Every new year we hear many stories in the media with people touting slogans such as

“New year, new you!
“Transform yourself this year!” and
“This year, become a better version of you!”

Many rush out and join a health club, start a new fad diet, take on a hobby or resolve to strike work-life balance. Whilst all these ideas sound exciting and interesting they seem to only last for a short period of time. It seems we somehow lose the motivation or the spark that was there at the start.

So why is it so many fail to stick to their goals? The answer lies in how effectively you set your goals.

Goal setting is a road map that helps us to achieve our dreams – big or small – and allows us to plan how we want to move through life.

So what is the key to setting effective goals?

Being clear on what you want to achieve is a good starting point and following the SMART principle helps to keep things on track.

The first step of the process is to be SPECIFIC about what you want to achieve. A specific goal is one that gives you clarity about what you need to achieve. For example becoming fit is a good ambition but as a goal it is too broad. A more specific goal would be to reduce your running time over 10kms or to lose weight. These are indicative of being fit and are more concrete in nature.

Once you have identified your specific goal you need to identify a MEASURE of success. Being able to measure your success means you have a clear and tangible target – you’ll know when you’ve got there. You’ll be able to gauge how close you are as you progress which helps to motivate you to stay on track and stick to your goals. So you might want to set a measure of reducing your running time over 10kms by 3 minutes or to lose 3 kilos.

Next, is your goal ACHIEVABLE? The way to answer this is to look at what you have done previously. For example you may have originally been running 10kms in 65 minutes and you were successful in getting it down to 60 minutes. However, you note that you’ve never run 10kms faster than 60 minutes and you would classify yourself as an average runner. Slicing a further 5 minutes off that time may be achievable. Reducing your time down to 40 minutes for 10km, which you discover is what some of the elite runners in your age group are doing, may simply be setting yourself up for failure. It’s important to understand your capabilities and be comfortable with them. Setting unachievable targets is likely to have you frustrated and disappointed and may lead you to give up which is obviously counterproductive.

The R in SMART is REALISTIC. How realistic is your goal? If you chose a goal such as running a marathon, you’ll need to be allocating a lot of time to training. However if you are time poor and unable to commit to a significant training routine then you may need to look at shorter distances. It’s no good setting a goal that sounds good but is simply unrealistic given other priorities in your life or because you know you won’t enjoy it.

The final step in setting SMART goals is to ensure they are TIMELY. A timeframe ensures a commitment to action, motivating us to take action today rather than putting it off, and it provides a marker for us to either celebrate a success or reflect on a failure and makes changes to succeed next time.

Whilst it is healthy for us to have ambitions to better ourselves, making vague promises or rushing in to new commitments without careful consideration is potentially problematic. Is this new activity really what we want or is it something we think we should be doing? Will you enjoy it and stick at it or is it just nice in theory? And how much do you really want it. Is it something you have a passion for or something that will fade when the next good idea comes along? Once you’ve thought it through and decided you do really have a passion for it, you want it for the right reasons and you feel committed to it, the next step is to set some SMART goals around these plans. SMART goals help you better define your plan, put some parameters around it so you know what to do and by when, and help you feel capable of getting to your destination successfully.

Good luck and let me know how you go!