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We all have our favorite traditions, some that we’ve inherited from our families—others that have more to do with our willingness to comply with societal norms. One tradition common among those living in the Western Hemisphere that gets plenty of mileage during the first days of January remains making New Year’s resolutions.

Simply put, it’s a promise to us that for the new year we’ll change undesired traits or behaviors, focus on accomplishing individual goals or generally working toward improving our lives.

Centuries ago, both the Babylonians and Romans began each year by making promises to their god(s). Later, medieval knights took a vow to reaffirm their commitment to chivalry at the start of each year. Today, many Christians prepare for the year ahead by praying and making resolutions while attending watch night services on New Year’s Eve.

But successfully achieving these goals, as we all probably know, tends to be an annual effort in futility as recent studies indicate with 88 percent of those who set New Year’s resolutions failing to achieve them—one-third failing to make it past the end of January according to the time management firm Franklin Covey.

The greater failure rates came from those who admitted they’d set unrealistic goals but not far behind were those who simply didn’t keep track of their progress or who just forgot about it. Finally, there are those who make too many resolutions and realize that they’ve put themselves on an impossible quest.

Consider: A lot of these resolutions fail because they’re not the right resolutions. And a resolution may be wrong for one of three main reasons: it’s a resolution created based on what someone else (or society) is telling you to change; it’s too vague; or you don’t have a realistic plan for achieving your resolution.

One solution: make your goals SMART—an acronym coined in the journal Management Review in 1981 for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. It makes sense for managers, but it could be helpful in establishing and keeping your resolutions, too.

Specific. Your resolution should be absolutely clear. Instead of promising to lose weight, decide to lose 10 pounds in the next three months.

Measurable. Keep track of your progress, or lack thereof, in a journal or make notes on your phone or in an app designed to help you track behavior. You’ll better be able to reinforce the progress, no matter what your resolution.

Achievable. Goals requiring a giant leap are good. But too big a step too fast can leave you frustrated and negatively impact other areas of your life.

Relevant. Is this a goal that really matters to you, and are you making it for the right reasons? Doing things because of self-hate, remorse or momentary passion will undoubtedly be difficult to maintain. But if you believe your new goals will improve your life, surround yourself with people who both agree with and will support your resolution.

Time-bound. Make sure your timeline allows you to reach your goal in a realistic span of time. Give yourself enough time to do it by including smaller, short-termed goals along your path.

“Focus on these small wins so you can make gradual progress,” said Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit” and a former New York Times writer. “If you’re building a habit, you’re planning for the next decade, not the next few months.”

Let’s see how we all fare a few months from today. Break a leg!

(D. Kevin McNeir is senior editor for the Washington Informer.)

 

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