How many people out there made a New Year’s resolution? How many of you have so far kept it? If you are like most people who make resolutions, the answer is that you probably have not. It is estimated that by the beginning of February, 80% of people who have made resolutions fail, and only 8% of people keep them all year.1 If you made one and have not kept it, the good news is that this puts you in the majority. The not so good news, of course, is that you likely made a resolution to better yourself or your life in some way and that positive change is not happening.
There are a multitude of reasons why people fail to keep New Year’s resolutions. Diving into each one is beyond the scope of this article. The reasons for failure are unique to the individual. What I want to focus on is one particular reason that I believe can be helpful to everyone and may be the exact missing piece of the resolution puzzle for some.
The top 10 most common New Year’s resolutions are as follows: 1) Exercise more, 2) Lose weight, 3) Get organized, 4) Learn a new skill or hobby, 5) Live life to the fullest, 6) Save more money/spend less money, 7) Quit smoking, 8) Spend more time with family and friends, 9) Travel more, and 10) Read more.2
Notice a problem with any of them? With the exception of “Quit smoking,” none of these is particularly well defined. There is no way to determine if the resolution is actually accomplished. What does “lose weight” mean? A pound? 10 pounds? Live life to the fullest? What even is that? There is no real direction, just aimless wandering with the hope of achieving…something.
Instead of vague, undefinable ideas, make your resolutions SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Based. This allows you to truly work toward your ideas because you know exactly what it is you are striving to attain.
Specific takes something from being vague and generalized to pinpointing what completion looks like. It is the destination of your journey.
Measurable allows you to track progress along the way. Seeing that the plan is working helps maintain motivation.
Achievable keeps you from setting yourself up for failure and disappointment. Balance this with the challenge and risk of failure that make the overall effort worthwhile.
Realistic urges you to look within. Go beyond your limits, but know the difference between what you are going to do and what sounds nice.
Time-based adds pressure—think of the push from a deadline in work or school. A goal goes from “someday” to “this day.” For a New Year’s resolution, this may be the end of the year, it may be mid-year and then maintenance for the remainder, or it may be several milestones set throughout.
Having a well-defined, SMART goal is not a foolproof method of ensuring success for a new year’s resolution or for anything you pursue. What it does do is set parameters to ensure you know exactly what it is you are trying to achieve and when you have achieved it.
A great paradox of people is that we are amazingly adaptive but also creatures of habit. Change is hard. The reasons people struggle to change are as varied and unique as the people themselves. Defining your aspiration for change into a SMART goal is one way to help you make lasting, permanent change, not just in the new year but throughout it and beyond.
Take some time to reflect on what it is that makes change difficult for you personally. Talk with someone you trust, or with a therapist. Once you figure it out, make a plan for how to resolve that—be SMART about it. The beginning of the year may have passed, but the best time to start a change is right now.
Tom Duvall, LISW-S, is a Licensed Independent Social Worker with The Willow Center and can be reached at 419-720-5800.