Smarter New Year’s Resolutions

Half of us will be making New Year’s resolutions. Most of us will not keep them. The calendar just doesn’t provide enough motivation for achievement.  New Year’s resolutions tend to be emotional wishes, not realistic goals that result from careful deliberation. Worthwhile achievements require commitment, and commitment comes with SMARTER goal setting.

Setting goals can be a formidable and intimidating task, especially if we haven’t engaged in the process for a while. Our thoughts are often haphazard when we begin figuring out what it is that we would like to accomplish, what progress we would like to make in our lives, and how to go about doing it. We can make the process easier by intentionally focusing our efforts in a productive way.

One way to focus on what’s important to us is to separate the individual aspects of our lives into individual compartments. Of course, we cannot live segmented lives. Each aspect of our lives touches upon our whole being. Devoting toomuch or too little attention to any aspect of our lives will negatively affect every other aspect. For the purpose of goal setting, however, compartments are a convenient way to consider individual aspects of our lives that we’d like to change, and determine what steps we need to take to make those changes a reality.

The six areas in this diagram encompass the different aspect of our lives.

Health addresses the most primary of human goals – the need to survive. Beyond survival, poor health jeopardizes our ability to perform in other areas while optimal health enables us to pursue other goals with vigor.

Finances and proper financial management are also necessary for survival in our society. Money can’t buy lasting happiness, but a poor financial situation negatively affects other areas of our lives.

Research shows that relationships are one of the most important factors contributing to our feeling of well-being, and have a positive impact on the quality of our lives and our longevity.

Education is a lifelong process. Even without pursuing a formal education, we can’t avoid learning something new every day. Why not direct that learning toward improving other areas of our lives?

A vocation is different than a job or a career. A job is something we do to earn money. A career is a collection of jobs. A vocation, however, is the reason we get out of bed in the morning, the reason why we don’t retire, the reason why life is worth living. A vocation is the serendipitous intersection of our talents and desires with opportunities. Vocation is a calling.

Spirituality is often overlooked or given much less thought than other areas of our lives. For some, religion can be automatic; for others, it is irrelevant. Spirituality is not the same as religion. Spirituality is the quest for answers to life’s most important questions: Where did we come from? Where are we going?  What do we do while we’re here? Our approach to spirituality is our approach to life.

These compartments may or may not work for you. Change any that you like. For instance, there’s no area dedicated to leisure time, which is lacking for many of us. However, as we examine what we’d like to change about our health, or our relationships, or how we explore spirituality, we naturally find that leisure time is an integral part of these improvements and is not a goal in itself but a means to achieve other goals.

Decide which areas are appropriate for you and then try the following process as you progress around the wheel.

  1. Think about this aspect of your life. Really think about it. If you’re considering personal finances, don’t just brush off the subject because bill collectors aren’t knocking on your door. Are you struggling to make ends meet? Are you wondering how you’ll afford college? Are you anxious about having enough saved for retirement? Assess each area in this manner. You’re deciding what to do with the rest of your life so take your time and thing about it awhile. There’s no completion date for this exercise. It’s a lifelong process.
  2. What changes, if any, would you like to make in this area? Start with general observations. “I’d like to lose weight.” “I’d like to put more money away for retirement.” “I’d like to finish school and get my degree.”
  3. For each general observation, write down a specific goal that you’d like to achieve. The most effective goals are SMART goals. To be SMART, goals should be:
  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

For each change that you’d like to make, list a SMART goal. If you’ve made the observation that you’d like to “lose some weight,” then a SMART goal would be “I’d like to lose 20 pounds before the summer begins.” A goal of “losing some weight” is neither specific nor measurable. Setting a goal to lose 50 pounds by the summer may not be attainable. Including a target date makes the goal time-bound which provides motivation and enables process toward the goal to be tracked. Remember, you’re listing your goals in this stage, so write them down! It’s too easy to forget or disregard those nebulous promises we make to ourselves when we’re daydreaming. Recording your goals and facing them every day will make you accountable to yourself.

List as many specific goals as you’d like but try not to overwhelm yourself. Too many goals in too many areas are not realistic. Multiple disappointments undermine motivation and result in fewer achievements.

Once you’ve completed a list of goals for each area, prioritize them. If your financial goals include paying off credit card debt, taking an extra vacation and saving more money for retirement, decide which is most important and beneficial for your life and make that your number one goal in that area. Next, decide which of the remaining goals is most important and make that your number two goal. Repeat the process until you’ve prioritized all of your goals for that area.

  1. After you’ve created separate lists of prioritized goals, make a separate list that includes the number one goal from each area. This is your master goal list. You can prioritize the master list but it’s not necessary. Concentrating on the whole list of number one goals will encourage a balanced approach to achieving progress.

Examine each one of the goals on your master list and determine what steps you need to take to accomplish it. Goals can be really  big and audacious, which makes them daunting and formidable targets that are best tackled one piece at a time. While some goals can be accomplished quickly given the proper resolve, most are achieved through a series of milestones. The steps are mini-goals, so write them down.

Keep this master list of goals and steps where you can refer to on a regular, preferably daily or weekly, basis. Gauge your progress often. As you accomplish each goal on your master list, replace it with the next prioritized goal from that area, and think about what steps are necessary for success. Write them down. By constantly refreshing the master goal list, you’re promoting continuous improvement in each area of your life.

There are many ways to set and achieve goals. The most important thing is to achieve your objectives, so you needn’t get bogged down in one specific process. Do what works best for you. The process outlined here is just one suggestion. If you’d like to give it a try, you can download the goal-setting form at the end of this article. It contains a copy of the diagram above with space for listing goals and steps.

Good luck and best wishes for the new year!

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it;
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.

         – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe



Goal-Setting Worksheet