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Set New Year’s Goals You Successfully Achieve, Part 2 of 3: How to Write S.M.A.R.T. Goals

The start of a New Year is great time to gather fresh energy and go after what you want in life. It’s a perfect occasion to reflect on your values and aspirations, your dreams and passions, and how you want your life and your relationships to be.

In the previous post, the emphasis was on approaching goal setting with a mindset for success—energized to believe in your capacity for triumphant outcomes in whatever you put your belief-empowered mindset to achieving. In the next, the focus will be on how to maintain your enthusiasm and momentum from start to finish.

The heart of the message in this post is: how to write goals that inspire you to absolutely achieve them.

Why written goals?

Written goals work to strengthen your own personal commitment. It is also a research proven way to dramatically increase your chances of achieving them. A 3-step process is outlined below to help you write goals specifically designed to energize the optimal emotional states you need to create the focus and momentum to make them a reality. Read all 3 steps through before beginning.

STEP 1. Schedule a 10-Minute Retreat to Reflect on Your Life and Aspirations

The first step is to schedule a time away from distractions, a 10 to 15 minute retreat, where you may relax and contemplate on your life, aspirations, what you want and need in your life and relationships.

As you think about your life, you may have several areas you are ready to tackle to make a few changes for the better or perhaps completely overhaul. It may be getting more organized at home or in your business. Or, you may wish to invigorate your lifestyle with healthy eating choices, regular exercise and a balanced program. You may want to break a habit such as smoking or watching too much TV. Or perhaps you’d like to energize your love relationship to increase the fun, closeness and passion – or improve relationships in general.

Why a retreat?

For one, your brain works optimally in a relaxed state. You’re more likely to come up with ideas for what would make life more wonderful for you, perhaps ones you didn’t even know you had! Another reason is to get past the “I don’t know what I want” response that is so common. In some situations, it’s healthy not to let ourselves off the hook. A final reason is simply this: Hopefully, this experience will be so positive for you that you make taking a 10 minute relaxing retreat a daily practice, a daily gift to yourself and brain!

Here’s how:

  • Start by finding a quiet place. Put on soft background instrumental music, close your eyes, and, for a few minutes, focus on your breathing, taking long, slow, deep breaths.
  • Once relaxed, consciously choose to feel a state of gratitude. Begin by feeling grateful for each breath you take, for your life, your body, your health.  In this state of gratitude, smile and imagine a more successful and joyful you. Release thoughts of doubt, one by one when they surface.
  • Still in a state of gratitude, picture yourself living your life as you dream it. At home. At school or work. At leisure. How do you want the world to be? Hold onto the vision that feels right for you in mind as you complete this exercise. As much as possible, strive for balance, reflecting on as many facets of your life as possible, physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and relational.

STEP 2. Write Your Goals Down

Once you complete the mini retreat, spend the next 10 or 15 minutes putting down your thoughts, ideas for goals on paper (have a pad of paper and pencil handy). At this point, freely write down as many goals as possible that come to mind. Include details, such as positive emotions of happiness, confidence, a sense of purpose, and so on.

STEP 3. Re-write the goals as “S.M.A.R.T.” goals

In this final step, first, look at what you wrote down in Step 2, and rate each goal, as follows: 1 – Top Priority; 2 – Very Important; and 3 – Important. Then, select 3 to 5 goals to work on, starting with your Top Priority goals.

Finally, follow the guidelines and rules below to re-write each of your selected goals in a way proven by research to best inspire the emotions, behaviors and momentum you need to achieve them. This process is designed to directly influence the part of your mind, the subconscious, responsible for the formation (or changing) of habits. More details on the subconscious mind will follow in upcoming posts. For now, what’s important to understand is this: the wording of your goals makes a difference because it directly affects your emotional state, and, it is emotions, and not logic, that determine what behaviors get activated.

Guidelines and rules for writing S.M.A.R.T. goals:

S.M.A.R.T. goals checklist. Here is a checklist to guide you in re-writing your goals:

  • S – Specific and Simple – To influence your subconscious mind directly, a goal needs to be written in short and simple sentences that specifically state what you want. Specifically, what do you want to accomplish?
  • M – Measurable and Meaningful – To energize momentum, write goals in a way that they can be measured as well as inspire and create positive emotional states in you. How will you know that you’ve reached your goal? How will this goal contribute meaningfully to your life?


  • A – As if NOW  – To achieve your goals, understand that your subconscious has no concept of past or future, only the present. It also takes things literally. Understanding this, word your goals “as if” your change has already happened. Can you see the picture of yourself already having this goal?
  • R – Realistic and (some) Risk – To succeed, you need goals that are achievable and realistic, yet also invite you to stretch. For example, you would not list “fly like a bird” as your goal. To do so would mock the process. On the other hand, if a goal doesn’t make you a bit uncomfortable, raise the stakes! What resources do you have to achieve your goal?
  • T – Timed (if applicable) – To add more momentum, including a deadline energizes your mind to organize your activities and helps you realize each goal. When will this goal be achieved?


S.M.A.R.T. goals rules. Here are a few more rules to follow when you re-write your goals:

  • Write short sentences to describe your vision.
  • Write each sentence in the present tense, as if you already have what you aspire.
  • Phrase each sentence in the positive. Instead of “I don’t eat junk food,” say instead, “I choose foods that are nutritious and delicious.
  • Include inspiring verbs that produce positive emotional states in you, such as: enjoy, benefit, take pleasure in, relish, savor, appreciate, delight in, and so on.


  • “I enjoy choosing and eating nutritious foods daily.”
  • “I delight in exercising at least one hour 6 times a week.”
  • “I benefit from scheduling a date night with my spouse each week.”
  • “I appreciate my loved ones and daily let them know.”
  • “I enjoy spending 2-5 minutes organizing my desk before leaving my office.

In sum, your goals are as powerful as the thoughts they energize!

Take a risk.  Allow your imagination to take over for a while, and set goals that inspire, motivate and stretch you. Since what you focus on expands, what you give energy to becomes reality. In the words of one of the masters of the mind, Albert Einstein, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

Setting goals and writing them down is a powerful way to go after what you want in life and jump over any obstacles or self-doubts that may be presently blocking your or appear along the way. Writing down your goals, and following the proven steps and guidelines above optimizes your chances for realizing them. As you read or think about them, your written goals produce optimal emotions in you, the most powerful shapers of human behavior.

Set New Year’s Goals You Successfully Achieve, Part 2 of 3: How to Write S.M.A.R.T. Goals

Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Relationship consultant, author, licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Athena Staik motivates clients to break free of anxiety, emotion reactivity, and other addictive patterns, to awaken wholehearted relating to self and other. She is currently in private practice in Northern VA, and writing her book, What a Narcissist Means When He Says 'I Love You'": Breaking Free of Addictive Love in Couple Relationships. To contact Dr. Staik for information, an appointment or workshop, visit, or visit on her two Facebook fan pages DrAthenaStaik and DrStaik

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APA Reference
Staik, A. (2016). Set New Year’s Goals You Successfully Achieve, Part 2 of 3: How to Write S.M.A.R.T. Goals. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 10, 2019, from


Last updated: 6 Dec 2016
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