Reschooling Tool #15: Make SMART Resolutions

Every January 1, I deliberate about whether to make official New Year’s Resolutions, since I’m the type of person who makes resolutions all 365 days of the year. Stop biting your fingernails, especially before your sister’s wedding. Go to bed earlier, play more guitar, read more blogs and books and magazines. I’m usually trying to keep so many resolutions on my radar that I constantly feel like a failure because I can’t possibly stick with them all. Honestly, I can’t even remember them all.

This year, I’m trying a new strategy for setting goals: I’m selecting three priority areas, rotating a specific goal under each, and sharing them with other people to make myself accountable.

I. Choose Three Focus Areas

Three is a magic number. The human mind remembers information easily in groups of three, which explains why phone numbers are divided the way they are. It also explains the Three Little Pigs, the Three Bears, the Three Stooges, and the three members of Wilson Phillips.

I started out with dozens of resolutions, but I collapsed them into three main focus areas:

1. Self-Care. Though I normally sacrifice my well-being for whatever’s obsessing me at the time, I’ve realized that I’m not much good to anyone if I don’t get enough sleep, exercise, and relaxation. Self-care will come first this year.

2. Organization. Enough with living in chaos. This spring, I want each of my possessions to have a home, and every day I want it to go to its home. (“Are you too good for your home?”) I especially want to manage money well and find a task-management system that works for me.

3. Plugging In. I refer to the four years that I was starting a nonprofit organization as my “dead zone,” when I generally checked out of current events and culture. I’ve been slowly plugging in again since last summer, and I hope to continue this spring and keep up with what’s going on now.

II. Rotate SMART Goals Within the Focus Areas

Under each of these three focus areas, I’ll choose one specific goal that I’ll focus on until I feel the need to change it. Maybe I’m making enough progress to satisfy me, or maybe another goal would work better for me right now. Each one will be a SMART goal, a concept introduced to me by my friend Stephen, which says that goals are more effective when they meet these criteria:

  • Specific: What exactly is the task I’d like to accomplish?
  • Measurable: How will I know when I achieve it?
  • Attainable: Is the goal within my reach?
  • Realistic: Am I wililng to achieve this goal, and do I believe that I can?
  • Timely: What’s my timeframe for achieving this goal?

For example, “Jog more” is so vague that you forget about it, don’t know how to work toward it, and aren’t able to know if you’ve achieved it. A SMART version of that goal would be, “This month I will go jogging at least three times per week for 30 minutes at a time.”

My current SMART goals within each focus area are:

1. Self-Care: Get 7 hours of sleep for at least three days in the next week. With all the madness going on, this will be a feat.

2. Organization: Clean out my car tomorrow. Right now, it’s a den of squalor.

3. Plugging In: Finish Season 3 of Lost by January 15. That’s 13 episodes in 9 days. (I’m trying to get close to catching up before the Season 5 premiere on January 21. You can watch full episodes for free on

III. Declare Your Goals to Someone and Create Consequences

A best practice in sticking with your goal is making yourself accountable to someone else, and attaching a punishment or reward to it. Tell a friend your specific SMART goal and what will happen if you achieve it, and if you don’t.

I hereby declare the above goals to you. If I achieve them, I will reward myself with a dance class. If I don’t, I will punish myself by watching a full episode of the new season of The Bachelor, where a single dad is trying to find his three-year-old kid a skanky new mommy. The commercial alone, in which a cookie-cutter blond candidate looks at the boy and says like a valley girl, “He’s super cute!”, makes me want to puke. If the threat of that show doesn’t motivate me to get some sleep, clean my car, and watch Lost like a madwoman, I don’t know what will.


Your Two Cents: Leave a Comment!

What are your goals for the new year, and what’s your strategy for sticking to them?

Comments (2)

  1. Melia

    Cleaned my car today and got 7 hours of sleep last night! Now that Darren’s gone, I’m not watching as much Lost…I see a TV marathon in my future.

  2. Margaret

    1) This is awesome! And so PA… I feel like this is a big part of what I learned from my IDP sessions (not from Ernest, but from my own soul-searching). I think I chose 5 areas, but I carried around the little paper with my planner, so I could look at it whenever I needed a reminder. This carried me through about 2 and a half years, and I felt good about gradually incorporating the practices so that it ended up feeling ‘normal.’ And if a couple of them dropped off, it just meant that my priorities had shifted (as long as I was being truthful). Then during my few months of unemployment I reworked the system to include 5 goal ‘focus areas,’ just like you said, and let myself be flexible about what counted. I think SMART is a little too regimented for me. But then again, I seriously slacked on 2 of the goals after a while…
    2) Again with the Happy Gilmore madness? *shaking head* I guess I just don’t get it!
    3) Den of squalor. Excellent diction, Ms. Dicker; I can picture EXACTLY what you describe. 😉
    4) Yay for declaring to others and following up! I will be there asking, don’t you worry…
    5) So did my card come at the right time, or were you already in Phase III?


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