Ditch the Resolutions: A Guide to Setting SMARTER Goals for Lasting Success


With the indulgence of December behind you and the new year stretching ahead, you’re probably starting to think about New Year’s resolutions. But, resolutions are easier to make than they are to keep. Most people fail to stick with them in the long-run

We prefer to make SMARTER goals instead of ‘New Year’s resolutions’. SMARTER goals take your resolutions — whether you want to exercise more, pick up a new hobby, quit a harmful habit, or something else — and give them a practical, achievable makeover. 

Understanding SMARTER goals

By swapping your New Year’s resolutions for SMARTER goals, your objectives will be more realistic and easier to tackle. SMARTER goals are:

  • Specific: Without specificity, you don’t have a real target to aim for. When your goal is as specific as possible about the what, how and why, you’ll be better placed to measure your progress and accomplish your objective.
  • Measurable: Progress towards your goal should be easy to quantify and the milestones on your path to success should be clear. Without a measurable goal, it’s hard to know if you’re on-track for success.
  • Achievable: Your goals need to be within your reach. You should still have to work hard for them, but it’s important to make sure that you have the tools, support and ability to achieve them.
  • Relevant: It’s easy to get swept up making goals around what you think you should do, or what other people expect you to do. Instead, your goals should align with what you’re actually interested in, something that’s relevant to your genuine desires. This intrinsic motivation is far less likely to wear off.
  • Time-bound: Your goals need to be bound by a particular time frame with an exact date for when you want to have achieved them. This raises the stakes and helps to prevent procrastination.
  • Evaluable: Long-term goals are easily ignored or forgotten about when they’re not evaluated frequently. This could be every day, every week or even every month. When you evaluate your goals, it helps to have a clear system that gets you thinking about what you’ve achieved so far and what your next steps are.
  • Readjustable: Your goals aren’t set in stone. Sometimes, your original goal just won’t work out, or roadblocks can appear unexpectedly. Regardless, it’s okay to readjust your goals to accommodate a new objective, time-frame or approach.

SMARTER goals in action

Setting SMARTER goals takes more time and effort than making a New Year’s resolution. But the outcomes are worth it.

  1. Brainstorm what you want to achieve and pick the objective that stands out or resonates the most with you. Make sure that you think deeply and from the heart.
  2. Use the SMARTER goals framework to refine your goal. Go through each letter and list how your goal is — or can be — specific, meaningful, achievable, relevant and time-bound, as well as how you plan on evaluating your progress.
  3. Refine your SMARTER goal into a single sentence that captures the most important points and write it down somewhere you’ll see it every day.
  4. Create an action plan for how you’ll achieve your SMARTER goal. Determine what tools and support you need, how much it might cost and when you plan on taking each step toward your goal.
  5. Mark your calendar with any relevant dates and set yourself reminders to check-in. Don’t forget to let your friends and family know about your goal so they can help to hold you accountable along the way.

If you follow these steps to apply the SMARTER goal framework, the New Year’s resolution “get back into golf” becomes:

I aim to rehabilitate my rotator cuff injury by August 30 so that I can return to 18-holes of golf. I will do this by doing strengthening and conditioning exercises with the help of an exercise physiologist.

Overcoming common SMARTER goal challenges

Though the SMARTER goal system is much more practical than setting New Year’s resolutions, it’s not foolproof. There are a few common traps that people often fall into.

Challenge: Too many goals

Sometimes, when we want to achieve multiple objectives, it can be tempting to set many SMARTER goals and pursue them all at once. But doing this can spread yourself too thin. You might wind up burning out before you can achieve even one of your goals.

Instead, focus your energy on a single goal at a time. It’s less daunting and makes your one objective much more attainable because you can put more effort into forming your new habits.

Challenge: Taking on too much at once

It’s great to be enthusiastic about your SMARTER goals, but taking on too much, too fast is a one-way ticket to failure. Starting with small steps is less mentally draining and therefore much more manageable. You should slowly incorporate your new habits into your daily routine, building them from the ground up and giving yourself time to adjust.

Challenge: Forgetting that change takes time

Forming lasting habits doesn’t happen overnight; it’s important to recognise that progress takes time. Through persistent hard work and patience, you will eventually achieve your SMARTER goal. Keep in mind that mistakes and missteps are inevitable, but they’ll only hinder your progress if you let them keep you from moving forward.

Embrace lasting change the SMARTER way

It’s time to ditch New Year’s resolutions and embrace creating new, healthy lifelong habits with realistic SMARTER goals. For more guidance on how you can support your health and happiness this new year, check out our Health & Happiness (NOT weight) Guide.