SMART goals and New Years resolutions, why bother?

As we kick off a new year, many people will have made a list of new years resolutions in the wake of the calendar turning over. While this may be an admirable thing to do, it is also a strange action, at this time of year. For most of us, the date changing from December to January is not significant to our life, other than to mark the end of the holiday season around the Christmas celebrations.

For anyone in school themselves or being a parent of children in school, September is a much better time of year to start fresh. If you think about it, add up all the years you were in school and then all the years your children are in school. Chances are, that is a big number and represents a significant portion of your life. That is one reason to choose early September over January 1st.

Then, you have the change of season which early September signals. The air has changed, ever so slightly and you can sense what is coming. The leaves will fall from the trees, the days are getting ever shorter, it will soon be time to give thanks. At least in our part of the world in North America.

If you look at January 1st as the trigger date, there are only downsides, no upside. Probably you need that whole day to recover from too many celebrations, both the night before and for many days prior. Since the holiday season involves many gatherings of family and friends, there has been no good time to sit down and create any kind of resolutions or goals. The only way the run up to New Years has ever been a productive stretch of days for me, is when we are celebrating as just 4 of us, far away from home.

Technically the time here in Bali should have been perfect. But, I’ve decided that, even with fewer distractions, there is still too much pressure put on the holidays to be overly productive with planning. As well, putting a whole year into perspective and brainstorming ideas for the next, is a big deal! This kind of important work should not be taken lightly.

No matter which date is selected to do the work, or put a change into effect, the final problem is that goals and resolutions are not the same thing. Since the two activities are so easily confused with each other, maybe that explains why at least 80% of new years resolutions are not kept. Often, not even for a full day, after they are set. This could be understood better by looking closely at how goals and resolutions are inherently different.

Many people fail in life, not for lack of ability or brains or even courage, but simply because they have never organised their energies around a goal.   –Elbert Hubbard

goal – ɡōl/, is defines as the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.
res·o·lu·tion – ˌrezəˈlo͞oSH(ə)n/, is a firm decision to do or not to do something and the action of solving a problem, dispute, or contentious matter.
Why does it matter, to understand the difference between these words? I think the distinction is that when used properly, both of these actions have the potential to be extremely beneficial. Otherwise, by setting a resolution on new years day, when the more effective activity is probably goal setting, the result will likely be failure to achieve anything, as the statistics show.

Resolutions are really the act of resolving. Creating a solution to a complex problem. Solving or determining an issue. The final analysis, of this kind of activity will yield a result which changes behaviour, usually for more than one person. Often this is institutional or across a business unit. Technically, a single person can resolve to change something significant in their lives, on new years day and be successful, but the chances are slim. Our brains are not wired to be good at accepting the notion of breaking a bad habit and turning it into a good one, with merely a resolution. 

What tends to work better is to not only create a meaningful goal, but to do it in a SMART way. This is a technique which takes far more time to think deeply about each of the letters in the acronym. It breaks down like this:

  • S – specific, significant, stretching
  • M – measurable, meaningful, motivational
  • A – agreed upon, attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented
  • R – realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented
  • T – time-based, time-bound, timely, tangible, trackable

In our case, the goal was to travel for a year as a family. I think lots of people wish to do this and never do, for any number of reasons. Here is how we attacked our big idea, breaking it down into smart chunks so that we could make it happen.

The goal of traveling for a year is fairly significant, in and of itself. In order to make it specific, though, we had to break down the major obstacle of ‘how are we going to pay for this?’ Otherwise a travel year, or any other big goal is a pipe dream. We knew we had to make changes to the way we lived. Once we understood how much money we would have to work with, we started looking at the gap. We gave ourselves about a year and a half to find ways to slow our spending down to the target levels. All four of us agreed on the task and each contributed what we could. In many ways, we were tested as a family and as individuals to find new ways of doing things and make sacrifices.

We created a measured plan to reduce expenses, save money and budget for the trip, down to the last penny. It was aggressive, but we didn’t cut out everything. We stuck to the meaningful things which would make the greatest contribution. Like selling our boat at the beginning of the season. We got a great price and we reduced all the associated expenses that go along with it. We made sure to continue discussing all the places we would go to, with each of us having a hand in the planning of activities. This helped with our motivation to keep pushing forward when times got tough.

It was hard to get full agreement in our little family. Delayed gratification is not something we are good at. We stumbled from time to time as part of the process. I had factored that it, in order to make the process more acceptable for all of us. 100% sacrifice, all the time is hard to take. But, I think we all felt good when we took any kind of action-oriented step towards making our goal come to life. When my daughter decided to clear out her room and downsize most of her possessions, she looked forward to a day in the future when she could make over her space. She would gladly sleep with her mattress on the floor as long as it took to get what she wanted sometime in the future.

Of course it is realistic to live within your means. The travel, is out of the ordinary but it became our reward, for all the effort. 5 weeks of couch surfing with our relatives, was not always easy, but greatly aided in our efforts and was a completely reasonable thing to do, for people in our situation.

I tracked our efforts meticulously. Something I had never done, in such detail before. I was doing it for the trip, but I knew this was going to be a new way of life for us. If we ever want to retire, properly at some point in the future we needed to install this new habit. While our deadline was the tangible thing we were tracking towards, we were becoming new people in the way we were thinking and behaving.

Most of what I read online, as it relates to long-term travel planning has to do with picking your bucket list destinations. Quite frankly, that is the easiest part of the whole process. It might provide the inspiration for travel which makes everything else fall into line, but I don’t think so. I believe that we do better when we have smart goals, simple as that. This is a leftover from my time in the corporate world that is tried and true. Works every time, if you commit the effort to deep planning and stick to the process until the goal is achieved.

This is some of the most personal and creative work you can do, turning a dream into reality. It is far more important than merely stated a resolution to change a form of behaviour. The act of creating smart goals will fundamentally change your life. And it doesn’t matter what time of year you pick to do the work.

Join me in this creative journey. I think it will be worth your time. Together, let us see where we can take this. I look forward to hearing from you! Please share your thoughts. Feel free to send an email to: Christine@dailycreatives.com

Published books:
: : “Fruitless at 40: Rediscovering My Creative Power

Our travel year:
: : Have you ever heard of a digital nomad family? A Dad working in Europe and Asia, Teens doing distance education for grades 11 and 9, and Mom keeping it all together, writing, taking photos and making videos.
: : Check out all the adventure, captured in weekly videos on a youtube channel called creative wandering.

Would you like a free download of….
: : My tried and true packing list, developed from long-term, around the world travel and….
: : The first chapter from Fruitless at 40?
: : Join us!

Latest survey:
: : What would an epic creative retreat look like for you?

Daily Creatives Resources:
: : My heroine’s journey, a road less travelled
: : Detourism and other new word suggestions
: : It took me a year to find freedom, a love story
: : Living in stress, moving to relaxation, looking for ikigai

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