New Year’s Eve is fast approaching and it’s likely that resolutions are being pondered upon. Though every moment can be an opportunity for a new start, the New Year provides us that more symbolic time to look back and reflect, celebrate and move forward with renewed intentions. We can decide which habits we’d like to let go of and new habits/goals/practices we’d like to integrate (or reintegrate).
According to a study at the University of Scranton, 45% of Americans usually make New Year’s Resolutions; however, only 8% of us are successful in achieving them. Where are we going wrong? Perhaps it’s in how we set our resolutions/goals.
Maybe you’re considering a more active lifestyle for 2015? Want to lose weight? Get your finances in order? For me, it’s practicing mediation and mindfulness. All of these goals sound great, but making them S.M.A.R.T. will ensure our success. S.M.A.R.T. stands for: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic (or relevant) and Timely. You may have heard of this mnemonic acronym in a business or project management class, but it’s also at the root of effective goal setting as it enables us create a clear map behind our goals and encourages us to address our beliefs and barriers. So let’s get to it!
Specific – A goal needs to be specific. A goal to get healthy sounds great, but it’s too general as there are so many ways to do it. Is it exercising more? Cutting back on added sugars? Managing stress? Perhaps your one goal can be broken into a few mini-goals? Make it specific by asking yourself the Five 'W'’s and How…Who, What, When, Where, Why and How? If your goal is to exercise more, for example, you’ll want to specify the type(s) of exercise, when and where you’ll be doing it and how - what tools and resources will you need to succeed? Maybe a new pair of running shoes, set of dumbbells, or fitness buddy? Lastly, why? Why do you want to achieve this goal? Is the motivation coming from within you or from outside influences? Research shows that the more we can align our goals to our internal motivations, rather than external, the more successful we will be in achieving our goal.
Measurable – It’s impossible to know whether we’re making progress towards our goals if they aren’t measurable. Measuring progress helps us stay on track and usually involves asking some How’s: How much, How many, and How we’ll know when it's accomplished. For exercise, we'll want to track our frequency, time and intensity (amount of weight, number of steps or heart rate, for example). For nutrition, perhaps you'll measure the cups of water you drink or servings of vegetables at lunch and dinner. For me, it’ll be the time and days per week spent meditating.
Actionable – An actionable goal is one with clearly defined actions/steps that we must take in order to achieve the goal. Its one where we are in control over whether or not these actions take place. In other words, it’s not a passive process like taking a pill in hopes for more energy. It requires us to be an active participant in the change process, step by step. In the case of wanting enhanced energy, perhaps a S.M.A.R.T. goal would be to get one more hour of sleep on weeknights or eat a more sustaining lunch with complex carbohydrates and protein to keep us going.
Realistic (or relevant) - It is essential to set realistic goals - otherwise we’re setting ourselves up for failure, which can diminish our motivation. A goal should require us to stretch beyond our normal routines and abilities, but allow for success based on our current skills and time available. Goals should also be meaningful and relevant to our abilities and interests. Set goals that are important to where you are in your life right now. Don’t set a goal that someone else is pressuring you to attain.
Timely - Knowing that we have a deadline can motivate us to get started and keep us focused. Experiment with short and long-term timelines, but check in regularly to monitor your progress.
Research also tells us that those of us who make resolutions are most successful when we have belief in our ability to succeed, have the skills to change, and are ready to change. As we reflect on the S.M.A.R.T. acronym, let’s all take some time to step back and think about our beliefs and our current skills. Before deciding to exercise more, do we need instruction from a trainer? Need to sign up for a cooking class before we can start making dinner 5 days a week? What support, tools and/or resources will you need in order to succeed? I know that I will need some sitting props to meditate more comfortably.
My S.M.A.R.T. resolution for 2015 is to practice intentional mindfulness in order to achieve more equanimity. Life’s been good, but I often feel controlled by impulsive thoughts, actions and emotions. There are tremendous benefits to mindfulness and meditation (more to come in future posts), one of which is an enhanced ability to expand the space between action and reaction. My S.M.A.R.T. resolution is to practice quiet sitting/meditation 2 times per week for 5-10 minutes before my 20 minute yoga routine. I’ll keep you all posted with my progress and would love to hear yours! What is your S.M.A.R.T. resolution for 2015? I’d love to hear from you!
Hello and welcome! My name is Andrea Notch Mayzeles. I am a Certified Health Education Specialist, Mom, and Master of Public Health dedicated to the path of well-being. As a wellness professional I am committed to continued learning and am here to share research, recipes and musings on health, psychology, personal development, and parenting. I hope you enjoy!