New Year goals… it’s that time of year again when many of you will be thinking about setting new habits in place. Resolutions are things you want to change in your life. Maybe you’ve noticed in the past that you never actually achieve those resolutions. Or you do for a while but you can’t keep them consistent. This is because “resolutions” are often more about how we want to feel than how we want to behave. Take, “I want to be fit (or healthy, or less stress, or happy, etc).” But how do we actually achieve these wants that we have? We need to set goals.
You may have heard of SMART goals before. I know that I started using this term way back in 2006 when I worked in retail management. This business way of goal setting is — specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. And it works. I’ve seen it work. Similarly, we want to create SMART goals for the behaviours we want to achieve. Notice that I say behaviours and not feelings. Why is that? Usually, to achieve an emotion we need to engage in behaviours – either external ones that anyone can see (like going to the gym), or internal ones that only we know are happening (how we respond to our thoughts or feelings). We all do both types of behaviour, and both types of behaviour are important. Some of your goals may just include one type, and perhaps some may include both.
Now, how does this SMART goal setting work for our behaviours, for our personal lives? They are going to be specific, meaningful, adaptive, realistic, and time-framed. Let’s break it down a bit more:
- Specific: specify the actions you will be taking (for example, if you want to be fit, then specify go to the gym 3 times a week)
- Meaningful: are your goals motivated by your values? If you’re not sure what your values are, they are how you want to treat others, yourself, and the world (Some examples include kindness, adventure, forgiveness, self-care, skillfullness, etc.)
- Adaptive: is this goal going to improve your life? (going back to the fitness example, will this make you healthier? Or stronger? what in your life are you improving?)
- Realistic: make sure you can achieve this goal with the resources (time, money, physical health, social support, knowledge and skills) that you have available to you. (Example, wanting to run a marathon next month isn’t realistic if you can’t currently run around the block)
- Time-framed: Specify the day, date and time if you can. (Example, I will be lifting 20lb weights consistently 3x week, 20 reps per set, 3 sets per day, by March 30, 2022 – this is a time-framed goal).
Sometimes we have to break these goals into smaller ones. Usually, they’re actually much easier to manage if we do. So, let’s say you want to feel less stress. Your goal might be to meditate for 20 minutes a day, every day, by May 1, 2022, and is motivated by your value of self-care. An easier way to look at this goal would be to say, by January 15, I’ll be meditating for 5 minutes a day, every other day. And then by January 30, it’s 5 minutes a day, every day. And so on, until you are doing your 20 minutes a day goal. Now that is much easier to manage!
When we don’t hit our goals, we all have the tendency to be hard on ourselves. We talk to ourselves like we would never talk to anyone else – you’re stupid, you’re a failure. What we need to do when we’re struggling, is to offer ourselves some self-compassion instead. It will be much more effective to say to yourself, “This goal is hard. It requires a lot of change on my part, and I’m doing the best I can.” Talk to yourself the way you would a loved one who is trying.
So, throw away those new year’s resolutions and try some new year’s goals instead, offering yourself kindness along the way.