S.M.A.R.T. Goals for Recovery and New Year’s Resolutions

graphic that lists out smart goals written on a chalkboard
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We recently published an article here – and posted on Facebook – about making and keeping New Year’s Resolutions.

Like it or not, this is the week that most people give up on their resolutions. In fact, it’s so common to drop the resolutions around this time that January 17th is known as “Quit Day.”

We think that’s funny, sure. But it’s also sad. People make resolutions to improve their lives, and the fact that we formalize a day to abandon working toward improvement is funny, yes, but also cynical and, as we said, sad.

In our article and our Facebook post, we offer suggestions about how to keep resolutions. One suggestion we make is to create goals using the acronym S.M.A.R.T.: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

Many of us have heard of the S.M.A.R.T. approach to setting goals, but have no idea where it came from or why it was created. In this article, we’ll share their origin, and offer some pointers about using the S.M.A.R.T. approach to keep your New Year’s Resolutions.

Origin Story: S.M.A.R.T. Goals

in 1981, business management expert George T. Doran published an article called “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Directives.” He saw a problem in businesses he consulted for: most managers had no idea how to make business objectives, and absolutely no idea how to write them down to make them meaningful for a business and its employees.

One interesting thing about that original article is this quote:

“The establishment of objectives and the development of their respective action plans are the most critical steps in a company’s management process.”

It applies directly not only to making resolutions, but also to recovery. Consider this:

“The establishment of objectives and the development of their respective action plans are [two of] the most critical steps in [and individual’s recovery] process.”

We barely changed a thing – and it works perfectly.

That’s why we’re taking the time to write this post: the S.M.A.R.T. approach works. We should mention one thing here, though, before we move on: in his original article, achievable was assignable, because it was important for a manager to delegate the task to a specific person who could be held accountable for the outcome.

In the context of personal goal-setting, like New Year’s Resolutions, or recovery, the assigned person is clearly the person making the resolution or the person in recovery. Therefore, replacing assignable with achievable not only makes sense, but improves the approach.

Tips on Being S.M.A.R.T. About Goals

In 2022, Forbes Magazine published an article called “The Ultimate Guide To S.M.A.R.T. Goals” that we’ll use as a guide here to help understand how to use the S.M.A.R.T. approach to keep your New Year’s Resolution past Quit Day, and also help you set goals related to recovery.

We’ll use two possible resolutions as examples, and give you tips on how to clarify each component of this approach. Let’s say for instance, the two resolutions you made are general, and you need help deciding how to achieve them. We’ll use two common goals: “Exercise More” and “Eat Healthier.”

Specific: The goal needs to be simple and clearly stated.

  • Exercise More: I will walk for 20 minutes after dinner five nights a week.
  • Eat Healthier: I will reduce the sugar in morning coffee from 2 teaspoons to 1 teaspoon.

Measurable: You should be able to assign a number value – or a discrete metric – to the goal.

  • Exercise More: I will lose ten pounds within six months.
  • Eat Healthier: I will only have one serving of red meat each week.

Achievable: The goal needs to be something doable. Running a marathon after a month of training is not achievable for most people. Going fully vegetarian or vegan might not be realistic for a person who’s never tried.

  • Exercise More: I know I can walk 20 minutes each evening because I have the time to do it, I love walking, and I used to run cross country, so it shouldn’t be too physically challenging.
  • Eat Healthier: I know I can eat healthier because I grew up eating better than I do now, so I know what it takes, and just need to follow through.

Relevant: The goal needs to be rational, within the scope of your immediate resources, and important to your overall life.

  • Exercise More: I need to exercise more because as I approach middle age, I don’t want my body to fall apart.
  • Eat Healthier: I need to improve my eating because I’m approaching middle age, and want to be healthy into old age.

Time-Bound: Deadlines, dates, and schedules motivate us like nothing else. Using time as a metric is important because it’s objective: walking 20 minutes is walking 20 minutes, no matter where, when, or how vigorously you do it.

  • Exercise More: If I walk 20 minutes, five nights a week, I should be able to lose ten pounds within six months, and add Saturday and Sunday walks within three months.
  • Eat Healthier: If I reduce my daily sugar intake and my weekly red meat intake, I will improve my overall eating habits.

Stay S.M.A.R.T. All Year

We believe you can make it past Quit Day and keep your resolutions all year long. If your resolution involves recovery, then we double down on that: we know you have the strength to walk the recovery path, one step at a time, one day at a time. You can use the S.M.A.R.T. acronym and approach to support your recovery journey in a wide variety of ways. It can help you:

  1. Stay on track going to meetings.
  2. Keep up recovery-friendly activities, like exercising and eating well.
  3. Set boundaries with friends, family, and peers.
  4. Prioritize your recovery.
  5. Meet and exceed your expectations of yourself.

Whether your goal is large, like recovering from alcohol or substance use disorder (AUD/SUD), or small, like taking evening walks, being S.M.A.R.T. about it increases your chances of success. That’s a big deal, because successfully achieving your goals improves self-esteem and overall well-being, two things that promote sustainable, long-term recovery.

The materials provided on the Pinnacle Blog are for information and educational purposes only. No behavioral health or any other professional services are provided through the Blog and the information obtained through the Blog is not a substitute for consultation with a qualified health professional. If you are in need of medical or behavioral health treatment, please contact a qualified health professional directly, and if you are in need of emergency help, please go to your nearest emergency room or dial 911.