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Successful Resolutions Require SMART Goals

Sample New Year Resolution

It may seem a bit late to write about New Year Resolutions, unless I resolved to write about them last week, but failed to do so, so now I’m starting my resolution again. Or perhaps my resolution was not to start writing my blog again until the middle of January, in which case I’m right on target. That’s the thing about resolutions. Only the “Resolver” really knows what’s going on.

As the Harlequin Joker on the left muses,

Each resolution that I make

My conscience sorely troubles

Because I find they always break

As easy as soap bubbles.

Common Resolutions

A recent article in Forbes indicated that 62 percent of American adults feel pressured to make a New Year resolution. A resolution made under pressure isn’t apt to last very long, because the Resolver isn’t really interested in achieving the stated goal.

The most common resolutions are about what you might expect:

Man on treadmill

Are Resolutions Doable?

The goals above are worthy goals – but whose goals are they? Let’s take the well-known example of fitness. During the first two weeks of January, gym attendance increases about 4 per cent. And then returns to the usual rate of participation. The drop-off has two effects. Regular patrons are happy because they don’t have to stand in line for their fitness machines behind the newbies . The gym owners are happy because they get to keep the membership fees whether the new member participates or not.

Exercise, by the way, does not have to happen in a class or at a gym. Walking, for example, can be done anytime and almost anywhere. But I digress from the topic of resolutions. See how that works? Many resolutions fail because once regular routines return, sincere people are distracted, over-scheduled, or just plain tired. In fact, 80 percent of all New Year Resolutions fail by the end of January.

Quitters’ Day

Postcard of resolutions

As the illustration on the left notes, Your New Year’s Resolution: Resolve to renew all your old resolves and add a few that are new. Resolve to keep them as long as you can. What more can a poor man do?

Quitters’ Day occurs the second Friday in January. This year that day fell on January 12, which you will note is several days ago. So it seems that not only am I late to the topic of resolutions, I’m also late in quitting them.

Not so. Ditch New Year’s Resolutions Day is January 17th which is tomorrow. Whew! I made a deadline.

The point is If you change your mind about resolutions, it’s okay to let them go.

Rewards & Penalties

Resolutions are culturally tricky. We often make them to meet some requirement outside ourselves which makes success less likely. Then if we slip, we act as if we have failed at something important.

curly kale

For example if on January 1, I resolve to eat kale because I know it is good for me, even though I hate the texture and the taste,

movie poster for "Are You a Failure?"

Then, each day I manage to swallow kale, my brain applauds and releases the endorphins dopamine & serotonin. I still don’t like kale, but at least I get a reward. And for the first week, I fulfill my resolution.

However, if on January 8, I can’t choke down another bite of the wretched vegetable, I give up. I don’t get any endorphins, but I do get a lot of cortisol, the stress hormone. I also feel like a failure, a person who can’t do something as simple as drowning the kale in ranch dressing and swallowing it. Obviously I don’t care about my health. Well, you can see where this sort of self-talk will go.

But then it’s Quitters’ Day. [I must have a lot of company if there’s a day devoted to quitting New Year Resolutions.] My slate is clear again. I can set a new goal. And this time, I’m going to be SMART.

Setting SMART Goals

Illustration for SMART goal setting

According to the SMART system of setting goals, also known as making resolutions, a successful goal is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time Based

How does my failed goal measure up?


The goal to eat kale was Specific. It was Measurable. It was Not Attainable, because I don’t like kale. It was Relevant in a generalized way. It wasn’t Time Based, because there was no end date.

How can I make a better goal for the same general purpose? Let’s change the goal to “I am going to increase the amount of fresh vegetables in my diet over the next six months from one to four servings daily and keep a photographic record of my intake, because I think a plant-based diet is healthier.”

Is my new goal SMARTer?

The goal is Specific and Measurable. It is Attainable, because I like most vegetables. It is Relevant to increasing my vegetable servings, and it is Time Based because this goal is set for six months. Also, the use of the word goal rather than resolution makes the entire process less dramatic. Let the endorphins roll.

Bottom Line Considerations

Resolutions & Goals are NOT Required.

If you choose to set goals, set them for yourself, not because the goal is something you should do.

Make SMART goals, not random aspirations.

Wishing you a Happy New Year of Good Health & Joy!

🥦 🥬 🥒 🫑 🌽 🥕 🍏 🍎 🍐 🍊 🍋 🍇 🍓 🫐

Illustrations & A Few Sources

New Year Postcard, 1909; FRIYAY Roux Fitness, Jefferson LA 2022 by Colin Van Dervort; Diet Picture; Stressball by Andreas Schikora; Piggy Bank by free; Young Man on Treadmill by Nina Stojikovic; New Year Resolution Postcard, 1915; Advertisement for Comedy: Are You a Failure?; SMART Goals by Dungdm93. Kat Boogaard. How To Write Smart Goals. Atlassian. Dec. 26, 2021. Sarah Davis. “New Years Resolutions Statistics 2024.” Forbes. Dec 18 2023. “What Happens in Your Brain When you Fail?” Heartmanity’s Blog. 

Sandra’s Books: Ambition, Arrogance & Pride. Saxon Heroines. Two Coins. Rama’s Labyrinth.

Author Sandra Wagner Wright

Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.

 Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.


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