue success. The genius of this system is that it prompts us to think through each component of our goal and the steps needed to achieve it.
Let’s say that (like me) your New Year’s resolution is to read more. That’s great! Reading is an excellent way to expand the boundaries of your knowledge, experience new perspectives, and explore new ideas. Reading also improves vocabulary and strengthens communication skills, reduces stress, enhances empathy, and boosts creativity and flexibility.5 (Convinced yet? I could go on.)
All right, so you decided to read more this year. But our goal setting isn’t done yet, not even close. Loosely defined goals won’t be enough. We have to be specific. Clearly defined goals are more readily achieved. Define the parameters of your goal by asking: what specifically do I want to accomplish? Why is this goal important? Who is involved in achieving this goal? Which resources or limits are involved?
It’s not enough to decide to read more. Decide what kinds of books you want to read and how many. Think about why these specific books are important. Consider who else might be involved (will your family or work commitments leave room for achieving your goal? Perhaps a friend or two might be interested in reading alongside you). Where might you acquire these books (Amazon.com, local bookstore, library)? Which resources (time, money, etc.) are involved?
Measure Your Success
Now that you’ve set a specific goal, it’s time to define what this goal will look like when its completed. To ensure success, we must define success and be able to measure our progress towards it. Additionally, tracking your progress as you pursue your goal will keep you motivated and excited about your achievements.
Now that you’ve decided what books to put on your reading list, it’s time to create a way to measure your success. Of course, finishing these books is one way to achieve your resolution, but SMART goals encourage us to go deeper than this. Don’t read 25 Christian romance novels simply to impress your friends and family. Instead, ask yourself what specifically you want to gain from your reading experience. What new skill or piece of knowledge do you want to have? How will you know when this skill or knowledge is achieved?
Build on Small Achievements
There’s no denying that there’s something exciting about setting an ostentatious goal. It’s thrilling to dream big and then set even bigger goals. But, our New Year’s resolutions often fail because we expect too much of ourselves and our goals. We become so excited about the end result that we fail to remember that a lot of small steps happen in between setting the goal and achieving the goal.
Goals should be realistic and attainable. If your goal includes cultivating a new habit (like reading), start by making a small change. Steadily build on that change to gain momentum. Don’t approach goal setting as an all or nothing activity. Don’t go to the library and checkout all 25 books on your reading list at once. Besides the high risk of accruing late fees, the only thing you will accomplish is discouraging yourself. Remember, progress takes time.
Make Relevant Goals
Sometimes we fail to achieve a goal because it is not relevant to our interests or does not account for our personal situation. Despite the human proclivity to dream big, our goals should still be tethered to reality. Instead of limiting ambition, relevancy helps ensure success by tailoring goals to match our needs. Making your goals relevant and realistic will not only help you identify potential obstacles, but will also help you overcome them. Relevancy is the spice that brings out the unique flavors of our goals. Without it, our resolutions become bland and uninspiring.
As you begin planning your goal, ask yourself how it applies to your life. Is this goal relevant to your ambitions? Is this the right time to pursue this goal? Does it take into account the particulars of your situation?
Set a Time Limit
As much as we all dislike deadlines, they are an effective way to structure your time. Knowing a project or goal has a specific time limit is a great way to cultivate the forward momentum needed to achieve success. Giving your goal a deadline is also a way to convey its importance. Deadlines communicate (both to yourself and to others) that this specific goal is worthy of your time and attention.
Don’t be afraid to push yourself, but also remember to keep your deadlines reasonable. Tailor the deadline to your unique schedule. If you struggle with procrastination, ask a close friend or family member to help keep you accountable.
Deadlines not only cultivate forward momentum, but also convey that our goals are worthy of our time and attention.
Evaluate and Reflect
Even though these last two points are not included in Druker’s original system, some experts recommend making time to evaluate and reflect on your goals. Keep in mind that it takes almost exactly 21 days to shift into a new habit.6 Give yourself time to adjust to your new goal. But, if you find yourself stressed out and struggling to make progress, it might be time to re-evaluate your approach. Reflect on how the pursuit of this goal has impacted your day-to-day life. Has it changed the way you manage your time? Was this a beneficial change or a harmful change? Don’t be afraid to reset your expectations and refresh your goal.
A Framework for Success
A New Year’s resolution can be a great way to initiate a positive life change. Setting goals during this time can give us the incentive to explore our dreams and passions. However, unless we intentionally craft specific goals that are measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound, we risk becoming part of the 80 percent who abandon their resolutions by February.
SMART goals don’t need to be overly complicated and elaborate. You aren’t required to track your progress with a spreadsheet or download a new app for your mobile device. SMART goals are designed to help us logically think through our goals. But remember, just because you set a SMART goal doesn’t mean you are guaranteed to succeed. This system merely provides a sturdy framework for success. It’s up to us to dream big, and to pursue our goals with courage and tenacity.
What will you achieve this year?
¹ Diamond, Dan. “Just 8% of People Achieve Their New Year’s Resolutions. Here’s How They Do It.” Forbes. January 02, 2013. https://www.forbes.com/sites/dandiamond/2013/01/01/just-8-of-people-achieve-their-new-years-resolutions-heres-how-they-did-it/#55275673596b.
² Luciani, Joseph. “Why 80 Percent of New Year’s Resolutions Fail.” U.S.News. December 29, 2015. https://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/articles/2015-12-29/why-80-percent-of-new-years-resolutions-fail.
³ Christopher, Julie. “Why Most New Year’s Resolutions Fail and What You Should Do Instead.” Entrepreneur. January 15, 2018. https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/306400.
4 Mulder, P. “Management By Objectives (MBO).” ToolsHero.com. 2010. https://www.toolshero.com/management/management-by-objectives-drucker/.
5 Fagan, Abigail. “6 Scientific Reasons You Should Be Reading More.” Mental Floss. 2018. http://mentalfloss.com/article/541158/scientific-reasons-you-should-read-more.
6 Gregoire, Carolyn. “New Year’s Resolutions Are Bound To Fail. Try This Instead.” Huffington Post. 2016. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/new-years-resolutions-psychology_n_5862d599e4b0d9a59459654c.