Tuesday, December 31, 2013

S.M.A.R.T. Resolutions

Like many people I usually make New Year's Resolutions. There are always plenty of things in my life I feel I could improve on and the start of a New Year feels like a clean slate, a chance to start over and do better. Sadly I'm also like most people in breaking my New Year's Resolutions fairly quickly. I might start off well for a week or two but it only takes one bought of illness or one stressful week at work to knock me off course again. Still, I'm an optimist. I'm also fully in agreement with the statement "If you always do what you always did you'll always get what you always got." So this year I'm trying to go about New Year's Resolutions in a different way.

I've been going through leadership training at work, both formally and through reading on my own. I never intended to be in a leadership role and never saw myself as a leader, but here I am now and I'd like to do a good job, so I'm trying to educate myself. One of the things I've learned is about setting objectives and goals for employees. The acronym for these goals is "SMART" which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely (or time-limited). I'm still working out how exactly to apply these to the jobs we do at work, but it occurred to me that these principles make good sense for New Year's Resolution's too.

Specific goals are just what they sound like. Instead of vague wishes like "I'll lose weight" or "I'll exercise more" or "I'll be a writer" they give details. "I will walk 3 miles a day" is a specific goal. "I will take one writing class" is a specific goal. A specific goal spells out exactly what it is you are going to do.

Measurable is also an easy term to understand. You can measure how far you walk each day, how much time you spend on something, or whether or not you did something. So "floss daily" is a measurable goal. Measurable also implies that you will, in fact, measure and keep track of what you are doing in order to review your progress and stay motivated. There are plenty of ways to measure; you can use a notebook, your phone, or even a sticker chart like I make for our preschooler.

Achievable is an area where I often have problems in making resolutions. I've set quite a few ambitious goals like "walk 5 miles daily" which just doesn't make sense right now given my daily schedule and my current fitness level. Even "walk 2 miles daily" or "30 minutes of yoga daily" might not make sense because it doesn't allow any flexibility or leeway for life's vagaries and disruptions. I've also gone into the New Year with a list of resolutions that was 8 or 10 items long in the past, which is too many items to realistically accomplish while balancing work and family. I need to focus on what is most important to me right now, among the many, many wonderful things I could be doing to improve on a personal level. So achievable goals for me might be "walk 2 miles four times a week and do 30 minutes of yoga twice a week." An achievable writing goal might be "write 1000 words five times a week" as opposed to "write a novel this year."

Relevant in organizational terms means that the goal or objective should contribute to the organization's overall mission. In personal terms, I think meaningful might be a better term. Why is this goal important to me? What is my motivation? If I look at goals I have achieved in the past, for example learning to knit socks, I can see that this goal is personally meaningful because knitting gives me a deep sense of satisfaction, because sock knitting is a little tricky and makes me feel clever, and because the techniques in sock knitting transfer into toy knitting which is even more fun. My fitness goals above of walking and yoga would be personally meaningful because I would like to be stronger so I can carry my daughter for longer at a time (35 pounds of preschooler is no joke!) and have more stamina and energy at the end of each day. My writing goal is meaningful because writing helps me think, helps me problem solve, keeps my creativity alive, and also because someday when I retire from medicine I'd like to make writing my second career.

Time limited is a factor I've never considered before in New Year's Resolutions. It always seemed obvious to me that a resolution would have to be for the whole year. However, an entire year is a pretty long time to for me to promise to sustain a habit. I know that I got through difficult classes and difficult medical rotations and difficult assignments by reminding myself "only X more weeks." Even now, when I'm having a hard time at work I cheer myself up by remembering "only X more days until a weekend" or "only X more workdays until vacation." So perhaps I hold on to motivation best over a period of days to weeks. So instead of a New Year's Resolution, perhaps it makes more sense to make a New Month's resolution. A month is about 4.5 weeks, which is enough time to see if a habit is truly going to be achievable and meaningful for me. I will plan to re-evaluate my resolutions on 1 February and decide if they should continue, be modified, or be dropped all together in favor of new resolutions.

So, my month's resolutions for January 2014 will be to:
walk 2 miles 4 times a week
do yoga for 20 minutes 3 times a week
to write 1000 words five times a week

These are specific, measurable, achievable, personally relevant and time limited goals. I'll track my progress using an app on my phone and on 1 February I'll take a look at how I'm doing and decide what I want to do for the next month.