I normally “don’t do” new year’s resolutions.  They don’t stick.  I had a friend once who, each year, would resolve to “swear less”.  I’m not sure what exactly that meant or how successful she was.  How do you even measure that?  Who are you accountable to?  I use this example because it’s exceptionally vague, but they all are.  “I’m going to get in shape.”  So you plunk $300 on a gym membership.  “I’m going to save more.”  So you open up a savings account.  “I am going to be ‘less negative'”, whatever that’s supposed to mean.

Come on, people.  Don’t you see, you’re setting yourself up to fail?

We see the new year as a clean slate.  We measure time in arbitrary ways.  When we’re in college, for example, we measure it by semesters.  (“I’m going to get a 4.0 this semester!”)  We measure it by our birthdays. (“27 is going to be the year I do xyz activity I’ve not yet done!”)  But, the universal one is, New Years.

It’s a good one, right?  Everyone is starting fresh.  The weather in most parts of the country is generally lousy, meaning we’re housebound with time on our hands.  In the northeast, for example, summers are packed full as we try to soak up as much sunshine as we can, stretching our outdoor time through October or later, depending on what the weather has in store.  Once the cold weather and shorter days start to roll in come November, we start planning like crazy for the impending holidays.  Most of us have very little time to breathe and reflect until January.  It’s a good time to focus your energy on something new, because you suddenly have a break.

But we fail within a few short weeks, if we’re even lucky to carry it that far.  Why?  Well, look above!  Our goals aren’t specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, or time-bound.  They’re not SMART goals!

Okay, okay, you’ve heard of it before, right?  SMART Goals?  It’s a pretty cool schtick.  We use them with HOBY when trying to get the ambassadors to plan service projects. (*Intead of “attainable,” we use “approved by you” at HOBY, as it is very easy for adults to set “goals” and benchmarks for kids that are unrealistic and don’t match their passions … however, as we’re all adults here, and I would hope that we’re all approving our own goals.)  It’s a great formula, and I wish it had been more popular when I was 16.  However, you don’t have to be 16 to benefit from SMART goals.  They are pretty widely applicable.

So, let’s use the popular one.  “I want to get into shape.”  *eyeroll*  Yeah, right. 

Instead, let’s do it as a SMART Goal. 
-I want to lose 2 dress sizes.
Ahhh, now this is measurable.  Saying you want to drop sizes or inches is more realistic than just saying “I want to lose weight.”  Pounds can be a good indicator of where you want to go, but it’s not necessarily the best way to measure your progress.  How your clothes fit is a better indicator than your weight.
– I am going to join Boot Camp.
This is both specific and relevant – you’re not just “getting healthy” or “in shape,” you have a specific, relevant outlet to do so.  Something like guided, scheduled exercise is better than just “joining a gym,” as you’re accountable (heyyyy …you could use that for the “A” too, huh?).
– I am going to buy 3 months of Boot Camp, and evaluate my progress from there.
Attainable and time measured.  Maybe you can’t lose two dress sizes because that would put you at an unhealthy weight.  But it’s better to give yourself a time-measured deadline to see if something works.  And, with getting healthy, you really need to give yourself a lot of time.  Fad diets don’t work and DON’T get you healthy.

As part of this, maybe you’ll want to add on a nutrition plan.  Make a grocery list and stick to a daytime regime.  “My cheat days will be Wednesdays, because that’s wing night at the Ruck.”  Etc. 

Now, there’s nothing saying you can’t deviate and tweak your goals from there – that’s recommended.  Different approaches work for different people, and in order to be successful, the goal needs to fit with your values and lifestyle.

As you can see, you can substitute “get in shape” for anything.  “Write more.”  “Be less negative.”  “Swear less.”  What is it that you want to achieve with your resolution?  What is the best way to do this going forward?

Quite honestly, I haven’t really had time to think about a SMART Goal plan for 2012.  I generally don’t, this time of year.  Rather, I prefer to start thinking about it now and then harness my Catholic Guilt and use Lent for something.  Even if you’re not Catholic, you can see how the timeline and the idea surrounding Lent works well with SMART goals. (I am Catholic only ethnically, at this point – if I’m anything, I would say I’m agnostic, at most.  I’m not an athiest, but I’m not a christian, either.)  Lent generally starts in February or March, so this gives you 1-2 months to think of something meaningful and put together a plan.  The time frame is only 40 days, which is long enough to start a good habit (or break a bad one), but short enough to see an end in sight.  The idea behind it is to better yourself and reflect spiritually on your way of life moreso than it is about suffering and arbitrarily giving something up.  So, why NOT use it as a kickstart to your “new year’s resolution”?

So, no – I do not have a general resolution for 2012.  Check back with me on February 22.

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