I’m a big fan of lists, so every New Year I jot down goals for the 12 months ahead and keep them on a notepad by my computer.
As the year goes on, however, my list of aspirations evolves into more of a mundane to-do list: Lose weight, eat better, and do more yoga move to the bottom of the list, as I tackle tasks like “refi the condo” and “get a colonoscopy.”
To regain my focus and boost my resolution success rate, this year I decided to set SMART goals — SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable (or Achievable), Relevant (or Realistic), and Timely.
Define What You Want to Achieve
The first step to successfully achieving your goals is to carefully define them, says Terri Babers, M.A., C.P.C., an independent certified coach, teacher, and speaker based in Fairbanks, Alaska.
“A mistake people often make is jumping in and setting goals without clearly understanding why. You need to think about the benefits of achieving these goals and how you are going to feel when you accomplish them,” she explains.
Babers has clients examine what they love doing, their priorities, and any obstacles to making changes in their lives before diving into SMART goal setting.
For example, I love yoga, but I can’t commit to a daily practice because of family and work commitments.
Setting a goal to become a certified yoga instructor isn’t realistic for me, but I can make it a priority to do yoga three times a week.
“SMART goals are easy if you are ready for action,” says Babers. “But you must be open to change if you want to succeed.”
How to Set a SMART Goal
1. Make it Specific
Once you have a goal in mind, define it in as much detail as possible. Think about the who, when, what, where, and why of each goal, and weigh the cost of achieving those parameters.
Instead of a general goal like “lose weight,” I narrowed it down to: lose 15 pounds by working out after work three times a week.
To do this, I need to commit four hours in my weekly schedule for this new activity, which will result in me looking and feeling great for my upcoming high school reunion.
2. Make it Measurable
Define exactly how you will measure your progress in reaching your goal. For example, since my goal is to lose 15 pounds, I’ll weigh myself every morning to see how I’m doing.
For my goal to do more yoga, I’ll mark the days I go to yoga on my calendar with a big X, so I can chart my progress throughout the month.
3. Make it Attainable
Try to set goals that are just a little out of your comfort zone, but still realistic, suggests Babers. “Don’t set yourself up for failure, which can lead to guilt, shame, and regret,” she says.
By figuring out if you have the energy, focus, and time to achieve each goal, you can avoid setting the bar too high.
Instead of just trying to “eat better,” my goal is to eat more fruits and vegetables. Because of my fairly regular hamburger cravings, I know trying to go vegetarian is not achievable.
4. Make it Relevant
To figure out the right goals to put on your “to-do” list, Babers says you also need to decide what’s on your “not-to-do” list.
Goals need to be personal and geared toward what works for you. Running may be a great way to lose weight for some people, but I hate to run. I like the idea of feeling accountable to a trainer, so that’s a better fitness/weight-loss option for me.
5. Make it Timely
Define a date by which you’ll accomplish your goals and set milestones along the way. To track my weight-loss progress, I’m aiming to lose two pounds a week over the course of seven and a half weeks.
At the same time, it’s also important not to give yourself too much time to accomplish a goal so you don’t get bored or lose focus.
Think carefully about what you want to accomplish before you formulate your SMART goals — setting yourself up for success should be the first goal on your list.