New Year’s Resolutions can be a great way to start fresh in 2021. However, when it comes to setting realistic goals, many of us find it difficult. We can accomplish anything we set our minds to, but it’s essential to understand that change doesn’t just happen overnight, even on January 1st.

Have you ever heard Ernest Hemingway’s phrase “Gradually, then Suddenly”? Perhaps you’ve seen the modern variation: “Love happens slowly, and then all at once.” Well, the same principle applies to change: Change requires determination and consistency, and the little things you do each day ultimately determine who you become.

Are you ready to take another swing at setting goals for 2021? At Washington Place, we encourage the SMART method to help you focus your efforts and increase your chances of success. Here’s what that means:

S: Specific

Our puzzle’s first piece is to be specific, meaning well defined and unambiguous. In other words, we want to be clear in our intentions. For example, you might want to be successful in your career, purchase a home, or graduate from college. These are large-scale goals that require many steps to make your dream a reality. By starting with smaller, more specific goals, you increase your chances of success.

As a well-known Chinese proverb by Lao-tzu states, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

M: Measurable

The M in our SMART acronym stands for “measurable.” By setting small, attainable goals, we not only keep our expectations in check but also motivate ourselves with clearly defined measures of progress. Dr. Jennifer Kunst explains, “[Progress is the] drive that pushes us beyond the limits of safety and comfort to adapt to new challenges. It is an innate biological and psychological force that propels a child from crawling to walking, from dependence to independence, from deference to authority to having a mind of his or her own.”

Visible proof of progress is key to success.

A: Achievable

You might need to take some time to think about this step in setting realistic goals. Achievable by definition means something that is “capable of being done or carried out.” The tricky part is choosing the right amount of challenge, as growth only happens in periods of discomfort.

Motivational writer Troy Wilson says, “You don’t want to set a goal that no one could possibly achieve, but you do want to set a goal that is difficult to achieve.” Think about it like this: Have you ever set an easy goal? What did it feel like to accomplish that goal? Now think of a time when you set a goal that challenged you. Did you find more satisfaction from completing something that involved a degree of effort and struggle?

R: Relevant

When setting goals, relevance is essential because unless our goals genuinely mean something to us, it is difficult to stay motivated. Consider what you want most in life. The answer could be to start a family, secure a better job, build a house, accumulate wealth, or any number of things. Set your goal and work backward, planning out smaller goals related to the end game. By doing so, you are providing yourself with a clear roadmap to success.

T: Time-Bound

Each goal needs to have a target date. By creating a sense of urgency, you are more likely to complete the task at hand. Setting realistic, time-bound goals also ensures that distractions don’t inhibit your success.

Writer Anne Bachrach with Business Know-How states, “What really matters, and what will make you ultimately successful in life, is taking action.”

The SMART method of setting goals can be a useful tool when planning your resolutions in 2021. Set goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound, and you’re sure to find greater success in the coming year.