How to be SMART about your New Year’s resolutions
How to be SMART about your New Year’s resolutions

The time of the year when we think about making New Years resolutions is approaching fast again.

Every year thousands of people make New Years resolutions – smokers try to quit, gym memberships rise, people try to loose weight or get fit…the list is endless. However we all know that it is much harder to actually stick to these resolutions.

So what can we do about it? It is a great idea to have a plan and no plan is complete without goals that we want to achieve. Here is where we can get SMART. It is a powerful motivational tool.So what does it stand for? S stands for specific, M for measurable, A achievable, R for realistic and T for timely. It is really a clever tool for goal setting that has been used extensively in business, sports, even psychological interventions like Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. Our brain copes better when we chunk what we want to into smaller steps. We are less likely to be overwhelmed and put off. Also, seeing results step by step is a great motivator so we are more likely to follow through.

So how do we use it? Well, it is actually pretty simple and I will use a classic example of someone who wants to get fit.

Let’s imagine there is a guy called John, who wants to get fit and decides to take up running. He currently does not run at all but knows that he wants to run marathon and thinks he can do it in 2 months. His goal is specific, yes but is it achievable and realistic? Absolutely no. Trust me, I have seen this before and it can only result in a lot of pain if not injury.

So let’s get back to our John. He realises that running a marathon in 2 months is not realistic but still wants to take up running. He then decides that he wants to be able to run 2km 3 times per week. This is a specific goal, not a vague one such as ‘I want to run’. He wants to run 2km 3 times per week, in one month’s time – this goal is measurable. Is it achievable? He can start by running 500m in the first week, then increase his running to 1km in the second week, then 1.5km in third week and then to 2km in the fourth week. This is achievable, but if he said ‘I want to be able to run 2km in the first week’ that would not be. Is it realistic? Yes. By breaking down his running distance and increasing it every week, it is realistic. So again – in week 1 he would run 500m 3 time pers week, 1km 3 times per week in week two and so on. So John wants to be able to run 2km 3 times per week, he want’s to do it in one month’s time; he can achieve this by starting to run 500m 3 times per week and increase his distance by 500m every week. Is it achievable time frame? Yes. Sometimes the principles of SMART overlap, e.g. realistic and timely etc.

It’s a good idea to get a note pad and write your goals down using the SMART technique and break them down. It really is a clever tool and I use it myself, especially when my essay deadlines are looming.

It would be the same case with weight loss. Someone who wants to loose 5 stone in 2 months is unrealistic but by focusing on loosing weight steadily, week by week, this becomes more achievable. One pound of fat equals 3500calories, so to loose one pound of fat, we need to create a deficit of 3500calories. This means to cut around 500calories per day from our diet, so we can loose one pound of fat in a week. It may not sound like a lot but if you google a picture of what one pound of fat looks like you may be surprised. Nutritionists and dietiticians say that loosing one to two pounds of fat is healthy and steady and the weight loss is more likely to be sustained long term. So forget crash diets, slowly and steady is the way.

To keep your motivation going, it’s a good idea to reward yourself. You can break down your goals to smaller ones and then have another reward once you achieve your goal. For example in case of our John he could reward himself after 2 weeks when he manages to run 1km and he could buy himself a nice shirt, go out for dinner etc. Once he achieves his goal of running 2km in one month, he can reward himself with something bigger, e.g. a weekend break away etc. Keeping your mind focus on your goals and rewarding yourself along the way will help you stay motivated.

Remember that every journey start with the first step, so why not to make it SMART?

I wish you all the best in the New Year 2017.

This article was originally published in Dunfermline Press in January 2015.