It's that time of year again, when most of us vow to make some changes to our daily routines. We often aim to exercise more, stay on track with healthier eating, finish a long-procrastinated project around the house, or spend more quality time with loved ones.
As the Earth completes another cycle around the sun, we set out toward our New Year's resolutions with great momentum for making a fresh start in our lives. The most dedicated usually make it until Valentine's Day at best, while many of us lose steam after a couple of weeks. Some resolutions die after only a few days. Yet each year, regardless of our track record, we get infused with the resolve to set lofty goals for making our lives better once again.
How can we harness this seasonal incentive for self-improvement into effective, lasting results? Accountable "SMART" goals are a tried-and-true way to succeed at making lasting changes in any area of life. "SMART" is an acronym for specific, measurable, authentic, realistic and time-lined.
When it comes to effective goal setting, getting really specific is the first step toward success. Resolutions generally fail for being too broad and vague. Asking yourself what you want to accomplish, how you plan to do it, and why it feels important to you now will help make your goal specific.
Once you know exactly what you are aiming for, it's time to make it measurable with numbers. For example, the goal to "to lose weight" is less track-able than the goal "to lose five pounds." Numbers allow you to measure your progress, further define your resolutions, and determine if you have achieved them or not.
We are most successful when we are aiming for goals that are authentically our own, not what we think we should do, or what others may want for us. So make sure your resolutions match what you really want to work toward in the coming year.
Far too often, we make resolutions that are unrealistic, such as "exercise every single day in 2012." When we fail to achieve our goals--no matter how far-fetched they are--our self-esteem takes a blow and we feel less empowered to change our own lives in the future. So, it is critically important to set realistic, achievable goals. Realistic does not mean effortless, it means honest. So take a look at your aims for the New Year, and make sure that they are challenging, courageous and within your grasp.
Now that you have a specific, measurable, authentic, realistic goal, it's time to put it into action with a timeline. Adding a timeline to goals makes them a priority, rather than something to do when it is convenient.
Timelines also specify a time period to work toward your particular goal, which eliminates fears about having to commit to a change forever. Three months is a great length of time for effectively changing habits, yet just like the goals, your timeline needs to be realistic and authentic to meet your needs. While the timeline gives your resolution some necessary parameters, hopefully your success will feel so good that you stay on track even after the specified number of days, weeks, or months has passed.
The final aspect of this approach is accountability. Keeping track of our progress on a weekly basis allows us to modify our resolutions as needed and furthers our momentum to keep going. As social creatures, most of us are more motivated to do what we say we are going to do when someone is watching. To increase accountability with your resolutions this year, ask someone to be your witness or accountability buddy. It is best not to pick your husband, wife, significant other, or anyone else with a large attachment to your outcome. A neutral friend, acquaintance, or coach is a better choice to prevent unforeseen dramas with your challenges or your successes.
Be SMART with your New Year's resolutions this year!