How to make SMART Goals to find true success

By Pete Cataldo 

The New Year means new beginnings for so many. It’s a time to reflect on the successes and setbacks for the previous 365 days and course correct.

Which is why so many engage in the annual practice of setting New Year’s Resolutions to reach their goals.


The problem with this practice is that the traditional approach to goal-setting through a year-long resolution is simply ineffective.

From quitting smoking, to weight loss, to debt management, almost 50% of the population will participate in New Year’s Resolutions, according to the Journal of Clinical Psychology. Only about 8% will be successful.  The vast majority will fail because of a failure to set specific and attainable goals.

Don’t be that guy that talked a big game on January 1 only to come up short before the end of that first week.

This isn’t about slapping some arbitrary bullshit on a wall and daring yourself to fail because the goal was too lofty or vague or just ridiculous. It’s about finding the right goals for the right time in a more manageable journey that sets you up for success.

In order to truly find a more meaningful path to success with our attempts to better ourselves over the next 365 days, it starts with looking inward for a little retrospection of the previous 365 to develop an action plan.

How to perform a personal retrospection

Sit down with a pen, paper and some time to to really think about some of the biggest goals (or resolutions) and obstacles of the past year and how you approached them.

  • What worked and will continue to work in the New Year?
  • What is not working or could be tweaked to work a bit better?
  • How can I fix whatever is not working so I can make it actually work for me going forward?

Make a list of these things and be specific about the details. Take an hour, or more, to truly focus on the things that are working and not working in your life. From there, it’s time to set up that plan of attack to define realistic goals that you can actually achieve by learning how to make SMART Goals with the following system.


How to make SMART Goals

Clearly define your goals to make them specific, measurable and with a realistic deadline for completion. And write them down to keep yourself accountable.


SMART Goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-Oriented.

In other words: Your goals must be written and clearly-defined; something that allows for tangible results; challenging but nothing too impossible; and all goals must come with a realistic deadline for completion.

Start small. So many plan to totally reverse their life with a laundry list of resolutions. Instead, find three short-term (say, 2-3 months out) and three long-term goals (more like 10-12 months) and tweak accordingly from there.

Make the targets very clear and then review the goals on a regular basis to check in with how you are progressing.

Many people come in way too vague on the annual attempt to better their lives.

Let’s put this in action and use the example of a fellow father ready to finally stand up to the task of being awesome at daddyhood. We’ll call our sample dude, Walter.

Walter is married and a father of three who has only just recently discovered the best dad blog on the interwebz (we won’t blame him for that). Now that he’s been inspired by the knowledge bombs from my fatherhood-focused website,, our man Walter is ready to be a stand up dude to his wife and kids.

But a simple New Year’s Resolution of  “I want to be a better father and husband” is just not a very specific goal.

The problem with simply tossing out the “be a better parent or partner” narrative is that there is nothing measurable to determine true progress. Instead, it’s important to set benchmarks that are attainable and allow for positive habit forming to take place.

Most of us can only stick to one new habit at a time, and those new habits need time to marinate and really take hold.

So instead of vowing to be a better dad or spouse, the true path to success is to set up some simple habits that will work towards that goal.

Try things like:

  1. Establish a regular date with your partner for once a month;
  2. Commit to 15 minutes at least 2-3 times per week to engage in a meaningful conversation with your kids about school, life, or other major events going on (no TVs, cell phones, work emails, just one-on-one time);
  3. Vow to cut off all work emails and cell phone usage by 8:00 p.m. nightly so you can spend more quality time with your spouse and kids before bed.

Small progress that is attainable and measurable and leads to positive habit forming behavior that in turn leads to positive results.

“Start small. Commit to small habits that you know you can achieve. Then build from there.”

For the dudes out there carrying some excess holiday weight and jumping into the ring to try and lose that damn dadbod once and for all, the SMART Goals approach works just as well.

Instead of over-promising and under-delivering on some bullshit about “getting in shape” once the ball drops in Times Square, make a plan of action that will actually lead to success by establishing attainable and measurable goals.

Again, the key will be finding small habits that you can incorporate that will lead to larger successes down the road.

Let’s go back to our dad who wants to change the world, good ol’ Walt. He’s been devouring way too many cupcakes and cookies and holiday beverages and now that gut is really approaching mountainous status.

It’s time for a change.

Walter wants to drop about 25 pounds in the New Year. But, rather than setting a silly goal of “getting in shape,” he’s learned how to conquer the SMART Goals way to success and instead comes up with the following:

“I want to lose 10-12 pounds by May 1 with an average of 1-2 pounds of fat loss per week through a positive diet and exercise program.”

Of course, the next step is coming up with an action plan. To do that, Walter will need a few small habits to get the ball rolling.

How to make SMART Goals

Commit to making small nutritional habits to get the ball rolling before tackling larger, more difficult (and possibly less attainable) projects. You can always build from that baseline foundation.

Photograph by Monstruo Estudio via Unsplash

Small fitness and nutrition habits:

  • Committing to 1-2 workouts per week with weights;
  • Eliminate 1-2 meals per week of junk food and replace them with healthier options (like home cooked meals you prep in advance);
  • Promise to go to bed 30 minutes earlier to ensure better sleep and at a consistent time every night (most weight loss programs ignore the importance of sleep and the role it plays in health).

Sure, one workout per week isn’t going to get you on the cover of Men’s Health Magazine by the end of the calendar year, but the small habit is attainable.

The problem with most weight loss resolutions is sticking to the habit. People have no problems jumping in the gym in January with that new fancy gym membership and then end up leaving by Valentine’s Day because they are burned out and overwhelmed or just bored.

Start small. Commit to small habits that you know you can achieve. Then build from there.

Eventually those small steps will lead to much bigger leaps and you can add to those smaller goals with bigger and loftier expectations.

A few additional tips to succeed with SMART Goals:

  1. Don’t overload yourself – start small with 1-2 long-term and 1-2 short goals and then build yourself up as you progress
  2. Be specific and realistic – cutting debt is not a specific goal but focusing on paying down a $5,000 credit card bill in 6 months is
  3. Always look to improve – we don’t need the New Year’s Eve holiday party to trigger a desire to improve, make this a year-long journey and check in every single day on the goals you’ve set for yourself
  4. Baby steps – be sure to provide some lower-hanging fruit that you can achieve in order to build confidence and momentum towards the bigger achievements
  5. Check in with others – let the world know via social media and engage family and friends to keep you accountable on your goal of losing 10 pounds in 90 days
  6. Building new habits – be mindful of the triggers that started the bad habits in order to recognize how to avoid slipping back into the undesirable behavior in the future
  7. Enjoy the ride – it’s important not to get too high during the successes or too low during any possible setbacks, but don’t be so goal-focused that you miss the journey along the way.


Be honest and realistic with yourself, your strengths and your weaknesses so you can set the right goals. They must be appropriate. And challenging. And the key as we move forward is that you must also be accountable for the progress as you move towards a goal.

Now it’s your turn to comment below. 

What are you the most proud of? Where are your biggest growth opportunities? And the biggest question: What are you going to do about them? What are YOUR SMART Goals for the New Year?

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This