Posted: January 17, 2018

We’re well into January and, for many, the courage and conviction of those admirable resolutions to eat healthier, exercise more, procrastinate less may already have waned . . . perhaps even been relegated to that dusty shrine of ‘woulda-coulda-shoulda’ done better.

Resolutions have a shelf life, plain and simple. Heroic as they seem at the time we utter them, they’re generally tough – if not impossible – to maintain. The thing is, New Year’s resolutions are often too grandiose, too broad . . . really, too much.

It’s hard to follow through when the list is too long and when we don’t have a game plan that includes specific steps and strategies, first steps, do-able and measurable checkpoints, time frames, and accountability. When we can take those big dreams of a ‘better me,’ and transform them into two or three really specific goals instead, we stand a much better chance for change.

SMART goals help with this. SMART is an acronym for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timeframe. Rather than promising ourselves we’re going to do better at work this year, a more specific goal might be, “I’m going to get myself out the door and into work 15 minutes before my workday starts every day.” The measurable piece is meeting that 15-minute target Monday – Friday. Achievable might entail setting the alarm ½ hour earlier and having our lunch prepared the night before. The realistic piece means we have the ability and capability to consider this goal because it’s not too big or too far outside our ‘normal.’ Then, it’s important to set a timeframe – first, when do we begin (perhaps Monday next week to allow ourselves time to shop for lunch foods) – and when will we check how well we’re doing and whether we need to adjust anything (a good checkpoint might be Friday of that first week). If all went well, maintain the goal. If we didn’t make it into work 15 minutes early on Friday morning, time for some problem-solving . . . perhaps the sitter was late arriving to watch the kids . . . is that a one-off or a habit? Maybe that shower ran 5 minutes longer than usual – can we take that longer, relax shower on Saturday instead?

Getting good at goal-setting and follow-through involves some compassion and patience with ourselves. We’re creatures of habit and change takes time. That’s why small changes over longer stretches of time create bigger results. We’re not running a sprint, we’re training for the marathon. That takes practice, persistence, and an eye on the prize at the end.

The goal – and the ‘prize’ – need to matter to us and need to be meaningful. The change we’re asking of ourselves must be worth it. Reminding ourselves about the ‘why’ of the goals we’re setting, and what the outcome or endpoint will be, can help us stay the course. A vision board, a picture on the fridge, a growing bank account, mini-‘rewards’ along the way, an accountability partner . . . get creative about keeping the goal top-of-mind.

And . . . when we slip or fall shy of our target . . . no big deal — that’s life, and that’s actually how change happens . . . in bits and pieces, a little at a time, over time. It’s a marathon, after all, and we’ve got the whole year ahead to run it.