How to Write New Years’ Resolutions That Actually Stick

It’s that time again–the start of a new year. January is a great opportunity to reflect on on your last year, understand your priorities, and set goals to keep improving.

If you’re not careful, though, it’s really easy to come up with a bunch of goals and then not be able to follow through with some–or even all–of them. To help you come up with better goals that you can actually achieve, I wanted to share a few tips I’ve come up with over the years.

Pick Some Goals You Don’t Share With Anyone Else

There’s a big culture, at least in the United States, of sharing your New Years’ resolutions with friends and family, but this can actually be detrimental to your ability to accomplish them. The simple act of sharing a goal can make you feel some sense of accomplishment, making you feel like you’ve already made steps toward your goal.

If you write down your goals and do not share them with anybody, then the gap between where you are and where you want to be is quite apparent, motivating you to take action, but as soon as you tell someone, that gap shrinks.

You should only share goals publicly that you know are easily achievable. Reach goals that are going to take a lot more hard work are best kept to yourself if you want to maximize your probability of success.

[Don’t be these people! At least not with ALL your goals]

Write SMART Goals

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time Bound. The acronym originated from companies who were attempting to help their employees write quarterly or annual goals for development, but the idea can apply to any type of goal, not just one at the office.

A SMART goal achieves each of the five features mentioned above, which I’ll discuss in more detail below.

Let’s say you start with the generic goal “I’d like to eat healthier this year”. This is a good goal, but it’s not yet SMART. It’s somewhat vague, and doesn’t clarify exactly what “healthier” means or how much healthier you are planning on being, or how that is going to be achieved. By making some small adjustments, we can turn this into a better, more achievable goal.

S: Specific

A goal that is specific should answer the following questions.

  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • What steps do I need to get there?

To make “I’d like to eat healthier this year” into a specific goal, you might define what healthy means to you. It might mean reducing the amount of red meat you eat. Or, it could mean cooking more meals at home. Or it could mean eating multiple servings of fruits/vegetables each day. You can decide which direction to go, but you should be as specific as possible and include a clear explanation of how you will get there. For the purposes of this example, we’ll go with the last option and set our goal as: “I will increase the number of servings of fruits and vegetables I eat.”

M: Measurable

It’s important to be able to make your goals quantifiable so that you can track your progress. If you just say “I will increase the number of servings of fruits and vegetables I eat,” then there’s a whole lot of variation that’s possible. How many more fruits/vegetables? How often? Is this something you do every day?

You can make your goal measurable by adding some sort of number to it that you can track, often on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. For example, we can improve “”I will increase the number of servings of fruits and vegetables I eat” by changing it to “I will eat a minimum 5 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every week.” That way, each week you can check off the servings as you eat them and know whether you are on track for eating your goals.

[Make sure every goal you have can have its progress measured in some way]

A: Achievable

When setting your goal, you need to really take some time to think about what you can actually achieve in the real world, and not in the perfect world. Ideally, we would all love vegetables, have a ton of time to cook at home, and be healthy as can be, but that’s just not realistic. You need to make sure to set your goals around your lifestyle and abilities. For example, if you work a job where you have to bring a lunch that sits out in the sun, it might not really be reasonable to bring fresh fruit or vegetables, so you can’t expect to get any servings of those during lunch on weekdays. You might also have limited access to quality fruits and vegetables due to cost reasons. If you can only afford 3 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables, and the rest has to be frozen, that is totally okay! Just make sure your goal is not that you’ll eat 5 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables.

When setting a goal that’s achievable, you should make sure that it is a challenge–meaning you will not just coast to the finish, and you’ll have to work for it–but also that it’s not completely beyond your means.

R: Relevant

Relevance is about why you’re setting this goal. Thinking about this can help give you motivation to push through when things are difficult.

Why is getting healthy important to you? Is it so you can go on more adventures and experience new things? So you can keep up with your kids? So you can spend less money on doctor’s bills? So you can live a longer life?

Make sure you understand why you are setting your goals and have a meaningful reason for each one. If you aren’t internally motivated by something, it’s going to be really hard to care about achieving them.

T: Time Bound

It’s helpful to set some sort of time limit on when your goal has been reached. Sometimes, if you try to set a goal for too long a period of time, it can be easy to fall behind and then just give up. For example, saying that you’ll eat at least 5 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every week for an entire year is a long time to commit to something. If it’s only week six and you already fail, it can feel like you just have no hope to finish! Instead, try to pick something that’s more manageable. For example, the next month/four weeks. Then, once you’ve made it through one month, you can set a similar goal for the next month, or change it based on what felt like it was possible in the month before! For example, if you find that eating 5 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables was super easy your first month, and you averaged 8 per week, you might really challenge yourself for a second month and set a goal of 10 servings per week.

[Consider writing the start and end date of your smaller goal sections on a calendar to keep you motivated to get there!]

Setting goals can be hard, and can feel especially overwhelming at the start of the new year when you hear about all these huge goals people have and wonder “how the heck am I ever going to come even close to that??” If you just focus on these principles, though, ignoring everyone else and just thinking about yourself, you’ll be set with some goals you can actually accomplish, and you’ll be a badass in no time!