Sticking to New Year’s Resolutions with SMART Goal Setting

Over the course of 2011 I had set many personal goals for myself concerning my health. At this time last year I wanted to quit smoking, go to the gym more, eat healthier, and generally be happier. I can say I have successfully achieved all of those things but not easily or quickly. Sticking to my new year’s resolutions took time and in fact reaching each goal took the entire year. In order to actually follow through on my health related new year’s resolutions I used a bit of goal setting, time management, and planning.

Throughout most of my 20s taking care of my health wasn’t as important to me as it is now. With my 30s quickly approaching and watching my parents age, I’ve suddenly realized I need to take care of my health now. Any time of year is a great time to make a fresh start but January does have it’s advantages. Boosting your health during January could not only keep you from slipping into a mid-winter slump but you have 12 brand new months to set goals for. And the 1st of the year makes a great anniversary date for most any goal or resolution that you plan to reach.

I use the SMART goal setting acronym at work pretty regularly and that’s probably how most people are familiar with it. Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely; SMART. Until last year I had never really thought to use it for personal goal setting. Although the SMART acronym is a good foundation for goal setting it is not perfect. How you actually stick to your New Year’s Resolutions all depends on you.

Setting Specific and Measurable Goals

Although I like to follow the SMART model both at work and in my personal life, I like to lump together parts of the acronym to make it easier to set goals. The first part of setting any goal or sticking to your New Year’s resolutions is to be specific. If you do not set precise goals you will not be able to measure them. For the most common resolutions like quitting smoking and loosing weight being specific should be easy.

For example quitting smoking is something that is both specific and measurable. Loosing weight is something that is specific and measurable. For New Year’s resolutions like being happier, eating healthier, or de-stressing you may have to dig a little deeper. In my quest to be happier I resolved that I wanted more personal time for myself. In eating healthier I decided that I wanted to eat less sugar, salt, and fats. What you have to do is decide exactly what it is you want to accomplish. If you are too broad in your resolutions you will have difficulty measuring your success.

Once you have determined a detailed specific resolution or goal make sure it is measurable. If it is not measurable scratch it and start again. I was able to measure quitting smoking simply by the number of cigarettes I smoked each day. Over the months I was able to readjust and measure by the pieces of gum chewed per day, or patches that I used to break my nicotine habit once I had quit smoking. In my diet I was able to measure the amounts of sodium, sugar, and “bad” fats I consumed by reading labels and controlling portion sizes. I was also able to measure the number of times I ate fast food and made a conscious effort to cut back little by little.

Ensuring Your Resolutions are Attainable and Realistic

As with the letters S and M from the acronym I like to combine A and R. If your goals are unrealistic they will not be attainable. In a special published by Time Magazine about New Year’s Resolutions the author stated loosing weight and exercising more are the most common. But most people trying to attain these goals set diets that are too controlled or exercise regimens that are too demanding. If you really want to be successful be realistic about what you want to accomplish so that you can actually attain it.

Like most people I wanted to exercise more and although I wasn’t really looking to loose weight I wanted to be healthier. I set small goals for myself broken down into each quarter of the year. During the first part of the year I committed to getting a gym membership and working out at least twice per week. In the same special mentioned before published by Time Magazine the author also pointed out “research says 60% of gym memberships go unused.” Procrastination is a large hurdle for most people and it was for me too. To overcome this I set small goals that were easier to reach. Over the remainder of the year I incrementally increased the number of days I worked out in addition to the length of time I spent at the gym. Now I am working out 5 days a week for a minimum of 2 hours per session.

If your New Year’s resolutions are forcing you to do a complete 180 you may want to reconsider. Manage your resolutions or personal goals in small increments to ensure they are not only realistic but something that you can achieve. I used a calendar and a daily planner to track my progress for all of my New Year’s Resolutions and it helped me stay on track.

Setting a Time Line For Your Resolutions

As with work I have found it helpful to use a calendar and daily planner in my personal life. Setting timely goals will help you stick to your New Year’s resolutions. Not only have I gotten more organized but I have been able to stick to my resolutions the whole year through. As previously mentioned it’s probably best to set small goals for yourself over a period of time. Anything that is too drastic or requires you to change a lot in a short period of time will most likely lead to failure. This is true of any goal setting whether it is personal or otherwise.

I used a wall calendar and marked the beginning of each quarter of the year with an increase in my goals. I used a daily planner to take notes and track my progress. There were many days I did not write anything down and a couple of times when I did not meet my goals. The reason I bring this up is simple; the SMART acronym although helpful is not going to lead to your direct success. Don’t let failures stop you from moving forward and continuing to work toward your goals.

Setting resolutions and sticking to them is definitely not easy. A set back here and there does not mean that you are a complete failure. It just means that you have to start again or pick up where you left off. I didn’t beat myself up if I had a huge piece of chocolate cake, smoked a cigarette, or didn’t go to the gym as planned. I just did a mental reset and reminded myself why I was working toward these goals.

Giving yourself reasons for accomplishing your New Year’s Resolutions will also give you purpose. For me I wanted to exercise more and be healthier so I can live longer and have better looks. I wanted to quit smoking and have more personal time for the same reasons. All of my resolutions were driven to improve my personal health and I constantly reminded myself why that was important to me. In addition. I taped a note to my bathroom mirror (a place where I spend a good chunk of time) of the top five reasons why I wanted to stick to my New Year’s resolutions. The best advice I can give to anyone on sticking to New Year’s resolutions is not only to be specific but realistic. Don’t let small set backs stand in your way of achieving your goals. And remember the reasons why you made the resolutions in the first place. I hope my advice helps and I wish you the best of luck!


Top 10 Commonly Broken New Year’s Resolutions –,28804,2040218_2040220_2040221,00.html By Ishaan Tharoor. Jan 03, 2011

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