Why SMART Goals are better than New Year’s Resolutions (and how counseling can help reduce anxiety and depression!)

New Year's Resolutions can take a toll on your mental health, increasing anxiety and depression. Counseling can help you set meaningful SMART goals instead.

New Year's Resolutions

Hello New Year! It seems that you can barely set foot into a new year before the topic of new year's resolutions comes up. I'm sure I'm not the first to ask: "What are your new year's resolutions?"

Before you answer, let me guess. Perhaps it's exercise, lose weight, eat healthy, save money, and self care.  (That was easy -- those are the five most common ones.)

While it's natural to take time for reflection and new beginnings at the start of the new year, many people have mixed feelings about "New Year's Resolutions".  In fact, new year's resolutions can be problematic.

Here's the problem(s)...

I'm guessing it's no surprise to learn that most new year's resolutions fail.  There's research showing that about 92% of people don't meet their new year's resolutions. When you consider that most people set them every year, there can be a long history of feeling like a failure. This constant cycle of trying to set beneficial life or health goals, but never quite reaching them, can ultimately lead to increased anxiety depression.

I'm also guessing it won't be long before you start hearing, "I already broke my new year's resolutions!" Your social media is probably already full of memes about it. This is a form of distorted thinking called "all-or- nothing thinking". This is one of the most common Cognitive Distortions in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Thinking like this tricks you into believing that even the smallest misstep disqualifies you from the whole race.

Another problem with New Year's Resolutions is that they're often so generic. To be successful at something, it has to first be meaningful. Are the common resolutions listed above (exercise more, lose weight, eat better...) really all that meaningful to you?

Further, while the new year is a convenient time to start shaping new behaviors, it's not always the right time. For many people, the end of the year is a busy time. From Halloween through New Year's Day, there's extra activities and pressure that leave people drained. Trying to make meaningful life changes takes energy and starting from exhaustion isn't a great plan for success.

So, let's just bust a common misconception right here: you don't have to have new year's resolutions. The idea that you can just up and change major things in your life all of a sudden on January 1st is seriously flawed. There's a better way to make changes in your life.


Admittedly, there's some hair-splitting in the idea that goals and new year's resolutions are different. They're really just goals. The distinction should be made about the quality of the goals. Thoughtfully set "SMART" goals can overcome the problems of New Year's Resolutions. They can help guide your direction, sustain momentum, and shape new behaviors.

SMART goals are a widely accepted form of goal-setting. The acronym refers to goals that are: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Sensitive.

Setting goals well is an important first step in achieving them. Beyond that, you'll need a plan and support. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/achieving_your_goals_an_evidence_based_approach

How Counseling Can Help

Not to brag, but therapists know a little something about goals. We learn about them in grad school, we have to write them out in our clients' treatment plans, and we even use them to help guide us through our own priorities in life.

Our Empower Counseling therapists are experts in what makes anxiety and depression worse. We work to combine our expertise and experience with getting to know you so we can help you:

  • Understand how unresolved traumas contribute to your being stuck
  • Explore you explore what you want your life to look like (not just what someone told you that your life should look like)
  • Set SMART goals
  • Make a plan to accomplish your goals
  • Identify people to support you
  • Focus on moving toward your goals

Your therapist can help you understand where the blocks are to meeting your goals. This includes questions like:

  • Are you really ready to make life changes?
  • Do your core beliefs allow for these changes?
  • What fears are getting in the way?
  • Who in your support system can help you?
  • Is meeting your goals what you really want?

Ready to get started?

So, we don't have a goal to end new year's resolutions or anything. But, the next time you're asked what your new year's resolutions are, I hope you'll feel confident in answering "to not have new year's resolutions" and focus on goals instead!

Whether you're reading this at the beginning of a new year or not, we can help.  We would love to help you feel empowered and in charge of your life.

Elaine Moss, LCSW

About the author

Elaine Moss, LCSW, is an experienced therapist and founder of Empower Counseling Center. She specializes in complicated anxiety, depression, and trauma. She is passionate about helping highly intelligent over-achievers feel confident. In her spare time, she enjoys doing yoga, painting with paper, and spending quality time with her favorite people. She is proud that she finally achieved her goal of writing a blog post about goals.

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