New Year’s resolutions often get broken. But setting specific goals instead will help you make the change you want.
Let’s talk about New Year’s resolutions. Pretty much everybody makes them. . . and pretty much everybody breaks them. In fact, it’s estimated that about 80% of New Year’s resolutions are dropped before the end of February! Don’t feel bad if you haven’t been able to keep your New Year’s resolutions in the past. You’re in good company. The problem may not be you, but your resolutions.
Resolutions are simply statements of something you want to change. But just saying that you want to change something doesn't make it happen. For instance, it’s easy to say “I will exercise more this year.” But how will you make that happen?
Instead of making resolutions, many psychology experts suggest that you’d have a better chance of success if you set goals. Goals and resolutions sound like the same thing, but they’re not. And the difference is important. While resolutions identify what you want to change, goals include a plan to make that change happen. So if you want to exercise more, your goal could be, “I will join a gym and go at least twice a week.”
Making a goal requires a bit more time and planning than making a resolution. While you can dash off a resolution quickly, without too much thought, a good goal requires that you think about what you will do. Goals may take a little longer to make than resolutions, but they’re well worth the extra time.
A good place to start? Get SMART!
The letters in SMART stand for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Related. This formula for goal success was developed in the 1980s, and it’s perfect for making New Year’s goals. Here are the steps, one by one.
1. Your goal should be SPECIFIC
“The more detailed you can be—‘I’m going to save $30 a week by eating out one fewer meal’—the [easier] it is to stay focused on what you have to do to succeed,” Larry Kubiak, PhD, director of psychological services at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, told SELF.com. The “S” could just as easily stand for “Simple” because the less complicated your goal is, the easier it will be to make it happen.
2. Your goal should be MEASURABLE
How will you know if you’ve achieved your goal? Sure, pounds on a scale are one way. But what if your goal is to be kinder to others? One good way is to keep a journal and write down what you’ve done each day or week in pursuit of your goal. It will make you feel good to look at what you’ve written and see that you’re making regular progress. The endorphin boost you get as you make progress also helps motivate you - a big help when you're slogging through a difficult-to-reach goal.
3. You goal should be ATTAINABLE
Don’t make goals that are too big or difficult to achieve. Are you really going to become fluent in Chinese this year if you’ve never studied it before? Unlikely. But maybe you can find an adult course in your community or try a free online language class.
4. Your goal should be RELEVANT
Your goal should make sense for you and your life. We might all want to look like Julia Roberts or sing like Adele, but that’s not a realistic goal for 99.99% of us. Instead, if you want to improve your appearance, for example, decide that you’ll try a new hairstyle. If you want to sing, make it a goal to join a local choir or take singing lessons.
5. Your goal should be TIMELY
Be realistic about how long it might take to achieve your goal. You might want to lose weight before your daughter’s wedding, but if her wedding is next month and you want to lose 50 pounds, that’s not going to happen. Look carefully at what you want to achieve and how much time it might take to make it happen.
More Tips for Goal Success
Now that you’ve gotten SMART, here are a few more expert tips for making goals that you’ll be able to stick to.
Make sure your goals aren’t rigid.
If you say, “I will go to the gym three times every week,” then you might give up after a week when you only go twice. Instead, say “at least twice a week,” or even, “I will try to go to the gym three times a week.” Give yourself a little wiggle room so that you can stick with the goal even if you aren’t perfect.
Realize that you probably won’t be perfect. . . and that’s okay.
When you do slip up, don’t just decide that you’ve failed and give up the whole attempt. Instead, be flexible. Acknowledge what happened and move on. Tomorrow is another day.
Make your goals positive rather than negative.
One recent study found that you’re more likely to succeed when your goal is to do something than you are when your goal is to avoid something. This year, instead of saying, “I will not eat any more cookies or candy,” say, “I will learn to bake healthy desserts.”
Link your goals to habits you already have.
If your goal is to walk 10,000 steps every day, try to couple it with something you’re already doing. Your goal could be, “I will try to walk 10,000 steps when I walk the dog every day,” or “I will try to walk 10,000 steps each day when I go out after breakfast.” Linking a goal to something you already do makes it more convenient and easier to remember.
Let your friends and family know about your goals.
You’ll be more likely to stick with goals that you’ve told other people about. Plus, the people close to you might have helpful suggestions when you run into challenges.
Finally, remember that “resolutions” are firmly linked in our mind with New Year’s. That’s why people who don’t stick to their goals at the beginning of the year simply give up, figuring they’ll try again next year. But goals can be made any time of the year. They can be made, changed, added to—whatever you want, whenever you want. And best of all, when you do it SMART, you’ll have a good chance of achieving them.
How Medicare can help you meet your goals
One of the most common New Year’s goals is improving physical health, whether that’s by losing weight or staying more on top of your dental care. A Medicare Advantage plan may be able to help – many offer coverage of gym membership fees and regular dental care. Check out plans available in your area with our easy-to-use Find a Plan tool.
- ClearMatch Medicare: Find a Medicare Plan
- Self.com: New Year’s Resolutions: 13 Tips to Succeed
- Indiana University Bloomington, SMART Goals
- US News, Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail
- UC Davis Health, 7 Tips to Keep Your New Year’s Resolution
- Cleveland Clinic, How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions
- PLOS One: A Large-Scale Experiment on New Year’s Resolutions