So, here’s the bad news: Your New Year’s resolutions suck.
The good news is that it’s not totally your fault, and I’m going to show you how to take your vague resolutions and change them into easy-to-follow goals that you will actually accomplish.
I believe that if you want to get better, you should learn from the best. Lucky for you there’s already a highly-successful organization that has developed a tested system for creating bulletproof goals: the Navy SEALs and SMART goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. I’ll breakdown each part and then apply it to improve some example resolutions.
Before we start, here are some common New Year’s resolutions that I saw this past week on social media.
Common New Year’s Resolutions
- Start going to the gym
- Stop eating carbs
- Get better at guitar
Sound familiar? Write down three of your own resolutions to work on as you read along. Let’s get started.
Your goals should explicitly state what you will do. Let’s use Resolution #1 as an example.
One of the problems with “Start going to the gym” is that the actual action you plan to do is not stated. What kind of exercise will you do? When will you go? How often? A better resolution would be “Lift weights 3x a week.” We can still get more specific though and refine it further with a resolution that looks like this: “Go to YouFit at 8AM on M, W, F, and follow the Starting Strength program for 45-60min.”
This last version, although not as pithy as the first, tells you much more about what you will do and will be way easier to follow.
Take a couple minutes now to make your own New Year’s resolutions more specific.
How will you measure the success of your resolution?
An open ended goal like “Start going to the gym” isn’t nearly as good as one that has a defined measure of success and has trackable progress. If your resolution is to lose weight, then your measure of success is built in by tracking your weight. But, how would you measure the success of a resolution like “Get better at guitar?” The answer is to break that resolution into smaller resolutions that are measurable. Let’s say you identify your real goal is to be able to shred some blues/rock guitar solos. Make that resolution measurable by picking three classic solos or parts of solos you will learn.
Now, even if you don’t feel like you’re making progress day-to-day, you will be able to actually measure your path toward being able to shred a guitar solo by how well you are learning solos you picked. Obviously you need to pick smaller goals that make sense and know how to go about accomplishing them.
What is your action plan to achieve your resolution?
If your resolution is to “Stop eating carbs,” then your plan has to be more than repeating “Oh well I just won’t eat carbs.” (Sidenote: That’s a terrible idea. Carbs are delicious.) When you say you will “Stop eating carbs” do you mean you’ll follow a low-carb diet like the Slow-Carb or Atkins diet? No carbs for breakfast? What are the actual steps you’ll take?
First of all, I would reframe that resolution from “Stop eating carbs” to “Eat healthier” and then work on it from there. If you frame your resolution as restrictive and negative, instead of engaging and positive, you will not follow through for more than a couple weeks. Once you have a positive resolution, figure out the steps you need to get there and write them down or pick a plan that you think will work for you and follow that.
Ok, I’m going to burst some bubbles right now. Most of your resolutions are bad because they are insanely unrealistic. If you haven’t been to a gym in ten years you will not be going 5x a week for a year because you wrote “Start going to the gym” on a scrap of paper. If you can’t remember the last time you sat down to practice guitar for an hour you will not be shredding awesome solos any time soon.
There is a silver lining though.
Get rid of those unrealistic goals and you’ll actually be able to move in the right direction. You’ll start to make real progress instead of giving up when you miss a few days at the gym or haven’t nailed the solo to “Freebird” after trying really hard.
Now, you can still set the bar high, as long as each day you’re focused on only the very next step you need to accomplish. There is a method to going from 0 to 100, and it’s how I went from not knowing how to play banjo to touring in Nashville in only three months. (If you’re interested, subscribe at the top right-hand part of the page, and I’ll send you my free PDF guide showing you exactly how I did it.)
Finally, your goals should have a clear time-frame to accomplish them. For this example I’ll start with one of my own resolutions: “Read more books this year.” After deciding I wanted to read more books, I came up with 40 books as my real goal. For me, setting my resolution as “Read 40 books this year” is still too abstract to know how much I need to read each day to stay on track, so I broke it down further. Reading 40 books a year is roughly 3-4 books per month or 1/wk. So, as long as I keep up with one each each week I’ll accomplish my resolution at the end of the year.
To make my resolution even more Specific and Achievable, I also made a list of exactly which books I’ll read each week for the next few months. (If reading more books is also a goal of yours, I highly recommend checking out Ryan Holiday’s Reading List here.)
Creating good New Year’s resolutions takes real effort and thought. It’s easy to blurt out a 3-word resolution that kind of sounds like a goal and then later, when you don’t achieve it, blame the failure on New Year’s resolutions. That’s what most people do and that’s why a year from now those people will have the same resolutions (or worse, give up or making changes all together). But if you’re serious about making a significant change, the SMART goals system will get you there as long as you decide to take action. (See “Hack Your Practice: Taking the Discipline Out of Practicing” )
While these ideas are fresh in your mind, practice turning your resolutions into SMART goals now by letting me know in the comments below what great things you are going to achieve this year.
To your success,