January is one of my favorite times of the year. As we spend this month recovering from the holidays and enjoying the three or four days of “winter” that Galveston gets, the new year brings about a time of reflecting — i.e. New Year’s Resolutions. My New Year’s resolution has changed this year. Instead of the standard “exercise with more regularity” (which I never keep longer than a few weeks), or “lose weight” (that inevitably comes back during Thanksgiving and Christmas), my resolution is to read one new parenting book every 60 days in preparation for our first child due in June. If I keep my resolution this year, I will have 3 parenting books under my belt before she gets here. I will still be woefully unprepared.

The first few weeks of January typically bring a number of patients who are wanting help with their New Year’s resolutions. I enjoy these visits because they give me a chance to talk about SMART goals. In medicine, we have developed a way of setting goals to improve patient safety and quality of care. This method is very easily transferred to everyday life. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Setting your goal with these five factors can significantly improve your likelihood of achieving that goal. Let’s talk through each step.

Specific: This should be as detailed as you feel is necessary. We should substitute saying, “I want to lose weight,” to “I want to lose 10 lbs.” Other specific goals could be “I will pay off $5,000 of credit card debt” or “I will read one nonfiction book every three months.”

Measurable: Whatever your goal is, it needs to be measurable. You should even consider writing out how you will measure your goal. Whether that is keeping a log of your weight or a monthly review of how much money you put into savings, set up a way to track your work.

Achievable: This one is fairly self-explanatory. Your goal should be something you know you can do. It’s okay to set a new goal once you’ve met your initial goal. Sometimes having achievement with a number of small goals helps to keep up motivation.

Relevant: Your goal should be something that is important to you. If you aren’t a big reader, reading one book a month may not be the right goal. In this world of multitasking, staying focused on one major goal can be difficult. Pick the one that is most relevant to your circumstances, and do it.

Time-bound: Set a timeline for when the goal should be completed. How else can you measure your success, if you don’t set up a way for you to succeed? Whether the goal is one month or one year, an end date is essential.

Go back and read my new year resolution. How did I do? Now make your own, write it down, and share it with someone to help keep you accountable. Good luck!

Dr. Samuel Mathis is an Assistant Professor in UTMB’s Family Medicine Department.

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