The SMARTest New Year’s Resolutions

We’ve turned the calendar to a brand new decade, all shiny and full of promise.  Yet now that we’re in February, disappointingly 80% of us will have already given up on our new year’s resolutions. Why is it that with such good intentions, improving ourselves seems so elusive? Part of the problem is that we tend to launch ourselves into resolutions without any preparation.

Pre-goal preparation

It’s unfortunate (but true) that all change involves temporary emotional or physical discomfort. It’s hard to choose to endure discomfort, and it requires self-discipline. The trouble is, we’re not born with self-discipline; we need to build it like a muscle. So before you sign up for a gym membership, spend a month building this muscle, and you’ll be better positioned to stick to your resolution.

Build the muscle by daily repetitions of small challenges. Throughout an average day, identify minor ways in which you can make yourself do something you don’t want to do. For example, “When I finish this meal, I’m going to wash my dish straight away”, or “I will do five minutes more work before I take a break”, or “I will eat an extra piece of broccoli”. The content of these tasks is not important; it is the frequent exposure to demonstrating discipline that is of the greatest benefit. The muscle becomes stronger, and your belief in yourself steadily grows.

Creating effective resolutions

Having done some preparation, you are now ready to set some goals that are meaningful to you. I recommend working on one or two at a time. Aiming to “reinvent” yourself or overhaul your life will inevitably lead to disappointment because no one has a self-discipline muscle that strong!

A well-known and simple formula that can really help is the SMART goal. Build your goal according to the following five characteristics:

  • Specific and Simple – A good resolution gets straight to the point. Seeking to achieve a “better work/life balance” is admirable but too vague. Try stating it as “I will not read work emails after 6pm or on weekends”.
  • Measurable – It’s crucial that we know when we’ve achieved a goal so that we can enjoy the satisfaction, which then spurs us on to keep going. Rather than setting a goal to “get fitter”, phrase it as “to be able to jog around the block without stopping”.
  • Achievable – Aiming too high is the quickest way to lose confidence and motivation such that we don’t succeed. If in doubt, aim lower. If you’ve always had trouble saving money, you’re unlikely to suddenly be able to put away 25% of your income. Try 5% first.
  • Relevant – Sometimes we give up on resolutions because we actually don’t care enough about that goal. Perhaps we only set the goal due to pressure from society or our family (otherwise known as a “should” goal). Be honest with yourself about what really matters to you and your wellbeing, and strive for that.
  • Time bound – Would you honestly have ever finished that school assignment if the teacher hadn’t given you a due date? Enough said. Always set a time frame for a resolution.

Remember to be forgiving of yourself along the way when you don’t quite make it, and enjoy the tremendous feeling of achievement and fulfilment when all that hard work pays off.

An edited version of this article was published in Hello Neighbours magazine.