SMART goals make good resolutions all year

Creating a SMART goal will help lead to success whether the goal or New Year’s Resolution is to save money, lose weight or exercise more.

Goal sign

Many people use New Year’s resolutions to better themselves and their lives. Goals can also be set at any time in the year to work towards a life improvement. How many times have you set a New Year’s resolution or a life goal only to feel like you were not able to achieve it? To help you be more successful this year, start with a solid, goal-setting plan.

A study at Dominican University of California found that more than 70 percent of the participants who sent weekly updates to a friend reported successful goal achievement (completely accomplished their goal or were more than half way there), compared to 35 percent of those who kept their goals to themselves without writing them down. Writing down your goals and sharing them with someone else matters.

In addition, your written New Year’s resolution or life goal should be SMART to be successful. Michigan State University Extension can help you make those goals SMART, an acronym that stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

When creating a goal, there are a variety of questions you should ask yourself as they relate to specific parts of the acronym:

  • Specific. What exactly needs to be accomplished? Who else might be involved? Where will this take place? Why do I want to accomplish this?
  • Measurable. How will I know if I have succeeded? How many steps will it take to achieve this?
  • Attainable. Do I have the resources I need to make this happen? Is this goal neither too easy, nor too hard for me to accomplish? Will the steps I have planned help me reach my goal?
  • Relevant. Can I commit to this goal? Will I not be able to reach another goal or do something else I want to do because I am working towards this goal?
  • Time-bound. When is the deadline? When do I need to take action?

Take time to answer each of these questions as you create your goal. Using the SMART goal process can help you decide if the goal is a good fit for you as it is, or if you need to revise it to ensure success. It is often best to start with the time-bound, specific and measurable and then review them for being attainable and relevant.

An example of a goal that isn’t quite SMART would be, “I want to take a trip to Europe next October for my birthday.” The same goal, after being put through the SMART process by an individual, might look like this:

  • Specific. “I want to take a two-week trip to Ireland with my sister for my birthday in October of next year.”
  • Measurable. “I need to save $4,000 to cover flight costs, lodging, transportation and miscellaneous costs based on my research.”
  • Time-bound. “October is nine months away. That means I need to save $444 a month until October to have my $4,000 set aside to cover costs.”
  • Attainable. “$444 is a lot of money a month for me to set aside when I also am saving for a car.”
  • Relevant. “I am not sure I can commit to this goal. It might set me back from getting my car; perhaps I should plan for a different trip.”

In this example, having decided this goal is too much at this time, the process can be repeated; this time, the new goal is to take a trip to a Seattle, Washington, for five days and save $1,000. This allows the goal to be more likely to be achieved, aligned with the individual’s other goals and plans, and able to be measured and adjusted as needed along the way.

The National Endowment for Financial Education High School Financial Planning Program uses SMART to help young people make financial goals such as buying a smart phone, saving for spring break or getting a new pair of sneakers.

The SMART goal process works great with financial goals and it can also be used for any goal such as weight loss, reading a certain number of books a year, organizing a room or managing time effectively. By being SMART, you will be on your way to reaching your goal!

Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H Youth Development help to prepare young people for successful futures. As a result of career exploration and workforce preparation activities, thousands of Michigan youth are better equipped to make important decisions about their professional future, ready to contribute to the workforce and able to take fiscal responsibility in their personal lives.


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