Are you thinking about resolutions that you want to set for the new year? Ask yourself what went well last year, what didn’t go so well, and what you want to do differently. There’s lots of advice out there on goal setting and self-improvement. Here are a few tips that have worked best for us. Good luck!


1. Keep them simple.

The first guideline to setting SMART goals is to make them specific. Keeping your resolution simple helps protect against blurry goals and gray areas. If your goals are too complicated or happen to involve a number of goals wrapped into one, then you may be more likely to let yourself slip.


2. Take your time when choosing.

If you’re setting yearlong resolutions, take some time to think about the big goals and directions that you want to work toward for the next 365 days. Ask yourself what will still motivate you six months from now? What goals are worth dedicating a year toward?

For us, this is typically a reflective process over a week or two. Start by sketching out your overarching vision for the year. Where do you want to see yourself 12 months from now? Think about what that actually looks like and visualize your average day. Then break down that vision into SMART goals and work your way backward to nine-, six-, and three-month goals that you can set along the way.

We recommend revisiting this vision and these goals multiple times. You’ll add new ideas that pop up and remove others that don’t seem as important. Sometimes it helps to talk to others to get feedback. So, take your time to firm up your resolutions.


3. Set achievable goals — you can always add more.

Another component of SMART goals is to be realistic. Huge, amazing goals may sound great, but are actually demotivating if they become insurmountable. Also, having too many goals can make it difficult to keep track and prioritize which are actually the most important.

Having too many goals can also be confusing. For example, if you want to improve your grades next semester and also want to network more, it may be challenging to choose between spending your additional time in the library versus spending that time joining a new club.

We recommend focusing on the the most important and achievable goals.



4. Set mini-goals within the resolution.

Remember that as you set your yearlong vision and work your way backward to today, it is helpful to set mini-goals along the way. Break the year down into quarters and set goals at 12, nine, six, and three months. Further, if you can break each quarter into monthly and weekly goals, you’ll really be able to know where you stand at all times.

Take each goal and ask yourself what are all the steps that you need to complete to consider this done? Then, look at those steps and see if they can be split out and sequenced.

Want to read 20 books this year? Then you should have a mini-goal of five books per quarter, or 1.5-2 books per month.


5. Select a goal date.

The T in SMART goals stands for time-bound. Goals without a due date can linger at the bottom of your list, and you can keep pushing them off. But if you set a date on your calendar, you’ll be able to track your progress versus your mini-goals in line with this due date to know where you stand.


6. Keep track of your progress.

“What gets measured, gets managed” is a famous and insightful quote by Peter Drucker, a very successful manager and educator. Tracking your progress is critical to achieving your goals.

As we set goals, break them down into mini-goals, set due dates, then monitor your progress toward that goal. Measure if you are on or off track, and see if you need to make any adjustments to your routines.

Consider using a tool, such as Asana or Wunderlist. Select the important metrics that you need to keep track of daily, weekly, and monthly. Set reminders and times to check in.


7. Reward yourself.

Give yourself some positive motivation to work toward, as well. As you achieve your goals, mini-goals, and even for keeping yourself on track, set a reward that you can earn. If your goal is losing weight, once you’ve lost a few pounds, reward yourself with a new shirt or outfit that you’ve wanted. Positive motivation can help keep yourself on track during challenging times.


8. Buddy up, or have a friend to help you stay on track.

Having personal support and creating positive accountability can be the most useful piece to help achieve your goals. Good goals will challenge you and force you to deal with challenges. During those times, it’s important to have a friend or family member to call or talk to.

We recommend getting a couple of close friends who you feel comfortable sharing your New Year’s resolutions with. Ask them what their goals are, too. Then check in on a regular basis. Ask them what’s working for them and what’s been difficult. Share your challenges and achievements. You’ll support and learn from each other as accountability partners, plus you won’t want to let each other down.


Multiple people with their hands together


9. Don’t make excuses.

When times get rough, it’s easy to point a finger and blame other people, events, or things outside of your control. It’s natural to want to do so, but once you make a first excuse, you’ll make others. Have your accountability partner listen for excuses, and call them out on theirs, as well. Dealing with tough realities will make you a stronger person.


10. You are always in control.

Know that you are always in control. Everything in your life can be tied back to a decision of yours. Everything about your situation is due to choices you’ve made.

While we can’t control other people or outside events, we can control our response to those events, and that’s what really matters.

If you sit around waiting for other things to happen, then your goals are no longer a product of your work. Instead, they’re based on luck, and if you’re hoping for luck, then are you really making yourself any better?

Successful people don’t wait around for things to happen. They make things happen. Pick up a copy of Extreme Ownership for crazy, real-world stories and insightful lessons.