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This year, make goals, not resolutions

Want to make resolutions you’ll actually keep? Start be redefining them

Science has found a serious problem with new year’s resolutions: They don’t work. The percentage of people who actually keep their resolutions is a measly 8% if you believe the University Of Scranton’s study, or an even-worse 4% if you go with the findings of Statista.

So, as 2022 beckons, what should a person do if they want to achieve things in the next 12 months? Based on the evidence, if you want to get things done next year, swap your resolutions for goals. Here’s what we mean.

In this article:

Goals vs. resolutions: What’s the difference?

In a word: Specificity. Resolutions tend to be grand in scope but low on detail, such as “I will get healthy,” or “I will spend more time with my family.” Goals are all about detail, more along the lines of: “I will take the stairs instead of the elevator once a week” or “I will take my kids hiking once a month.” Resolutions can feel like wishes, whereas goals are specific and quantifiable: You know exactly what you’re trying to achieve and are therefore more likely to do it.

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Setting SMART Goals

Perhaps the best summation of what makes a good goal comes from a 1981 article in Management Review magazine. (We’ll assume you also subscribe.) The writer, George T. Doran, outlined what he called the S.M.A.R.T. way for managers to set objectives, but the idea works for goals of all kinds. They should be Specific, Measurable, Assignable (which is not relevant to you, unless your goal is to make your kids mow thWe e lawn more often), Realistic and Time-related. Keeping your goals within this framework helps make you more likely to achieve it.

Measuring Up

Your goals need to be measurable, so you can track progress. But if you intend to save money, for example, don’t just pick a specific number and stop there. Instead, make a plan. For example, divide the amount of money you intend to save by 52, and set up a weekly recurring transfer from your checking account to your savings account of choice. Whatever your goal, setting metrics, tracking results and having weekly targets is an important part of achieving it.

Keeping It Real(istic)

If, for example, your goal is to do more new things with your spouse (a good way to reinvigorate the romantic, excited part of your brain), start with a manageable number of times and plan to increase from there. If you’re busy people, perhaps begin by doing something new each month, then plan on increasing the frequency to every two weeks after three months. It’s important to make the first stage of your goals achievable to avoid getting discouraged and abandoning the whole plan. Likewise, if you want to change your diet, don’t commit to an all-salad-all-the-time regimen from day one. Ease into it. We set goals to achieve something we find challenging, but it’s important to strike a balance between difficult and close-to-impossible, especially at the start.

Making healthy goals

This is the area where a truly granular plan is most likely to work. If you want to improve your mental wellness or get physically fit, the target should be specific — an amount of weight you want to lift or a distance you want to run by a certain month — and so should the way you get there.

Set weekly targets, such as running X miles, hitting the gym X times, limiting yourself to X number of alcoholic drinks. And then log your progress. Seeing the small milestones you’ve reached will keep you motivated (you don’t want to throw away the gains you’ve already made), and being aware of the ones you’ve missed will allow you to make up for them.

Focusing on the why

Life is hard, and even the best-intentioned goal-setters can get distracted or struggle with motivation. That’s why it’s important to know why you’re trying to do what you’re trying to do. Are you saving money to pay for college, retirement, a vacation, a new car? Or are you trying to get in shape (financial or otherwise) just because that’s the thing people decide to do in January after the holiday splurge?

If it’s the latter, you’re unlikely to do it. You’ll fare better if you know you’re getting healthy so you can live longer, get back to playing the sports you love, or just play with your kids without your back aching afterward.

Having a concrete motivation is as important as a concrete goal. That’s what will keep you going when you’d rather quit. And whether it’s getting fit or paying down debt or simply making sure your family is as financially secure as possible, taking care of family might be the greatest why of all.

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About Michael Davis

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Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.

Haven Life is not authorized to give tax, legal or investment advice. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or investment advice. Individuals are encouraged to seed advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

Our disclosures

Haven Term is a Term Life Insurance Policy (DTC and ICC17DTC in certain states, including NC) issued by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), Springfield, MA 01111-0001 and offered exclusively through Haven Life Insurance Agency, LLC. In NY, Haven Term is DTC-NY 1017. In CA, Haven Term is DTC-CA 042017. Haven Term Simplified is a Simplified Issue Term Life Insurance Policy (ICC19PCM-SI 0819 in certain states, including NC) issued by the C.M. Life Insurance Company, Enfield, CT 06082. Policy and rider form numbers and features may vary by state and may not be available in all states. Our Agency license number in California is OK71922 and in Arkansas 100139527.

MassMutual is rated by A.M. Best Company as A++ (Superior; Top category of 15). The rating is as of Aril 1, 2020 and is subject to change. MassMutual has received different ratings from other rating agencies.

Haven Life Plus (Plus) is the marketing name for the Plus rider, which is included as part of the Haven Term policy and offers access to additional services and benefits at no cost or at a discount. The rider is not available in every state and is subject to change at any time. Neither Haven Life nor MassMutual are responsible for the provision of the benefits and services made accessible under the Plus Rider, which are provided by third party vendors (partners). For more information about Haven Life Plus, please visit:

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