New Year’s Resolutions get a bad reputation. Most people who make them don’t expect to be able to keep them, leaving some to wonder why they should even try at all. We look in awe at the few outliers who actually succeed in accomplishing what they set out to do: “they must have more determination than me,” we think, or “if they had kids they wouldn’t be able to do all that.” We tell ourselves, “if my life was like that I’d have the time to work out/ eat healthy/ invest my finances/ [insert resolution here] too.”
So what is the missing link between those who keep their resolutions and those who give up? Is it a personality issue of having motivation or grit to keep going? Do certain lifestyles lend themselves more easily to change than others? While these factors can play a role, I’d like to propose that 1.) making goals that align with a grander vision, or your Transcendent There and 2.) creating SMART goals with systems to achieve what you set out to do will keep you on track to achieve your resolutions.
A Grander Vision
It’s difficult to want to do something when you don’t know why you’re doing it. There’s a reason that small children often ask “why” incessantly. “Why can’t I climb on the fireplace?” “Why do I have to put my toys away?” “Why can’t I have a sleepover tonight?” And the reason why answers such as “because I know what’s best for you” or “because I asked you to” are rarely satisfactory is that they fail to address the root of the question. Children ask “why” because they are trying to figure out the world and their place in it, and knowing the reasoning behind the answer helps them place it in context.
As adults we would probably assume that it’s not safe to climb on the fireplace and that putting toys away helps build habits of cleanliness, but while we often know an answer for why we do something, we may not always be aware of the core reason behind even the goals we set ourselves.
Let’s say, for example, that you set a resolution for this year to stop eating fast food. When asked why you made that goal, you may spout off reasons like saving money or eating healthier. But, like children interrogating their parents, let’s ask the five why’s to get to the core behind this decision.
The Five Why’s
- Why do you want to stop eating fast food?
- Why do you want to eat healthier?
- Because I’m not pleased with how I feel after eating.
- Why are you not pleased with how you feel after eating?
- Because I want to have more energy.
- Why do you want to have more energy?
- Because I want to be able to play more with my kids and do things with my family.
- Why do you want to do things with your family?
- Because I want to show them that I care for them.
There you have it: you want to stop eating fast food in order to care for your family. There are many ways to care for your family, so that would be considered a Transcendent There. You will never reach the pinnacle of caring for your family and will always be striving towards it. Then under that would be a Strategic There of taking care of your health, under which would be the goal of stopping eating fast food.
Getting to the core reason behind why you want to achieve something is half the battle, as it provides motivation to get There. But no amount of motivation is going to help if you don’t also have systems in your life that make achieving this goal possible.
A way to start determining what systems you need is to properly define the goal by making it into a SMART goal. SMART is an acronym that helps you visualize tangible results.
S- Specific: You want your goal/milestone to be specific, clear, and free of jargon.
M- Measurable: The completion of the goal can be empirically measured.
A- Acceptable (or Achievable): It is in your control or influence to accomplish, and it aligns with your There. Your goal should be both practical and realistic.
R- Results-Oriented: It is not just activity, but rather it is activity that achieves a result. It moves you towards your There.
T- Time-bound: There is a clear target date or deadline for completion.
Let’s apply this to the example about fast food:
Specific: If I want to stop eating fast food, what counts as fast food? Is it just a drive-through or any fast casual dining?
Measurable: Yes, the task is measurable. I can tell if I achieve it by whether or not I go to the restaurant.
Achievable: This depends on the rest of my life circumstances and my ability to prioritize this goal. Do I have the bandwidth to implement regular grocery shopping and meal prepping? Do I need the ability to grab a quick pick-me-up if my blood sugar is low? What about that appointment on Thursdays that I’m always running to from work. Would having food beforehand help me perform better? What’s achievable for someone else might not be achievable for you, and so you need to decide what is achievable in your circumstances.
Results-Oriented: Yes, this gets me closer to my There of caring for my family by taking care of my health.
Time-bound: This is where many New Year’s Resolutions fail. We often set resolutions thinking that we’ll change a habit now and then do that forever, so of course we think we’ve failed when we’re back to our old ways by March. But setting a deadline for a goal helps keep our eyes on the finish line. Then when we reach the finish line, we can determine if we want to extend the deadline and set the goal again or try something else instead. These deadlines also provide markers for assessment: maybe I’ll say I want to stop eating fast food for one month, and then at the end of the month I realize that I missed being able to have Chick-fil-A dates with my friends. Then, I might change the rule to being able to eat fast food with friends twice a month.
Having analyzed my goal through the SMART lens, now my goal of stopping eating fast food might become something like: for the next two months, I will only eat at drive-through fast food restaurants with a friend up to twice a month. Then, in order to accomplish this goal, I will strive to stock my car with on-the-go snacks and pack a meal when I know I’ll be running from one place to another.
Setting goals is a crucial part of living intentionally. We want to periodically assess our needs and pinpoint areas of improvement in our lives. This can be done at any time, but it can be helpful to do so at other mile markers, such as at the beginning of a new year.
This year in 2023, setting intentional SMART goals that help aim you at your Transcendent There will help you overcome the confusion and fatigue that often comes with New Year’s Resolutions.
Gracie McBride is the Content and Systems Management Coordinator for The Crossroad.