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January 4, 2020

How to Make SMART Goals

Sachi Ainge

How to Make SMART Goals

New Year’s Resolutions Can Be Hard to Keep

It’s 2020! The beginning of a new decade, twenty years since Y2K, the second coming of the “Roaring ’20s”. The beginning of a new year is often a time full of hope and ambition. We’re done eating holiday treats, we’ve put up new calendars, and we’re ready to become our shiny new selves.

Last year, an estimated 40% of Americans made a New Year’s resolution. But by the summer, only about 20% of those people had maintained their momentum and stuck to their goal. That’s a little daunting. Why do so many people make promises that they can’t keep? Part of it may be the way we talk about these goals.

When we set our resolutions, it’s easy to be vague. “In 2020 I will get in shape,” or “This is the year I learn Jiu Jitsu,” or “I’m going to get better at Muay Thai.” And these are all great ideas! But how can we set ourselves up for success? What can we do to make these goals stick? The answer is to be SMART.

two young men wearing boxing gloves and shin guards. One delivers a body kick, while the other blocks with his arms.


SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Making a SMART goal means taking some time to think about what exactly you want to accomplish, and how you will get there.


If your goal isn’t specific, how will you know how to tackle it? Setting a specific goal gives you a solid target to shoot for. What exactly are you trying to accomplish? What smaller steps do you need to take to make the goal happen? So instead of saying, “I will get better at Muay Thai this year,” I could say, “I will improve my defensive skills by attending classes, sparring, and finding a regular drilling partner.”


Your goal needs to be measurable so you will know when you’ve hit it! What does it really mean to “get in shape” or to “eat better”? Both of these goals would be easier to visualize and work toward if we give them hard numbers. “I will work out three times every week,” or “I will cut out added sugars for a month,” are a better way to phrase them. If you quantify success, and you won’t be able to cheat yourself by fudging your results.
(And if improving your diet is one of your goals, check out these 5 Nutrition Tips.)

A woman wearing a brazilian jiu jitsu gi sets up a kimura shoulder lock.


Set yourself up for success by being honest with yourself. Ask yourself, is this goal realistic? Have I ever successfully made a change this big before? If the answer to either of these questions is no, you might want to consider setting a smaller, more achievable goal to start. If you crush that mini-goal in a couple of months, you’ll feel empowered and capable. And then you can set your next goal. There’s no rule that says we have to wait until the new year.

Another thing to consider is that it’s often easier and more sustainable to establish a new habit than it is to hit a big milestone. And if you get a good habit going, you’ll pass that milestone in the process. So instead of “I’m going to get my blue belt,” you might say, “I’m going to build a training plan with my professor, and stick to it every week.”


How does this goal fit into your bigger game plan? Why do you want to achieve this? Is it aligned with what you want from your life and from yourself? Having a solid “why” behind your goal will help you to dig deep for inspiration when sticking to your plan becomes challenging.


Goals need deadlines. When will you assess your progress? This goes hand-in-hand with making sure your goal achievable. You can (and should) set some short-term deadlines to get started, and figure out a tentative timeline for completing your goal. It’s easy to slack off and procrastinate if your only time requirement is “this year”. When will you complete your first mini-goal? I like to use my phone calendar or my Trello app for things like this. I’ll set an alert for a week before the deadline I’ve set for myself, which gives me some time to hustle if I’ve forgotten.

two women wearing brazilian jiu jitsu uniforms practice an escape

Go Forth and Prosper

A few more tips to add to your SMART goals:

  • Sometimes it pays to keep it on the down-low. There are some studies that have shown that talking about your goals too much can derail them.
  • But do find an accountabilibuddy. If your goal is to get to training three times a week, make plans with a friend to meet at a specific time. If someone else is depending on you, you’ll be more likely to follow through.
  • Reward yourself. Specifically, reward yourself in ways that are congruent with your goals. So if you’re trying to get in great shape this year, and you’ve been crushing your workout plan, treat yourself to a new gi rather than a dessert binge.


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