Exercise more. Cut back on screen time. Stop procrastinating. Every year many of us, determined to finally make good on resolutions about becoming the best versions of ourselves, help usher in the new year with a flood of pledges just like those.
Most of us make resolutions, not SMART Goals. The unfortunate truth is that we fail to follow through on resolutions because they are too lofty to begin with, we give up on them, or life just gets in the way. Then, every new year, we make the same promises to ourselves but end up doling out the same excuses for breaking them.
That said, when everything about your path forward is uncertain, the best thing you can do is to turn your focus toward what you can control about your circumstances. There simply is no better way to center your energy, your time, and your resources than to make a plan and stick to it. Establishing SMART goals instead of making resolutions is the best way to do that, and this article will discuss the five reasons why that is.
SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) goals help establish a clear sense of direction and motivation to succeed. By setting SMART goals for yourself, you are establishing targets to aim for, and you put yourself back in the driver’s seat of your life and your career, which is exactly where you belong.
Creating SMART goals will require you to develop quantifiable targets that clearly define what needs to be accomplished and when, and how you will know when you have achieved success. This approach helps ensure that your goals are practical. Best of all, when everything seems to be going wrong, it will enable you to take back a bit of control by focusing on becoming the best version of yourself and what you can do to keep striving toward that reality.
Here are five reasons why SMART goals are more effective than New Year’s resolutions:
- Specific goals have a much higher chance of being accomplished than non-specific resolutions. Being specific in goal setting means that when you define your aspiration, you describe the Who, What, When, Why, and How. For example, a resolution would be: “I am going to protect myself from cybercrime.” A SMART goal would be: “I want to obtain a certificate in cybersecurity by taking the quarterly training sessions offered at my neighborhood library so that I can better protect myself and my family against cyberthreats.”
- Measurable goals include built-in criteria for quantifying progress. There is no real way to assess whether you are on track to reach a goal unless there is an indicator of progress. Building on the example above, you might say: “After each class, I will incorporate at least one new method I have learned into how I protect my personal tech devices.”
- Achievable goals are not unrealistic or unattainable. They make you feel stretched enough to be challenged, but not overly so. Considering the original example, an unrealistic resolution would be saying: “I am going to become the chief IT officer at my agency.”
- Relevant goals have real benefits attached to them. Again, referring to the original example, if you become more versed in cybersecurity practices, you may be able to better protect yourself from falling prey to online scams.
- Time-bound goals do not stretch into infinity. Having a clear start and finish date will make it easier for you to stay on track and hold yourself accountable.
One of the most important functions of the brain is executive function. It is the aspect of cognition that enables us to set and achieve goals and take action based on planning. Without SMART goals, you are at risk of wasting your time and energy and not having an executable plan for your success. With that in mind, it makes sense for you to scrap your resolutions and turn them into SMART goals today. You will thank yourself in the next new year for it. Trust me.
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Kelly Brown is the Special Assistant to the Director of a public safety agency in Washington, D.C. In her 22 years in government, she has served in senior advisory roles within the executive offices of mayors and city administrators. Her career achievements include drafting the District of Columbia government’s first set of published customer service standards and conceptualizing engagement and culture pivot programs for upward of 40,000 employees. Kelly spends her spare time working on a collection of personal essays that she hopes to have published soon. She is passionate about language and about helping others find and cultivate their distinct voices, too.