INTUITIVE INSIGHT #1 - New Year, Fresh Start via SMARTGoals

Originally Posted on 12/30/14

3……2……1……. Happy New Year! With a New Year comes new possibilities, new goals, and (you guessed it) new resolutions. Ah the New Year’s Resolution, many will make them often for self-improvement reasons such as eating healthier, losing weight, getting a new job, starting/finishing school, starting a new hobby, getting more organized, etc. etc. Some shall succeed on theirs, some shall give up on theirs, but the most important aspect is that ALL will strive hard to work on these resolutions. According to the Journal of Clinical Psychology based out of the University of Scranton (2014), the success rate of individuals who achieve their New Year’s Resolutions is at 8%. The maintenance of resolutions decrease dramatically as the months go by (75% through the first week & only 46% through 6 months). As a result, 38% of individuals polled don’t make New Year’s Resolutions at all.

However, the difficult part of a New Year’s Resolution is that it can often be vague and directionless. With a lack of direction often come feelings of frustration and abandonment of the New Year’s Resolution due to lack of progress. But is the lack of progress really due to lack of effort, or is it due to lack of direction? Professors Peter Herman & Janet Polivy of the University of Toronto (2009) reports identifying what they call “False Hope Syndrome” due to the fact that many New Year’s Resolutions are “ambitious, but unrealistic”. Herman and his colleagues move on to say that many “try to accomplish things more quickly than realistically possible and underestimate the difficulty of the task.” These findings are echoed by many experts throughout the health and wellness fields. Bottom line is that we often overestimate our personal expectations and underestimate the difficulty and complexity of our Resolutions. In a sense, we bite off way more than we are able to chew.

Does this mean that New Year’s Resolutions aren’t worth it? Not at all. In fact, Ray Williams (Founder of Success IQ University and Certified Mentor) and many others note that the key to successfully achieving your New Year’s Resolution is to simplify your resolution and take smaller steps. It is also important to note that when trying to create New Year’s Resolutions it is also about rewiring the brain to be able to accept and focus on the proper steps to achieve these resolutions. This is where the SMARTGoal Tool can be very helpful.

A few notes on the SMARTGoal Tool. It was originally utilized in the business world as a Project Management Technique by George T. Doran in Management Review, 1981. The tool was then found to have great appeal to other professions such as in the Counseling profession. In my particular experience, the SMARTGoal Tool was borrowed and repurposed from my clinical training as a Licensed Counselor when looking to create counseling treatment plans for individuals that I had worked with. When I was able to create a successful treatment plan that the individual could follow for themselves with the right amount of help and counseling, the individual would complete their treatment. I would often urge them to continue utilizing these SMARTGoals in the treatment plan even after their work with me. In later follow-ups there were fewer instances of negative mental health incidents in those that continued to utilize the SMARTGoals. When New Year’s hit a few years ago in 2012, I decided to try and repurpose the SMARTGoal Tool from the clinical counseling realm to my personal life. It has since changed my perception of completing personal goals.

In its core the SMARTGoal Tool is an acronym that stands for:

S – Specific: Make the goal as precise as possible

M – Measurable: Make the goal as numerical as possible so it can be assessed 

A – Achievable: Make sure the goal can be done in achievable methods

R – Realistic: Make sure the goal is not underestimated

T – Time Sensitive: Give the goal an estimated time of completion


Let us take the SMARTGoal Tool to a common New Year’s Resolution, losing weight. The statement of “losing weight” itself is quite complex. Some of the questions that can range are: How much weight do you want to lose? What is/are the method(s) that you want to lose weight? By when do you want to lose the weight? What are your reasons for wanting to lose weight? Argh, gives me a headache just thinking about the complexities. But as difficult and time-consuming these questions can be, they are ones that can help provide perspective and specify the goals and reasons for “losing weight”.

Here is the SMARTGoal Tool at work:

S – Specific: Lose weight through decrease of water weight and body fat content

M – Measurable: Lose 20lbs based on above criteria

A – Achievable: Lose weight through the methods of exercise; Change to all-natural diet; Decrease caloric intake

R – Realistic: Lose weight by exercising 3 days per week for at least 1 hour; Replace at least 1 meal per day with all natural/organic foods; list caloric intake via downloaded calorie tracker application (e.g. MyFitnessPal, MyPlate Calorie Tracker, Lose It!)

T – Time Sensitive: Lose the rate of 5lbs per month for at least 4 months

The SMARTGoal Tool has transformed the New Year’s Resolution of “losing weight” into a series of simplified, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-sensitive steps that breakdown the complexities of “losing weight”. Of course it is to the discretion of the individual as to the method of achieving their goal as not everyone may have these suggestions available to them. However, the SMARTGoal Tool can be utilized to fit many situations.

One of my personal resolutions is “Become a Better Cook” in 2015. Once again, a very vague and complex resolution that can be directionless. I look at this monumental task and start to wonder where to begin. Therefore, I will put my resolution through the SMARTGoal Tool.

S – Specific: Learn to cook new recipes of fish, poultry, beef/pork, and vegetables

M – Measurable: Learn to cook 12 recipes (4 fish, 4 poultry, 4 beef/pork, 4 vegetables)

A – Achievable: Look for recipes through multiple digital sources (websites, apps, magazines, TV, etc.); Create a list of additional ingredients to purchase for each recipe during routine grocery/market trips

R – Realistic: Learn to cook 1 recipe per month by researching desired recipe (fish, poultry, beef/pork, vegetable) through 3 digital sources; Create additional grocery list that is focused on new recipe ingredients

T – Time-Sensitive: Try 1 new recipe per month and after learning, practice each recipe at least once each month

Now that I have implemented the SMARTGoal Tool into my personal New Year’s Resolution (Become a Better Cook), it became more achievable and simple. This is not to say that I will master all of these 12 new recipes (as I am still learning), but it will make me a better cook in the simple fact that I would know at least 12 new recipes by the end of 2015. And of course, the more often one utilizes their skills, the more effective they become.

So when making New Year’s Resolutions, try to remember that they can often be vague, directionless, and underestimated. That doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be done, just that it could be simplified using the SMARTGoal Tool to help breakdown the often large and vague resolution to specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-sensitive actions and activities that provide a place to start and a clear direction moving forward. It is likely that there may be a few roadblocks along the way (because that is life), but let’s try not to forget that these roadblocks are just more ways to learn from our adversities. Lastly, resolutions don’t just have to be made at the New Year. If the resolution as been achieved, it does not stop there. It hopefully becomes part of your routine. Then one may be able to focus on new resolutions and goals and the SMARTGoal Tool can continue to be helpful moving forward.

Have fun, stay safe, and have a Happy & Healthy New Year!

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