Healthy Living

It's Not You, It's Your Goal Setting

Jan. 8, 2024
Why is it so hard to set — and keep — New Year’s resolutions?

When the calendar flips from December to January, it’s common to pick a handful of New Year’s resolutions. While many set goals, only 9% of people manage to keep their resolutions throughout the year. When people give up on their resolutions, they might think it’s because they lack discipline. But what if it had nothing to do with you? The key to keeping your New Year’s resolutions, according to our experts, is to set “SMARTER” goals. Registered Nurse and certified health and wellness coach at UR Medicine Center for Employee Wellness Ging Hoang shares how.

Why are resolutions so hard to keep?

New Year’s resolutions tend to fail because typically people set out with too big of a resolution, says Hoang. If the goal is unrealistic, it can set you up for failure before you’ve even begun.

Why does goal setting matter?

In a world that equates success with productivity, many people pack their days with responsibilities. We can easily form habits that don’t take too much energy, allowing the subconscious to take over. When schedules are jam-packed, it’s easy to lean on “automatic behaviors,” says Hoang. “By setting goals, we can shift some of those automatic behaviors, things that we do without thinking, that we may want to change. If you want to start drinking water in the mornings, you’ll have to modify your routine. To make it easier, try filling up a glass at night and placing it next to your coffee maker.”

What’s the best way to set a New Year’s resolution?

To set realistic resolutions for 2024, think of it as if you’re setting a goal for the day. Just like we wake up in the morning and look at what’s ahead of us, try breaking the year down in chunks.

You might ask yourself, what do you want to accomplish in January? Or, what project do you want to have completed by the time summer starts?

Tracking progress is also essential to good goal-setting. Set reminders for yourself on your calendar or your phone and take time to reflect on—and celebrate!— how you’re doing.

What are “SMARTER” goals?

Using the acronym “SMARTER” to set your goals can help keep your New Year’s resolutions both valuable and realistic. By making each goal specific and clarifying the way you’ll measure its success, you’re more likely to follow through with the change.

“SMARTER” goals are:

S: Specific

M: Measurable or meaningful

A: Attainable/achievable

R: Realistic/relevant

T: Time-bound

E: Evaluated

R: Revised

For example, if your New Year’s resolution is to manage your stress better, here’s how you’d structure your SMARTER goal:

Specific: I will manage my stress by practicing meditation using a tool such as the Calm App.

Measurable or meaningful: I will meditate once a week on Sundays using the Calm App for at least three minutes. Meditating is something I find value in as it helps to manage my stress.

Attainable/achievable: Using the Calm App is easy because I can pull it up on my phone quickly. Meditating once a week is a reasonable amount given my schedule.

Realistic/relevant: I feel confident that I can keep up with this meditation plan because it is only once a week and for a short amount of time. It is relevant to my goal of managing stress.

Time-bound: I will meditate every Sunday for the month of January.

Evaluate: At the end of January, I will reflect on my progress.

Revise: If I find that I can’t commit to this goal, I will change it and try a different plan in February.

Whether your New Year’s resolutions are health-centered, focused on changing lifestyle habits, or something beyond, following the SMARTER guide is a great first step. If you need more help with goal setting, there are great resources available through UR Medicine.

And don’t forget to take it easy on yourself throughout the process. Hoang says, “It’s important to understand that setting goals and making life changes takes time, patience, and self-compassion.”


SMARTER Goals worksheet

SMARTER Goal Worksheet

Download this printable SMARTER goals worksheet to start your goal setting now!