January is typically when folks decide to set goals for themselves. The practice of setting “New Year’s Resolutions” is largely a western idea, but there are some roots in Eastern Philosophy as well. The intentions behind resolutions tend to be positive; people are looking for ways to better themselves, their health, and their relationships. However, a large amount of data shows that every year more than half of New Year’s resolutions end in “failure.” Many of these resolutions are completely forgotten or set aside as soon as February or March. 

Now, it’s worth noting that just resolutions and goals for yourself don’t HAVE to be set on January first. There is no reason why you can’t commit to a new initiative or way of life at any point during the year, as we here at Juniper Canyon Recovery Center, a Wilderness Therapy Program for Young Adult Women, know well. However, if you ARE going to set a goal or New Year’s Resolution for yourself, we found this article in the New York Times that lays out not only how to set realistic goals, but also how to KEEP those goals. 

Pick the right resolution. Ideally something that actually pertains to your life and your goals/passions – not just something that society tells you you should want or strive to achieve. 

The Times also suggests that all your goals should be SMART! That’s an acronym coined in the journal Management Review in 1981 for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. It may work for management, but it can also work in setting your resolutions, too.

  • Specific. Your resolution should be absolutely clear. “Making a concrete goal is really important rather than just vaguely saying ‘I want to lose weight.’ You want to have a goal: How much weight do you want to lose and at what time interval?” said Katherine L. Milkman, an associate professor of operations information and decisions at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “Five pounds in the next two months — that’s going to be more effective.”
  • Measurable. This may seem obvious if your goal is a fitness or weight loss related one, but it’s also important if you’re trying to cut back on something, too. If, for example, you want to stop biting your nails, take pictures of your nails over time so you can track your progress in how those nails grow back out, said Jeffrey Gardere, a psychologist and professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine. Logging progress into a journal or making notes on your phone or in an app designed to help you track behaviors can reinforce the progress, no matter what your resolution may be.
  • Achievable. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have big stretch goals. But trying to take too big a step too fast can leave you frustrated, or affect other areas of your life to the point that your resolution takes over your life — and both you and your friends and family flail. 
  • Relevant. Is this a goal that really matters to you, and are you making it for the right reasons? “If you do it out of the sense of self-hate or remorse or a strong passion in that moment, it doesn’t usually last long,” said Dr. Michael Bennett, a psychiatrist and co-author of two self-help books. “But if you build up a process where you’re thinking harder about what’s good for you, you’re changing the structure of your life, you’re bringing people into your life who will reinforce that resolution, then I think you have a fighting chance.” 
  • Time-bound. Like “achievable,” the timeline toward reaching your goal should be realistic, too. That means giving yourself enough time to do it with lots of smaller intermediate goals set up along the way. 

At Juniper Canyon Recovery Center for Women and our brother program Legacy Outdoor Adventures for Men, we are lucky to have the opportunity to guide our clients through major times of life change, goal setting, and realistic (often challenging) evaluation of their health, relationships, and current life trajectories so that they can evaluate what has to change. We don’t believe resolutions or goal setting has to happen on a certain day or at a certain time of the year. That said, if you are going to be holding yourself accountable to a new goal or way of life starting in the New Year, think SMART!