SMART New Year’s Resolutions

As we start to look at the traditional season of change (the gyms really do get more full in January), the question arises of what works best for change. Well, there’s a clever little acronym that helps us to remember a good way execute change so that we actually get something done– SMART goals. Hokey, huh? But let me break it down for you:

S– specific. This means “I plan to lose five pounds in January.”

M– measurable. That’s the five in the statement.

A– achievable. Five pounds, not a hundred.

R– realistic. See achievable.

T– time limited. In January.

As you may have noticed, achievable and realistic have some overlap. But would it be as easy to remember SMAT goals? If it is for you, go right ahead. The point is, a vague commitment to lose weight in the new year (the most cliché resolution I could think of) isn’t very likely to get you anywhere. A SMART goal to lose five pounds in January is way more likely to happen.

“OK,” I hear someone saying, “But what about my depression, my anxiety?” If the goal is a generalized goal to feel better, that’s fine. But it does take some thought. Obviously, we have to define better. Also, something I’ve found works best with people is when we will define change as a positive state– not the absence of illness but the presence of wellness. So a goal for dealing with depression could be “Once a day I will do something I enjoy for at least 30 minutes.”

One of the great pitfalls of depression (this is not original with me, but I forget my source): depression lies to you. So if you’re thinking, “I won’t  have any fun riding my bike” while you’re sitting in the house not doing it, you’re making a negative prediction. You’re doing what Burns called “fortune-telling” in his book Feeling Good. It’s an easy enough prediction to test. Go ride your bike.

Granted, if it’s 39 degrees and raining out, it may be a good prediction. that’s why part of the prep for the 30 minute goal is creating a list of enjoyable activities. If the weather’s too bad,  you can watch a comedy for thirty minutes, or knit, or play guitar. And if it’s a craft or talent development activity,  you have permission to fail, permission to not push yourself. You push yourself when you’re feeling better– perhaps after fooling around for fifteen minutes, or maybe not at all on a given day.

Another concept for facilitating change that I like, but haven’t heard many folks talk about, is what I call no linkage. What this means is that your SMART goal is a “one day at a time” goal, just like in AA. If I don’t do it today, I can’t get behind. I just let go of today and do my same goal tomorrow. Granted, there are ways to play catch up. If my goal was to walk for a half hour first thing in the morning and I didn’t do it, maybe I can do it at lunch, or even after dinner.  But if not, I don’t owe anybody an  hour of walking tomorrow. the goal doesn’t change; I can’t fall behind. And I always need to remember to be kind to myself. This whole thing could be worked out in much more detail & with more examples, but I feel it’s better to close with always be kind to yourself. 


About jamesmatter

Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) in private practice in San Francisco. I work with adults, adolescents, and couples, with focus on substance use and abuse and co-occurring disorders (having both a mental illness and an addiction).
This entry was posted in behavioral health, change, choices, cognitive therapy, dealing with change, happiness, mental health, physical health, physical health, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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