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The real problem with New Year's resolutions

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A woman with many aspirations written around her head.

If you’re like me, by this point in the year, many of your New Year’s resolutions may have already fallen by the wayside.

The reason? You should be setting goals, not making resolutions.

You’ve probably heard the easy-to-remember acronym about goals. They should be S.M.A.R.T. – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.

Most of the resolutions we make fail on one or more of these categories.

For example, I might resolve “to eat better.” The problem? It’s not specific. It doesn’t describe what eating “better” means. Also, it’s not measurable. How will you know if you’re succeeding? Finally, it’s not really time-bound. This is a resolution that is set up to fail.

The good news? It’s never too late to set goals. If you make written goals that are more specific and measurable, you’re much more likely to keep them. And, when you fall short -- as you inevitably will -- getting back on track is less of a hurdle. Fail to keep a resolution and you may feel like the whole year is blown.

Converting the “eating better” example into a goal might look like this: “I will improve my diet by limiting sodas to no more than one a week in 2019.”

Stating the goal this way adds specificity (eating better now means “limiting sodas”); and measurability (you can assess progress weekly). More than likely, the goal is also achievable (not impossible) and relevant to an overall strategy of becoming healthier.

This also works with financial goals.

“I resolve to save more” can be improved by following the SMART pattern. “I will save $75 from my paycheck twice a month,” for example, is a specific, measurable goal that is probably attainable for most people.

You can add even more power to your goals if you connect your actions to a desired outcome. In the “save $75” example above, it helps to remember that $75 x 24 pay periods = $1,800. That could be enough for a reasonable down payment for a new car, a modest vacation, a new appliance or a very nice piece of furniture. By naming the end result, it can add a critical element to your SMART goal – motivation.