Only 20% of New Year’s resolutions succeed, not because people choose unrealistic goals, but because they don’t come up with realistic ways to achieve them. S.M.A.R.T. goals simplify your desired health and wellbeing objectives to make them practical and attainable. S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. Adding these elements to each of your resolutions can help you stay on track.
For example, “losing weight,” “lowering blood pressure,” or “improving heart health” are difficult New Year’s resolutions to achieve because they are very general and don’t follow the S.M.A.R.T. criteria. Here are the S.M.A.R.T. guidelines in detail, along with a few helpful examples:
S = Specific
Without being specific, it’s difficult to know when your goals have been met, if at all, and you can set yourself up for disappointment.
Rather than setting a goal that states, “I want to lower my blood pressure,” instead try “I want to lower my blood pressure to the normal range.” Normal is less than 120 mmHG over 80 mmHG. These are specific numbers for systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
If you don’t set specific numbers for a health goal like blood pressure, then you could discourage yourself from reaching the goal due to a lack of details.
M = Measurable
Setting a measurable goal means that concrete evidence is required to achieve the goal. Lowering your blood pressure to a normal range is a great example of a measurable S.M.A.R.T. goal because blood pressure readings can be easily obtained. To achieve healthier blood pressure levels, doctors recommend home monitoring in addition to less frequent, routine checks at clinic appointments. Keeping your blood pressure top of mind through regular monitoring will ultimately spark a new pattern of healthy behaviors in your lifestyle. When goals are specific and measurable, they’re also attainable.
A = Attainable
To look like Captain America, actor Chris Evans worked out with highly-trained professional trainers at least two hours a day. Most of us don’t have the time, money and resources to follow that kind of regime. So if your goal is to look like Captain America or a runway model, you may be setting yourself up for unnecessary disappointment.
Studies suggest focusing on smaller goals will lead to more success—not only in achieving the goal, but in the quality of the results. For example:
- Three pounds of weight loss is not only more achievable than 40, but it can significantly reduce blood cholesterol
- Three, ten-minute bouts of exercise offer many of the same benefits as a single, 30-minute session
- Two minutes of walking between periods of sitting can lower blood glucose by almost 30%
- Losing four pounds in four years can reduce blood pressure risk by 25%
(Source: How New Year’s Resolutions Succeed or Fail, Psychology Today)
“I will exercise thirty minutes a day” or “I will lose three pounds” are much more attainable goals for most people.
This doesn’t mean you need to stop after reaching your smaller goals. It suggests that breaking your goals up into smaller segments leads to more success while building better habits. Success feels good, too! That feeling of achievement after reaching attainable goals helps them feel more relevant.
R = Relevant
If you’re not passionate about your goals, you will have little defense against impatience and the inevitable ups and downs throughout your journey. Setting health goals to please someone else, for example, can give you a lot less motivation than would personal satisfaction. Experts suggest asking,
- What’s the source of my goal?
- Why is it important?
- How would achieving this goal affect my life in other ways?
Writing these thoughts down and visualizing the results will help them feel even more realistic and relevant.
T = Timebound
Without a deadline, you can feel less motivated or accountable to work toward your goals. And when timelines are unrealistic, they can set you up for disappointment, or worse, danger. Losing 20 pounds in one month, for example, is nearly impossible without a near-starvation diet. On the other hand, having no timeline at all doesn’t establish the accountability and discipline you may need to achieve your goal.
Setting a realistic timeframe can be tricky
One UCLA study found that with lifestyle changes like diet and exercise, men were able to reduce their blood pressure significantly in three weeks, even reducing their need for blood pressure medication. An attainable goal might be to lower blood pressure by a specific amount within five weeks. This type of goal requires a doctor’s advice.
It takes a reduction of about 500 to 1,000 calories a day from your typical diet to lose one or two pounds a week. You want to be careful to continue eating healthily, including getting enough protein (and even better, protein plus strength training), to make sure you burn unhealthy fat rather than depleting healthy muscle. Checking your body composition in addition to your weight is a more realistic way to see where and how you’re losing pounds.
Setting small and attainable goals with their own timeframes can help
Initial weight loss, for example, can be faster, so if your goal is to lose 15 pounds in three months, you might benefit from dividing it into separate goals, like seven pounds in month 1 and four pounds for months 2 and 3.
For health goals, talk to your doctor and research reliable sources like academic literature from respected health care institutions to set healthy and realistic timeframes for your goals.
Make positive change a year-round goal
Setting a New Year’s resolution is a worthy intention. Striving for lasting change and better habits makes S.M.A.R.T. resolutions part of your everyday life.