True confession time — for a long while, I gave up on making New Year’s resolutions. Like just about everyone I know, I’d start off the year with a lofty goal. “This year, I’m going to eat healthier!” I’d tell myself. Or I’ll lose weight. Or pay more attention to my loved ones. If I was lucky, my resolutions might survive until my birthday — which is January 6. My New Year’s resolution fails turned into one more reason to beat myself up. Then I attended a training session on, of all things, how to write actionable goals for a business plan — and learned exactly what I needed to know to make New Year’s resolutions that I could keep. It’s a whole lot easier and more rewarding than you think. These five tips won’t guarantee you’ll keep every one of your resolutions this year, but they will help you turn your New Year’s resolutions into an action plan for the year ahead.
Consider Your Why
That seems obvious, but it’s one of the biggest reasons people fail in sticking to their good intentions. Last year, the New York Times listed three main reasons that resolutions fail. Topping the list: you’re working on a goal you think you SHOULD be doing rather than one that’s important to you. One organization I work for asks every employee this important question: What’s your why? Before you add a resolution to your list, ask yourself why it’s important to you. When you understand your motivation, it’s much easier to make plans that align with your intentions.
Visualize Your Goals
The first step in making actionable resolutions is to imagine where and who you want to be in a year — and then create a concrete visualization of that dream so you can refer back to it for motivation and planning. The Passion Planner’s Passion Roadmap is an excellent tool for this. The template helps you take your big dream and break it down into workable action plans for the next three years, one year and three months. It’s a great way to start laying out what you need to do to get where you want to go. By the time you’re done, you’ll have a short list of action items — your New Year’s resolutions.
Make SMART Resolutions
Now, take each of those resolutions and run them through a SMART filter. When you’re done, each one should be Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant and Time-bound.
Examples of vague goals turned into SMART goals:
- I want to lose weight → I will lose 15 pounds by April 30.
- I want to get healthier → I will work out 3 times per week.
- I want to be more organized → I will make a to-do list every day.
- I want to spend more time with my children → I will read a bedtime story to my child three times a week.
- I want to do something fun for vacation → I will vacation in Aruba this summer.
- I want to finish my book → I will work on my novel for 30 minutes four times a week.
Set Achievable Goals
A very sedentary friend of mine ran her first marathon this year. When I asked her how she did it, she said, “I started by walking around the block after dinner each night.” The second biggest reason that New Year’s resolutions fail is that they’re overwhelming. It may be because they’re too vague — I mean, what exactly does “getting healthy” really mean, right? — or because they require a huge leap to get from where you are to where you want to be. Break those big dreams down to smaller steps that bring you closer to your ultimate goal. After all, no one trains for a marathon by running 26 miles their first day.
Schedule Check-ins with Yourself
Check-ins help you stay on track — or get back on track — with your goals. Once a week or so, sit down with your journal and look over what you’ve achieved since your last check-in. Go over your to-do lists from the past week or month and see what you’ve managed and where you’ve fallen short and then — this is the important part — adjust your plan and your timetable where needed.
The first step towards keeping your New Year’s resolutions is to make New Year’s resolutions you can actually keep. When you make them SMART and fit them into an overall life goal, each resolution you make will bring you closer to achieving your biggest dreams.
Deb Powers is a freelance writer living and working in Massachusetts. This year, her New Year’s resolutions include keeping her resolutions until at least June. Baby steps.