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Set SMART Goals and Rethink Your Resolutions

Picture of American Specialty Health
By American Specialty Health on March 13, 2023
Set SMART Goals and Rethink Your Resolutions

Do your New Year’s resolutions seem to fizzle out like stale sparklers? Turns out, there’s a SMART way to make those New Year’s goals stick.


Think back to the start of the year. If you're like many Americans, you may have kicked off the year with good intentions and heaps of motivation. Maybe you resolved to start hitting the gym every day or clean up your eating habits or finally lose some extra pounds. Now that you've made a solid dent in the year, how are those resolutions holding up?

If they’ve fallen by the wayside, you’re not alone. A recent study  showed that nearly 80 percent of resolutions crumble by February. That means that by March a lot of people are feeling pretty down on themselves for not living up to their lofty aspirations. But maybe the fault doesn’t lie in human weakness so much as in the resolutions themselves.


Don’t lose your motivation

Resolving to better yourself is wonderful, but when resolutions are too big or unrealistic, they can set you up for failure. (Are you really going to learn Portuguese by summertime?) Struggling to meet a towering resolution can sap your motivation.

Instead of blaming yourself for failing your resolution, maybe it’s time to consider whether the resolution failed you

blog_75_images_0002_GettyImages-1274689479Be SMART with your New Year’s resolutions and all your goals

A poorly chosen goal can work against you by feeding false expectations. On the other hand, a well-planned goal can raise your likelihood of achieving what you want. So, before you set a potentially big goal, such as a resolution for the year, make sure it stacks the odds of success in your favor. The best way to do that is to make sure the goal is SMART.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the acronym SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound. And although using the SMART goal setting strategy helps you stay on track with your New Year’s resolutions, it makes all your goals achievable, no matter what time of year you set them. Here’s how setting SMART goals can help you succeed:

  1. Make your goals Specific. Decide what you plan to do. Then, be very clear. Name the details, such as how often, when, where, and how long. Here's an example: 
    I will walk Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at lunchtime for 20 minutes for the next 2 weeks.

    If you’re looking to add an interesting new twist to your walking routine, check out Nordic pole walking!

  2. Make your goals Measurable. Being able to measure and track your goals is important because when you track your progress it can:

       Boost your motivation 
       Help you see how well you are moving toward a goal 
       Help you understand when it's time to set other goals
       Remind you to reward yourself

    Track your goals in a way that's easy for you. You might try a smartphone goal-tracking app or simply designate a journal or notebook for this purpose.
  3. Choose Attainable goals. Break up each SMART goal into a series of small steps that help you reach your overall goal. Your SMART goals should be ones you feel sure you can achieve, like eating a healthy breakfast of oatmeal and blueberries for the next 2 weeks or adding 10 minutes of physical activity to your day for a month.

  4. Set Realistic goals. If your goal is to get fit and you’re not active right now, start at your current level. Stay committed and slowly build your activity level. If you want to improve your eating habits, start with a realistic step like cutting out sugary drinks. Then add other realistic goals like limiting fast food to once a week.

  5. Set Time-bound goals. Set a start and end date for your goals, and keep the timeframe short. Taking a week or two at a time can help you stay focused. Setting an end date doesn't mean you're done. But it does give you a chance to figure out what timeframe works for you (and what doesn't) and to reset goals. 
blog_75_images_0001_GettyImages-1345571443Setbacks are not failure

If things aren’t going quite as well as you hoped, give yourself a little breathing room. Setbacks are common. In fact, they’re likely to happen. So, don’t take a setback as failure. Instead, pause and reexamine your SMART goals. You might just need to make a few changes to your plan and revisit it at a later time.

If you’re feeling down and need some ideas about how to jumpstart your workout, check out this Silver&Fit article.

blog_75_images_0000_GettyImages-72541396Remember to reward yourself

As you achieve small goals along the way, remember to reward yourself. Of course, try to choose healthy rewards that will help support, or at least not undermine, what you’ve achieved. For example, you might treat yourself to a massage or a healthy dinner out or a new book you’ve wanted to read. Take the time to appreciate the great work you’ve put in so far.

So, if your New Year’s resolutions faded too quickly this year, along with your motivation, take a fresh look at how SMART your goals are. And keep in mind that any time of the year is a good time to rethink your goals and refresh your resolve. 



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This information is not intended to take the place of regular medical care or advice. Please check with your doctor before using this information or beginning any self-care program. Images used for this article do not depict any members of the Silver&Fit Program.


Ballard, N. (2020, December). Nearly two in five Americans have a New Year’s resolution planned for 2021. https://www.ipsos.com/en-us/urban-plates-ipsos-NY-Resolutions

Ersche, K. D., Lim, T.-V., Ward, L. H. E., Robbins, T. W., & Stochl, J. (2017, October 1). Creature of habit: A self-report measure of habitual routines and automatic tendencies in everyday life. Personality and Individual Differences, 116, 73-85. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2017.04.024

Fogg, B. J. (2020). Tiny habits. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publications.

Gardener, B., & Lally, P. (2013, October). Does intrinsic motivation strengthen physical activity habit? Modeling relationships between self-determination, past behaviour, and habit strength. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 36(5), 488-4897. doi:10.1007/s10865-012-9442-0

Milkman, K. (2021). How to change: The science of getting from where you are to where you want to be. Penguin Random House.

Nilsen, P., Roback, K., Brostrom, A., & Ellstrom, P.-E. (2021, June 9). Creatures of habit: Accounting for the role of habit in implementation research on clinical behaviour change. Implementation Science, 7, 53.doi:10.1186/1748-5908-7-53

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (n.d.). Setting goals and developing specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound objectives. https://www.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/nc-smart-goals-fact-sheet.pdf


This article was written by Jason Nielsen, edited by Candace Hodges, and clinically reviewed by Elizabeth Thompson, MPH, RDN.



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