Smart Goals 101: Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

(This is part 2 of a six part series. Click here to see part one)

Think back through this past New Year’s Eve. If you’re like me, you probably gave some thought to the past year, and made some mental decisions on how the year ahead was going to be better. It usually looks something like this:

 Start this. Stop that. Be different.

Spend less. Learn more.


The language of New Year’s Resolutions…such poetry right?

You Can’t Hit A Blurry Target

The first rule of SMART goal setting is that your goal has to be specific. If your goal isn’t crystal clear then it’s not a goal, it’s a desire. A study by the University of Scranton Journal of Clinical Psychology stated that only 8% of Americans are successful in achieving their resolutions.

Here’s a list of the top ten goals for 2012 (University of Scranton). If goals have to be specific, can you see why only 8% of New Year’s Resolutions are achieved?

In my opinion, “Quit Smoking” is probably the most specific on the list. I would call the other nine hopes and wishes, not goals. We’ll come back to this list again throughout this series, as it’s such a great example of how the average person sets “goals” and why it doesn’t work.

How To Make Your Goal Specific

The simplest way to make a goal specific is to ask the questions who, what, when, where, and how.

Let’s use finances as an example. If you’re reading this, your goal is likely to be “get debt free.” This goal is somewhat specific and measurable by the fact that it is defined by a specific number ($0 debt). But if you run it through all five questions, you can start to see the power of making a goal specific.

  • What is the goal? To have zero debt
  • Who is responsible for this goal? I am
  • When will this goal be accomplished? December 31st
  • Where (location*) will this goal be accomplished? Not applicable
  • How will this goal be accomplished? Strict budget, extra income

The result is that you take a vague goal of “get debt free” and transformed it into a specific, crystal clear goal: “I  will have zero debt by December 31st by keeping a strict monthly budget and working at least three extra shifts each month.”

*Location may or may not apply. An example of a goal with location would be “I will weigh 145 by my birthday by working out at Gold’s Gym at 7:00 am M-W-F and cutting out all soda and fast-food.”

Why Not “Why?”

You’ll notice that “why?” is not one of the questions to ask when setting your goal. The key to powerful goals is to keep them simple. You can see even in the examples above that it’s easy to get “wordy” on goals, so if you write down the “why” for each goal, then it’s going to be too long and you won’t take the time to review it.

On the flip side, if you don’t have a strong “why” behind each goal then you’re likely to run short on motivation and quit before you accomplish it. My suggestion is to write out all of your reasons for why you’re setting a goal at the beginning of the process (in a journal), and again anytime you feel your motivation waning. Strive for at least 20 reasons why. It’s a powerful exercise when you feel the need to refocus.

If you have a goal where you’re not sure how to make it specific, leave us a comment below and we’ll be glad to help you think through it and make it powerful and motivating for you! We respond to 100% of our comments!

Committed to your success,




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