Why effective goal setting and SMART goals can make 2021 the year you achieve all your personal goals

A beginning of a new year is the time when most of us decide to set a personal plan. In such a plan we usually include new personal goals, career goals, and future plans that you want to achieve by the end of that particular year.

But let me ask you one thing.  Reflecting on your personal life and your previous goal setting attempts, how many goals have you achieved? 

Most of us get in the rush of setting ambitious new year’s resolutions. Do you have this feeling that you want to achieve so much in that year, but then as time passes, you even forget about your commitments? And yes, end up not meeting even half of them? 

smart goal setting is important practice for new year's resolutions

You’re not alone! It’s not because you’ve decided to quit – after all self-improvement is important for all of us! What I found prevents us from keeping our commitments is a lack of focus and clarity in the goals we set for ourselves.

According to the work by Richard Wiseman, 88% of people that set New Year’s resolutions fail to meet them. This study also showed that if your goal setting activity focuses on developing SMART goals, there is a 22% higher likelihood that you actually achieve your resolutions. 

So how can you set and keep your new year’s resolutions to achieve a positive impact on your life and wellbeing?

Why we don’t achieve our goals?

Why we don’t meet our individual goals, even though they seem so valuable and relevant to us at the beginning of the new year? One of the main reasons why we don’t achieve our new year’s resolutions the fact that we write them down (assuming that we do so!) as a generic statement. 

For example, when setting goals you may say that you want “to eat healthier”, “exercise more”, “take care of your wellbeing, mental health”, or “improve my self confidence”. 

when setting goals, you should be as specific and positive as possible, use post it notes to keep your goals in visible place

Does this sound familiar? 

Such goals are rather generic and not very effective. Without actionable goals the tracking of your progress, ideally on daily basis, is difficult. But on that later. 

Effective goal setting and goal writing is a great skill to have in academia. This is because as academics, we often need to set short term and long term goals. This is fundamental to efficient time management and project management, as without deadlines and milestones we wouldn’t be able to measure our progress.

So what strategy should you take this year to set realistic goals that you can achieve with less effort in the long run?   

You should set SMART goals

Use SMART goals to set your new year’s resolutions! We discussed what SMART goals are and how you can use them in your research. 

Hand writing definition for smart goal setting on notebook with eye glasses, purple rose and colorful sticky note on desk

How would you use this strategy for setting your new year’s resolutions? Here’s an example. 

Let’s assume you want to focus on improving your mental health and career skills.

As there are many actions that you can undertake in these areas, you need to narrow these down. For example, you may improve mental health by regular meditation and gain new career skills (i.e. networking) by attending training or events.

Your attainable goals can be then: 

1. To meditate for 30 minutes on a daily basis to improve my mental health. 

2. To attend at least 2 online events per month to improve networking skills and elevate my career.

Despite the challenges we all faced over 2020, I developed a habit of being positive in writing down my goals and targets. What this means is that you write your goals in a way that these encourage action and, possibly, include positive outcome. 

It is also important to ensure that you have challenging goals so that when you achieve them, you’ll feel proud of yourself. 

I hope this gives you an idea of how you should set your new year’s resolution to make sure these are actionable!

Achievement of goals

Once you set your goals, you need to make sure you achieve them. It’s not just enough to state that you want to achieve a specific outcome. 

It’s even more important to regularly track your progress and adjust your activities if required. Therefore, if you’ve set an annual goal of becoming better at meditating or networking, you need to identify specific actions you will undertake on a monthly, weekly, and even daily basis.  This will help you break these goals into smaller components, making their monitoring and achievement easier!

Achieve your goals and succeed! “Success” word on business working table. Wooden cross word alphabet “Success”. Business teamwork success concept

As you can see in the examples I gave above, I already accounted for the time element of each goal by identifying WHEN activities related to this goal will be performed. 

But if your goal is set considering the annual basis, for example, “to publish 3 research papers in prestigious journals per year”, you need to break this down further.

At the very least, you need to break it down into monthly (i.e. write and submit manuscript every 4 months; design and perform experiments for the first manuscript in January) and weekly goals. 

How others can help in achieving your goals? 

Finally, let me ask you a question. Are you more accountable when you commit to achieving something just by yourself or whether you share your goals with others? 

Remember, delivering on your new year’s resolutions, especially building new habits, is a marathon. You need to have a strategy that will make tracking your progress easy and will hold you accountable. 

That’s why we recommend sharing your goals with someone you trust and someone who can keep you accountable. And you can be there for them too!

A final word…

It’s clear that you are more likely to be successful if you develop actionable and measurable goals.

Write down all the ideas for what you want to achieve in 2021 that come to your mind and list them in the order of priority. Take your time to develop SMART goals but set yourself a deadline. 

Once you set yourself achievable goals, express them in the form that is easy to track and measure. Share your goals with someone who will hold you accountable! This will make it easier to stay focused and motivated! 

And remember, achieving your new year’s resolution is a marathon, not a sprint. Take your time, don’t get discouraged, reflect, learn and improve! 

What are your goals for 2021? Share them in the comment below! 

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Academic Coach at Motivated Academic, senior lecturer at Cranfield University, UK.

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