Be SMART This Year
A University of Scranton study lists the top three New Year’s resolutions: losing weight, getting organized, and spending less. Only 8% of the 45% of Americans who make resolutions achieve their goals. An article in The Wall Street Journal cites a British study concluding that 88% of resolutions end in failure, which, at least, is a tad more optimistic. We can always resolve to be less of a failure at keeping our resolutions.
The same article describes a neat experiment in which undergraduates were divided into two groups. One group was asked to remember a two-digit number, the next a seven-digit number. They were asked to walk down the hall and choose between cake and fruit salad. The group asked to remember the longer number were more likely to choose cake. Why? Their minds were two preoccupied with the extra numbers to resist temptation. Our willpower, it seems, is easily worn down.
The problem with resolutions is they are often too vague to succeed on willpower alone. “Lose weight,” for example, isn’t a plan with specifics, mile markers, and an endpoint. Likewise for getting organized, spending less, getting to work on time, being a better coworker, and anything else we think we’re setting our minds to.
If you aren’t planning to celebrate success, you don’t plan to succeed.
One approach that can work is to set SMART goals, created by George Doran in 1981. It’s an acronym that’s easy to remember:
- S - specific
- M - measurable
- A - attainable
- R - realistic
- T - time bound
Doran describes this in terms of management, but the idea works in real life, too. For example, “lose weight” can include a plan of getting up 30 minutes earlier to exercise, using a smartphone app to track calories burned and food intake, and realistic target goals of foods to eat and pounds to lose.
The beauty of a SMART plan is it doesn’t occupy our prefrontal cortex while you’re trying to choose between cake and fruit salad. It’s automatic once set in motion. Lab techs already have too many numbers to remember.
NEXT: Last Year’s Resolutions