A new year has begun! Like with any new year, the start of 2022 comes with the expectation of new experiences, fun activities, potential challenges, and personal growth. Whatever your hopes and plans may be, it always helps to set clear goals for the things you want to accomplish. Goals help us stay focused on the things we want to accomplish.

We have all heard stories of goals that sounded great at first, but were quickly abandoned or forgotten. That usually happens because the goal is too big, too vague, or too unrealistic. So how can we make sure our personal goals will be helpful? We can use a reliable goal-setting framework, such as the SMART acronym. SMART is a set of characteristics that are used in a variety of settings to make effective goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely. Here are some details and examples of how to use SMART goals:

Specific goals say exactly what you will accomplish and what steps you will take. Breaking a big task into smaller steps can make the process less intimidating and help you stay on track. For example, if you want your family to spend more quality time together, this is how you might make your goal specific: “Our family will have at least one meal together each week without distractions.”

Measurable goals can be tracked with numbers. When you can answer questions like “How much…?” or “How often…?”, you can see whether you are improving or doing well at accomplishing your goal. You might measure a family mealtime goal by asking “Was everyone eating together for at least 30 minutes?” or “Did everyone eat at least half of the fruits and vegetables on their plate?”

Achievable goals are things you can realistically complete with your current tools and skills. If you do not have the tools you need, you may need to ask for help or adjust your goals to your situation. For example, if your goal was to have dinner together as a family 5 nights per week but your child was involved in after school activities on 4 of those nights, you may need to reduce your goal or plan for breakfast together instead of dinner.  

Relevant goals are important to you personally, and they fit into broader priorities in your life. Even the most well-planned goals might fail, especially if they are not related to your values or other goals. Many of us have set big goals for ourselves because we feel that others expect us to… but then we forget about the goal within a month or two. You are more likely to succeed if the goal is important to YOU than if you only do it to impress other people. If your goal is to have a regular meal together with your family,  it might be relevant to YOU because you want to build a trusting relationship with your kids and be involved in their lives.

Timely goals should be accomplished within a specific timeframe. By setting a target date for your goals, you can create a sense of urgency and importance, and increase your likelihood of success. Timely goals can also help you plan ahead – Ask yourself, “What should be accomplished by the half-way mark?” Even for ongoing goals like family togetherness, a target date can serve as a milestone to evaluate your progress and renew your commitment to your goal. A timely goal could be as simple as, “Our family will eat at least one meal together every week until the school year ends and we go on our vacation.”

Setting clear goals using criteria like SMART can be a big help as you work towards the things you want to achieve. SMART goals may help you feel more confident, less likely to quit, and more accomplished when you look back on your progress. However, even the goals with the best planning sometimes fail. We might do everything right, and miss the goal for reasons beyond our control. Whenever things do not go as we hoped, resilience is crucial.

If you are having trouble reaching a personal goal, do not give up! Everyone makes mistakes. Remember to be kind to yourself, because progress takes time. Sometimes we all need help to do things that are important to us. So do not hesitate to pause, make adjustments to your plans if needed, and ask someone you trust for help or support.

If you need professional services for a mental health or substance use problem, help is available for you. Visit findtreatment.samhsa.gov to locate services near you.

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