Are New Year’s resolutions a thing of the past? An antiquated practice moving inexorably toward extinction? If you read the numbers, you could easily get that impression. According to a CBS poll, 68 percent of Americans claim they do not make resolutions. That number is 10 percentage points higher than it was just two years ago.
Perhaps it is because we’re too busy and preoccupied to ponder our goals, or maybe it’s because time and again, many of us have learned that those resolutions are pretty hard to keep after the initial bloom has worn off. The same poll says that roughly 30 percent of Americans make resolutions, but only half of those claim to keep them. Not great odds.
Still, the new year seems like an appropriate time to assess where you’ve been and how you’d like to steer your life. I think the trick is to make resolutions that inspire you and that you have a chance of keeping. You’ll have a better chance of keeping your resolutions if you first figure out how you can fit them into your life. Keep it simple. Start with one, the one that most inspires you.
In project management circles, following the acronym “S.M.A.R.T.” has been successful in helping people achieve goals. Here’s what the letters stand for:
S is for “specific.” If you resolve to improve your health, simply repeating those words is not enough. It’s way too amorphous. There are infinite ways you can achieve that goal and a whole lot of definitions of what “healthy” means. If you’re vague about it your mind can easily get overwhelmed by all the options. Be specific. For example, resolve to cut out sugar, up your exercise through walking, running, yoga, spinning—whatever you choose. But start with one thing that will help you achieve your goal.
M is for “measurable.” Using the same “get healthier” example, set a goal you can actually be accountable for. For example, resolve to walk 30 minutes four or five times a week, or attend a yoga class once or twice a week.
A is for “attainable.” This one is so important. If you set out to run an hour a day spend seven days at the gym, cut out all sugar and change to a vegan diet, it ain’t gonna happen. The most likely outcome is that you’ll get discouraged and quit. Assess your schedule. What can you realistically fit into your life? Perhaps you’ll have to give up some Facebook or television time to achieve your goal, but that’s probably not a bad thing. Start small, say 10 minutes of yoga a day or a brisk 10-minute walk around the block. Chances are as you start to feel more vibrant you’ll naturally want to do more, and you’ll be more likely to find time for it.
R is for “relevant.” Is your resolution something that’s relevant to the life you’re living? You can argue that good health is always relevant—and it is—but is your plan for achieving it compatible with your life? Check in with what you feel when you think about accomplishing your resolution. When you picture yourself achieving it, do you feel inspired? Then go for it!
T is for “time-bound.” There’s nothing more inspiring than a deadline. I’d probably still be writing my first book (published in 2007) if I hadn’t been fortunate enough to have a publisher give me a firm deadline. Even if you don’t have an outside entity to impose a timeline on you, you can easily do this yourself. Of course, make it attainable and reasonable.
Here’s one more that doesn’t fit into the acronym: If you miss a day or lapse for a moment or two, it’s not the end of the world. What you do or don’t do once in a while isn’t nearly as important as the long-term goals you’ve set. It’s really okay. Just get back on the horse and keep riding.