While annual statistics are bleak when it comes to the success rates of adhering to New Year’s resolutions, goal-setting is hardly a fruitless endeavor, says physical therapist Chris Dickerson, DPT. Simply resolve to set smarter goals.

This time of year, goals often reflect a commitment to better health. “However, better health should not just be a New Year’s resolution, but rather a lifelong commitment. Whether your aim is to exercise more frequently, lose weight or eat healthier, installing new habits is a challenging process that can be exciting and rewarding if the goals are clear and specific, as well as meaningful and measurable.”

According Nielsen ratings, the No. 1 New Year’s resolution in the U.S. last year was to stay fit and healthy (37 percent), with losing weight coming in at a close second (32 percent). However, only 64 percent of these resolutions endure past four weeks, with an overall success rate of about 8 percent, says the Statistic Brain Research Institute.

These stats can cast a dim light on the capacity of people to impart tangible, positive change in their lives – but it shouldn’t. The lack of success is often rooted not only in an individual’s mindset, but in the goals themselves. An ideal goal, he says, is one that is SMART, an acronym representing five specific qualities: specific, measureable, attainable, realistic and trackable.

It’s not enough to simply say you want to accomplish something, rather success is born from careful planning and preparation, as well as commitment to establishing and adhering to a system that is both sustainable and flexible to help you achieve your goals. Thus, the SMART goal paves the way to ensure optimal success. Moreover, it’s how we as clinicians achieve success with our patients and clients, and can therefore be applied to goal setting at the individual level.

Here’s the following suggestions for setting your own SMART goals:
Specific: Don’t be ambiguous when setting goals. Be crystal clear by including all the important W’s in your goal: who, what, where and why. Instead of saying “I’d like to lose weight,” be more specific: “I want to lose 15 pounds by May 1 so I can go hiking without experiencing knee pain.”

Measurable: Make sure your goals contain concrete benchmarks, divided into short-term, mid-term, and long-term pursuits. Doing so affirms structure and organization to your goals, as well as making it easy to track your progress, and less overwhelming. (e.g., I want to be able to comfortably walk for 60 minutes on a treadmill at 3 mph without tiring – 20 minutes by January, 40 Minutes by February, and 60 minutes by March, etc.)

Attainable: Make sure you have the time, resources and ability to achieve your goal. If you have limited financial means, your goal should not be contingent on joining a gym. Likewise, if running is painful, swimming and biking would be suitable alternatives.

Realistic: Aim for the stars, but don’t leave the stratosphere of reality. Setting unrealistic goals – aiming to run a marathon when you’ve never completed a 5K, for instance – may be a recipe for disappointment.

Trackable: As you pursue your goal, keep a daily journal, for this enables you to chart your progress and keeps you motivated. Tracking your progress in a journal also ensures consistency and accountability.

It’s the small daily wins accrued over time that lead to stunning results. Ultimately, imparting change for the purpose of setting goals to achieve success is hard in the beginning, messy in the middle, and beautiful in the end. Don’t play small. Go big and make 2018 your best year yet!