How to set really, really smart goals for the new year!


Picture of woman looking aheadPersonally, I disagree with new years resolutions. I don't understand that tradition at all. Usually people declare they will "stop smoking" or "start exercising", but you can't change a habit simply by declaring it. It takes time and dedication and human beings quite often take two steps forward and one step back when they change.

No, much better to set some real SMART goals instead.

To set really SMART goals though, requires some really good self knowledge and a strong grounding in your strengths and abilities.

"Know thyself" first!

For some this is easier said that done because we sometimes get a bit confused as to what we really want. So one way of starting to get to know yourself is to do this...

  1. Think about what you've already achieved in your life. List it all out. How did you achieve these things, was it by being single minded and determined or did you just do one little bit each day and suddenly you were there! Really think about it. This is basically your modus operandi for reaching goals and it's very important that you know it.
  2. Think about your roles in life and what you want people to say about you in these roles. Do you want to be a good parent? What does that look like to you? What does it mean that you actually do? This gives you some idea of your personal values in the key areas of your life. Write these down like a story, describe how you are like you are already doing it.

Okay! Now you're ready to make some goals for the new year!

Now read what you wrote for number two. If this is how you want to be in your roles, decide on some goals for each role. Don't write too many, I never personally write more than three and sometimes I only write one.

And... make sure your goals are SMART, of course. SMART is commonly known, but just in case... it is an acronym for:

S = Specific

M = Measurable

A = Attainable

R = Realistic

T = Timely

Basically, this is just a way of helping your brain gain a sense that you can and are achieving your goals, making it easier to reach your personal idea of success in the areas of life that are important to you.

So, in a bit more detail:

Specific Goals - are straightforward and emphasize what you want to happen. Tangible and observable ways of describing what you want. WHAT are you going to do? Use action words such as direct, organize, coordinate, lead, develop, plan, build etc. WHY is this important to do at this time? What do you want to ultimately accomplish? HOW are you going to do it? Ensure the goals you set is very specific, clear and easy. Instead of setting a goal to lose weight or be healthier, set a specific goal to walk 5 kilometers at a fast pace for instance.

Measurable Goals - measurement of most things in life is fairly subjective, but the brain likes to know it can make progress! So measurement is important for human beings. Try to find ways of measuring your goal that are easy to do and can quite literally track progress. E.g. buy a heart rate monitor for the walking goal I stated above and track your progress with an app.

Attainable Goals - these are goals that you 'feel' you can reach. We are often overcome by big goals and although they can seem inspiring at the start, if you fail to make progress right away they can become burdens, so look back over the goals you have already reached, what works best for you? Small or large goals? Small goals that lead to large outcomes perhaps? Focus on what 'feels' attainable to you.

Realist Goals - these are goals that have a plan to get there. You can't just 'be a millionaire' but you can 'save 1,000 a month perhaps. Saving regularly is a plan. Being realistic is about having a plan that is grounded in the here and now. We have a difficult economy at the moment so those who plan to start a business, for instance, need to be grounded with the knowledge that consumers will be cautious with their spending, though that may get better in 2014 as we're off to a good start!

Timely Goals - these are goals that have a realistic time frame. You can't lose 10 kilograms of fat in a week and stay healthy, but you can lose one kilogram of fat a week. Basically the plan must be set in a timeframe that works for the goal. We are all only human after all!

Put all these things together and you have a SMART goal.

This is a task that will actually take a few hours if done right, and if done for all your important life roles. So it's not something to do as a whim (like most new years resolutions I think) it's a thoughtful commitment to a personally satisfying year ahead.

Go for it!

HINT: try doing this in a journal so you can track progress and even self reflect on what works for you, on a yearly basis.

Dr Louise Metcalf

Associate Lecturer at

Internationally published leadership expert. One of the top 100 Sustainability Leaders in the World (ABC Carbon, 2011, 2012). BA (Hons in Psych), Masters of Applied Psychology Organisational, MBA, PhD, Member APS College of Organisational Psychologist, membership of Academy of Management. Louise has decades of experience in the field of organisational psychology and general psychology. She is a highly respected leadership and change management consultant in Australia

Comments (5)
Neil Steggall

Neil Steggall, Partner at Wardour Capital Partners

A great article Louise! I will set a timely goal to lose more weight!

Wendy Huang

Wendy Huang, Full Time Blogger and YouTuber at A Custom Blog in 4 Minutes

Hi Louise, Great article! Looking forwards for more :)

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