The new year is both a time for reflection and a time for looking forward. What did you accomplish in 2014? More importantly, what do you hope to accomplish in 2015? If you’re really serious about creating and sticking to New Year’s resolutions, it’s best to create some concrete goals.

But before you start to formulate your goals, take some time to think about what you really want from your life in the near future and the long-term. Do a little brainstorming. Jot down some ideas on paper (or type them on a keyboard) without stopping to censor yourself. Do this exercise as you think about questions like: How can my life be better? How can I improve? What do I imagine my life could be like?

Now you can set goals around those desires. Many people who are successful at setting and attaining goals swear by the SMART method. They say that goals should be:

  • S – Specific
  • M – Measurable
  • A – Attainable
  • R – Relevant
  • T – Time-bound

As an example, a poorly stated goal would be “I want to lose weight in the new year.” A better version would be, “I want to lose 10 pounds by the end of March 2015.”

How does the second version check out against the SMART method? Let’s see:

  • Specific – Yes. It specifies the amount of weight to be lost.
  • Measurable – Yes. Weight loss can be measured.
  • Attainable – Most likely, depending on where the person’s starting weight is.
  • Relevant – Yes, as long as it matches up with a larger ambition such as “I hope to feel more fit in the new year.”
  • Time-bound – Yes. It specifies an end date of March 31.

Think About Systems Instead of Goals

 While many people swear by setting goals, goals can have some downsides, after all. If you set a goal and fail at meeting it, you will feel bad about yourself or lose motivation. The overall point of New Year’s resolutions is build yourself up, not tear yourself down.

And if you do reach your goal, it may not lead to lasting change. Using the example above about losing 10 pounds by the end of March, suppose the person who made this goal meets it. What happens then on April 1? The person may abandon whatever habits helped them reach that goal and put the weight back on.

For other goals, the problem can be that the results are out of your hands. Suppose someone might set a goal to get a raise in 2016. That raise, however, isn’t up to them. Their boss could refuse.

For these reasons, it may be better to establish systems instead of goals. A system could be:

  • Eat under 2,000 calories a day and exercise three times a week (to help lose weight)
  • Create weekly reports of accomplishments to send to my boss (to advocate for promotions and raises)

Like well-formed goals, systems need to be specific, relevant, and attainable.

Select Some Software

With the rise of the smart phone, a host of apps can help you define, track, and achieve your goals. Some teach you tricks to build new habits. Others offer ways to share goals with friends because telling others about your goals can help keep you on track. And if you don’t have a smart phone or prefer to use a standard computer, there are plenty of other goal-tracking websites out there.

Goals or systems? Apps, web-based software, or pen and paper? The way you define your goals and meet them is up to you. Setting and reaching goals is not an area where one size fits all, but no matter who you are, you can take steps to improve your life in the new year. Happy 2016!


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