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by Maddie Lukens, MA

Although 2020 forced us to make changes to our lives we couldn’t have imagined a year ago, many of us still might be holding out hope that 2021 will be different. New Year’s Resolutions have a long history of tricking us into thinking a new calendar year is what we need to see in order to usher in real change in our lives. We are sold a variety of New Year’s Resolutions that entice us to purchase gym memberships and join accountability groups. Because we don’t always have a clear picture of where we’re headed with our goals, we find ourselves surprised and/or disappointed when we don’t meet them. Being optimistic that things will change isn’t the same as taking steps to ensure things DO change.

I want to talk about some reasons setting goals can be hard and then we’ll briefly discuss techniques to make better goals, so you’re more likely to achieve them.

Goal-setting is a precarious task because many of us don’t know how to set goals that are inline with our current lifestyle. Perhaps the goal you’ve worked towards in the past wasn’t clear enough, so as you began working towards it you got off track. Sometimes we confuse our dreams with our goals. Dreams are 100% possible to achieve, but likely there are many smaller goals that need to be met before your dream is a reality. Perhaps you’ve seen this helpful acronym before:

S – specific

M – measurable

A – achievable

R – realistic

T – timely

If your goal isn’t a SMART goal, it’s much less likely you’ll achieve it.

Specific. When you set a goal, you need to know exactly what you’re working towards. Include details unique to each goal so if you find yourself off-track, you’ll be able to easily redirect your attention and resources.

Measurable. How do you know how far you’ve come if you don’t remember where you started? Both long and short term goals are more likely to be met when you are able to track your progress. Consider trying one of the following techniques:

  • Utilizing a habit tracker you see and check every day.
  • Purchasing a planner to help you stay organized and focused.
  • Write or draw in a bullet journal to make your goal-achieving more fun and creative.
  • Download an app that can help tally the number of times you’ve done something in a given week/month.

Achievable. Are your goals attainable for you? Do you have the skills and/or resources? If not, how are you going to acquire them? If you realize your goal isn’t achievable, it is likely you need to break your goal down into smaller goals, or perhaps it’s not specific enough.

Realistic. Is the goal you’ve set realistic? Is it inline with the direction you’re headed? Is it possible for you to meet? Many goals fail because the aspirations we have aren’t realistic when we consider our lifestyle, resources, timeline, and support.

Timely. Think short, intermediate, or long term goals. It’s helpful to keep both the big and little picture in mind as you’re considering creating a timeline for each of your goals. What goals are non-negotiable? If you’re working towards a career goal, how many years might it take you to achieve it?

Here are a few examples of SMART goals:

  • I want to read 15 new books this year.
    • Specific: 15 books.
    • Measurable: I’m going to keep track of how many I’ve read by keeping a list and writing down new books I look forward to reading.
    • Achievable: I am going to devote 3 hours per week to reading.
    • Realistic: I live 10 minutes from a library, I plan to go there at least once per month.
    • Timely: I have one year, that means I need to read a little more than one book per month.
  • I want to learn a new language.
    • Specific: This is something I’ve always been passionate about, but haven’t taken the time to do yet. This year, I am making time.
    • Measurable: I don’t know anything yet, but I’d like to have simple conversation by the end of the year.
    • Achievable: I’ve joined a group of people who are also learning the same language.
    • Realistic: I’ve invested in an online program that gives me lessons to practice everyday.
    • Timely: I don’t know how long it will take me to be fluent, so I’m not expecting that, but I want to be able to understand and read approximately 1000 words by the end of this year. That is about 80 new words per month.

I hope these examples were helpful. Many times the goals we have in mind just need more detail in order to make them a reality.

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