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  • Writer's pictureKim Howlett

New year, new goals, SMART goals.

Happy new year!

Hopefully we can rely on the new year to be kind to us, and to not be a repeat of 2020. Even Dan Rather had a strong opinion on 2020. Me too, sis, me too.

While we're waiting for 2021 to prove itself, we can focus on those resolutions that we've made for this year.

Did you make the same kind of resolutions that you made last year? Have you given up on resolutions entirely? Have you decided to make bold new resolutions for this year?

New Year's resolutions are a ritual that just about everyone engages in at some point in their life. There's something that feels good about taking a clear marker of the passage of time and use it as a jumping off point for a new life. If we didn't do it with New Year's, we'd probably do it with Lent, Independence Day, or Thanksgiving.

Keeping our resolutions though....whew! Sometimes that can be quite a chore. Why is it so hard to keep resolutions? Often, it's because our commencement is too extreme, even if our goals are reasonable.

A common resolution is to lose weight and get fit. Sounds good, right? Improved fitness equals improved health equals many good things. So, we think to ourselves...I'm going to get that gym membership and I'm going to get some new workout clothes. I'm going to get up early before work, go to the gym and I'm going to work out for 30 minutes a day, and I'm going to take weekends off. We figure we're being awfully kind to ourselves, only working out for 30 minutes, or giving ourselves the weekend off. Problem?

It's still too much change all at once. We might stick to it for a month, two months, and then we get sick of it. We might have had the opportunity to cultivate that mindset where working out is essential to us, that we benefit from it, or *gasp* we actually enjoy it. We're tired of getting up at the ass-crack of dawn and getting sweaty. We're totally over being bored to tears on the elliptical. It would be really nice to just sleep in for that extra hour before work. It sucks to eat veggies and lean meat all the time when we're used to Bojangles or Chipotle. I don't want to drink water; give me a Diet Coke, dammit.

So we start cheating and slipping and we start to reason that I might as well fuck up today, since I've fucked up Monday and Tuesday too. I had a chocolate chip muffin for breakfast; the entire day is shot. Screw it- let's go get Taco Bell.

Although it sounds counter-intuitive, we need to ease back the throttle on the goals a bit. When you start out a new endeavor in life, you've got to tippy-toe into it like you're getting into an icy pool. Hey, if you're the jump-in-and--deal-with-it type of person, help yourself. If you find that approach doesn't work for you, read on.

When you've decided to start working at something, don't just work hard, work SMART. When you make your goals, keep this acronym in mind. SMART. S-M-A-R-T. Say it with me. SMART goals.

So, what the hell does the acronym stand for?

S - Specific

M - Measurable

A - Attainable

R - Realistic

T - Time-based

The above link takes you to a handy-dandy infographic on Indeed's website. I want you to print the picture out and staple it to your face. This needs to become the primary mantra in your life when it comes to goal-setting. SMART goals work because they ease us into the goal we're after at a pace that sustainable and not overwhelming. In fact, it may feel like you're not moving fast enough. However, sustainable goals are the ones that follow the steps in the SMART acronym. We're more likely to stick to goals when they're kept specific, we can measure our progress, it's within the realm of attainability for us, our goals are realistic, and we have a deadline for certain milestones.

Take the Couch to 5k program, for example.

Rather than kicking you off the couch and into the Boston Marathon, the Couch to 5k program builds on your endurance and physical ability with sequential milestones until you're able to run a 5k race quite comfortably. The genius in it is that the milestones push you just a little bit outside of your comfort zone, are achievable, and make you feel like a million bucks when you make those milestones. Likewise needs to be your goal-setting.

Let's break it down with an example. Let's say I want to cut back on my crippling addiction to Diet Coke. (blasphemy!)

If I decide to go cold turkey on it, I won't succeed. Why? Because I know myself and I know that barring a imminent harm situation, I'm not fantastic at doing cold turkey anything. I know how I am, and these initial decisions need to be made from a place of a frank, honest assessment of your abilities and tendencies. This is not a value judgment on your worth as a person. I used all of the text modifiers there because I can't say it enough. You're not supposed to be a jerk to yourself when you make this assessment, but rather being upfront about what's difficult for you and what seems to work.

My approach to things- Suck at cold turkey unless something is really riding on it. Do better with steps so small that I barely notice I'm making progress. I do really well with repetition and if things are interesting.

After you've nailed down the approach that works for you, you start formulating your plan. The key here is making the steps and the milestones on your plan small enough that it's may even feeling insulting, the milestones are so small.

My first goal may be to switch to 8oz. cans instead of 12oz, that way I'm not feeling deprived, but I'm still drinking less. I may also consider skipping an afternoon Diet Coke and replacing it with a Waterloo instead. After all, the fizz is one of the main things I dig about Diet Coke. I might start by skipping my morning soda in favor of a cup of my fancy Christmas coffee, so as to still get the morning caffeine.

Whatever you decide for your first goal, keep it specific and small. I will drink an 8oz can instead of a 12oz can for my afternoon soda for a week. I will drink a Waterloo instead of a soda at my afternoon break for a week. I will have coffee in the morning instead of a soda for a week.

Note that I am being annoyingly specific about the boundaries. That's because human beings love knowing what to expect. See: anxiety.

Once you have your specific goal set down, look at it to see if you can measure it. In the first example, I can. I can measure the amount- going from a big can to a little can reduces my intake by 4 ounces. Such a tiny amount! But not really. 4 ounces reduced a day means that I drink 28 ounces less per week. It adds up over time, and remember that this is a marathon and not a sprint.

Next up- is this attainable? Heck yeah it is. As far as I can tell, there are no specific barriers getting in my way of drinking 4oz less of soda a day.

Realistic? This is a very important part to consider, and relates directly to that personal assessment I asked you to do before all of this. A realistic goal is one that you can reasonably expect yourself to keep in perpetuity. Until the end of time. Until forever. Not only can you meet this goal, but will you meet this goal? Do you have the will to meet it? Do you have reason to meet it? This is important because we have to have buy-in to do something. I have much more buy-in if I'm just being asked to cut back my taco consumption, rather than to never eat tacos again. Ask yourself- Realistically, honestly, reasonably, would I be willing to make this change for the long term? In the case of my Diet Coke example, yes, I would be willing to make that call. It's only 4oz and honestly, I'll only miss that 4oz if I allow myself to obsess on it. What's 4oz? It's nothing in the grand scheme of things.

Something helpful here you can use is the Foot-In-The-Door technique, or the Door-In-The-Face technique when you're trying to get your own buy-in. With Foot-In-The-Door, you make a tiny, tiny request that people are willing to accept. With Door-In-The-Face, your initial request is so ridiculously huge that a small request seems reasonable. Which would work for you?

All I'm asking is for you to give up 4ozs of Diet Coke. Ok.

All I'm asking is for you to give up soda forever. No? Okay, how about just 4 ozs? Ok.

Once I've determined a realistic goal, I want it to be time-based. I want to give myself a specific deadline or time expectation that I can reference. This helps to make the change seem even more reasonable. I'm not saying no Diet Coke forever, I'm only saying cut back for a week. Or, I want to run this 5k in October of next year. Or, I want to save up to buy this super sweet bag for Christmas, and it's January right now. Or, I want to make sure I work out for just 15 minutes. Any extra is bonus if I feel like it at the time, but I only have to work out for 15 minutes. Time-based works because of those aforementioned expectations. It gives a finish line, something to look forward to. That's a big part of why kids tend to be so pumped about midnight on Christmas Eve. Use that, harness that, for your SMART goals.

So, once you have your plan, what then? Do we just ride off into the sunset and it's happily ever after? No one talks about what to do if you make your plan, enact it, and it doesn't work.

So, after you have your plan, set it into motion. Work on it. Let's say you decide to go to the gym, run for 15 minutes, and your time base is a week to see how it works out. You go down, you run, and you find that 10 minutes is pretty challenging (but doable.) 15 minutes is just too much for where you're at fitness-wise.

I'd like to petition for you to add a second T to your SMART goals- SMARTT. The second T represents 'trouble-shoot.' This is your opportunity to course-correct if your plan doesn't work out exactly how you'd prefer. 15 minutes of running is too much. !0 is challenging, but doable. So, ease back to 10 minutes for the next week you do your plan. You can still keep 15 minutes on the board for later as a sequential goal, just now you know that you've got to work up to it.

A second thing I'm going to slap all the text modifiers on that I want you to keep in mind- You are not a failure if you have to course-correct. Course correction and trouble-shooting is normal. It's expected, and honestly, if you don't have to course-correct or troubleshoot, I would be a little suspicious that you're not human. Even Bruce Lee had something to say about course correction.

With all of this in mind, take a renewed look at your goals for the future. You can accomplish just about anything you want to accomplish with the right steps and the right plan for yourself. Rockstars are sometimes born, but mostly cultivated. You CAN do this.

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