Goal Setting in the New Year

February 1, 2021

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How to Reach Your Goals  

Even though we are only three weeks into the New Year, this may be the time that you are starting to think of ditching your resolution and waiting to pick it up again in 2022. This cycle seems to happen every year as well. We pick something about ourselves that we want to change, give ourselves no direction in how to go about making that change, and then we feel guilty about not doing it and we give up. It is a constant cycle that leaves us feeling down about ourselves and unmotivated. So what should we do about it?  

Now, I’m not saying that we should give up on resolutions or goal setting altogether; but there is another way. Although goal setting can be difficult as it requires hard work, dedication, self-compassion, and vulnerability; it is not impossible. Whether your resolution was to drink more water, eat healthier, exercise more, or something else; successful goal setting all comes down to a simple acronym.  

This acronym is “SMART” and it is the key to reaching goals. It is a tool that is used in the wellness industry to help people break down their goal into simple steps. Here’s the acronym below:  

S: Specific. The goal has to be specific. Take for example, running. If your goal or New Year’s Resolution was to run more, that’s fantastic! But it’s not very specific. To make this goal more specific, think of things such as frequency and timing. By changing the goal “run more” to “run twice per week in the morning before work”, you have narrowed the time-frame of the goal and can set yourself up for more effective planning.  

M: Measurable. The goal needs to be measurable. This is what is going to keep you motivated. When you see that you are making progress with your goal, you are more likely to feel incentivized to stick to it. Take the running goal for example, now that we are specific, we need to be able to measure progress. By adding a time trial run once per week, you can chart your times to see yourself making progress over time. It is also going to be best to keep the distance the same each week. For example, run a timed mile every Saturday.  

A: Attainable. The goal you set has to be attainable for you to reach success. This is one that can relate very closely to the “specific” aspect of goal setting. If you have never run in your life, or don’t like it, start by running only once or twice per week then build from there. With fitness-related goals, oftentimes people don’t see much success because they go from exercising rarely to exercising 5-6 consecutive days in the first week. It is like going from one extreme to the next. Not only will you feel tired and discouraged, you could also injure yourself. It is also key to remember that what is attainable for someone else, might not be attainable for you and vice versa. Be honest with yourself and set yourself up for success with an attainable goal.  

R: Realistic. Similar to a goal needing to be attainable, it also needs to be realistically achievable within your timeframe. Training to run a marathon is a realistic goal if it occurs over the course of a year, but it becomes unrealistic if it is over the course of a month. It is also crucial to consider frequency. Ask yourself, “realistically, is this something that I can accomplish in this time frame”?  

T: Time bound. Timing is key. If you don’t give yourself an end date, you may find yourself questioning why you are doing it to begin with. If I say I want to run more and it is specific, measurable, attainable, and realistic but I don’t have an end in sight, I may start to question why I’m doing it to begin with. By giving yourself an end date or deadline, you will feel more motivated and a stronger sense of purpose in your goal setting.  

With the example of running, I changed the New Year’s Resolution “run more”, to the SMART goal “I will run three time per week in the morning before work and run one timed mile every Saturday. After three weeks, I will add an additional running session every week until I am running 5 times per week. I will do this for 6 months to train for the summer 10k race.” 

Although goal setting is much easier said than done, I encourage you to use this tool and write down your goal (using SMART) on a piece of paper. By having something tangible, you may even feel a stronger sense of accountability. Let us know what your SMART goals are at Healthy.UNH@unh.edu!  

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