Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” This is a powerful, relevant quote as we put the finishing touches on 2022 and prepare to embark on adventures that await us in 2023. Although the past and future may not be tiny matters, in and of themselves, they are tiny matters compared to the potential that lies within each of us to write a new chapter in our lives in the coming year. This new chapter can be written (and experienced with greater quality of life) with the goals created within each of us.
While New Year’s resolutions are cliché, this moment in time presents an opportunity to both reflect on the past year and experience moments of clarity which can pave the way for growth and opportunities in the year ahead. A few questions to reflect on include:
- What made my personal “highlight reel” in 2022?
- What were some of the challenges I encountered?
- What lessons did I learn?
- How did I get in my own way?
- How have I grown as a person?
- What do I want to carry over into 2023?
- What do I want to leave behind in 2022?
- What do I want to do differently next year?
Now that you have started to consider a few of the key events from 2022 and have also started to entertain the idea of changes necessary to grow in 2023, let’s forget about “New Year’s resolutions” and focus on the pursuit of “dreams with deadlines,” or GOALS (Mack, 2001). While “New Year’s resolutions” are often fleeting, goals are the building blocks of creating and sustaining success in life.
Sports psychologists have studied successful athletes and discovered that visualization of successful achievement of goals is often paired with setting SMART goals as part of their recipe for success. Sports psychology has been referred to as the “science of success” and one of the qualities that separates the most successful athletes (from the rest) is the tendency to mentally rehearse their success prior to the physical act of performance. Therefore, an important strategy to aid you in the successful completion of your goals in the year ahead is to practice visualizing your success on a regular basis.
Since visualization does not result in success without hard work, let’s break down the SMART criteria and see how they can be used for setting and achieving goals.
Example goal: losing weight:
“S” stands for “Specific”
-I want to lose 15 pounds. (I identified the exact amount of weight I want to lose.)
“M” stands for “Measurable”
-I will perform 45 minutes of aerobic exercise at least three times per week. (I identified the length of time per exercise as well as the frequency of exercise per week.)
“A” stands for “Attainable”
-Based on my past experiences with weight loss, this is attainable for me. (While this is subjective in nature you may be able to judge based on past experiences and/or guidance from credible sources.)
“R” stands for “Realistic”
-Based on the frequency of weekly exercise and time allotted to lose weight, this appears to be realistic for me. (Again, this can be subjective. If the completion of the goal is unsuccessful this may reflect the goal not having been realistic initially and can serve as an opportunity to modify the deadline, exercises, frequency, etc.)
“T” stands for “Time-Bound”
-I will complete this goal in 8 weeks. (I set a specific deadline to complete the goal.)
A few important considerations related to the SMART criteria include the ability to track progress, opportunities to make adjustments based on meeting or falling short of the deadline, and making larger goals appear less daunting. For example, I would be able to see within a few weeks whether my exercise routine is yielding positive results based on the amount of weight lost. If necessary, I could modify the frequency of exercise, duration of exercise, and deadline to lose 15 pounds if the goal does not prove to be as realistic and attainable as I initially hypothesized. SMART goals provide an organized structure to develop and refine the goal-setting process.
Another important component of setting and reaching goals is putting the goals down in writing. As demonstrated in this writing sample, research supports writing down personal and professional goals to reinforce performance outcomes (Shippers, Morisano, Locke, Scheepers, Latham, & de Jong, 2020). Beyond writing goals down, the quality of goals formulated has also correlated with greater achievement. Therefore, writing goals down on a white board, in a journal, and/or in Google Docs can reinforce successful goal achievement.
It would be a huge oversight to omit one final point when it comes to goal-setting: the goal is progress, not perfection. Do you want to experience heightened emotional distress trying to be a perfect human being (and never accomplish that) or do you want to become a better version of yourself with each passing day, week, month, year, etc.? I vote for the latter.
Now, I dare you to have an honest conversation with yourself as you reflect on the past year, consider what you want to “write” in your next chapter as you enter 2023, and be bold enough to visualize your success, formulate SMART goals to help you take action, and put those goals down on paper in order to unleash the immense potential that lies within you.
Mack, G. & Casstevens, D. (2001). Mind Gym. McGraw-Hill Schippers, M.C., Morisano, D. Locke, E.A., Scheepers, W.A., Latham, G.P., & de Jong, E.M. (2020). Writing about personal goals and plans regardless of goal type boosts academic performance. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 60, 1-10.