Resolutions: Tricks of the Trade

Be a better person. Be happier! Don’t get mad at the kids. Make more money! These are all good ideas for New Year’s resolutions, but flawed in their design. If you are like me, you have already set New Year’s resolutions and look forward to what this coming year will bring. There is a trick, however, to make sure you set yourself up for success. Being a goal driven person is a good thing—let’s make sure, however, that you don’t stumble out of the gate.

Over the years I have heard many couples tell me that they want a “better relationship,” or that they need to work on their “communication problems.” Creating a better relationship is a fantastic idea and worthwhile goal for every couple in or out of therapy. However, to successfully achieve this goal, we need to drill deeper to understand what having a better relationship means. For some, it might mean improving their fun and play together through a date night every Friday. For others, they would spend less time with electronics and more quality time together doing activities that create conversation and intimacy.

Working on communication problems can mean many different things as well. For one couple it could mean that they spend less time being critical of each other and instead adopt an attitude of understanding and compassion to their spouse’s views. For others it might mean that they want to actually talk about difficult topics in their marriage before they simmer, unaddressed, and eventually cause a blow up. We could even drill down further here—but you get the point. Your goals should be specific to you and your family, not generic and abstract.

In working with couples in my office, I have found several principles to help when setting goals. Keep your New Year’s resolutions in mind as we review a few principles:

Positive Frame – State your goals in a positive tone. Outline what you want to do, not what you don’t want to do. For example, instead of creating a goal such as, ‘Don’t get mad at the kids,’ reframe it into something like, ‘Respond to my children with calmness and take a time-out when needed.’ Dr. Craig Manning, the mental strength coach for a variety of BYU sports programs, emphasizes this. Through his experience teaching athletes this and similar principles, he has found that their performance improves.         

Guiding Tools – Use an acronym, such as SMART, to help set up your goals:

  1. Specific – what do you want to achieve?
  2. Measurable – how can you track progress? (i.e., I want to run an 8-minute/mile pace in a half-marathon)
  3. Attainable – can you achieve this goal? You don’t have to limit yourself here, however. It’s good to shoot high at times!
  4. Relevant – is this something that will help you meet your needs in life?
  5. Timely – include a time frame or increments of time (i.e., by March 2015, or every Friday night)

Some would argue that using an acronym like SMART limits your creative, bold self. Just make sure to stretch yourself as you use this tool in setting goals.

Follow Up – Your resolutions should be something you review often. Make it a habit to look them over once a week. This helps guide your efforts and reminds you of your course. Some people post these goals in a conspicuous place in their daily routine so that they see them whether they want to or not. The bathroom mirror, the kitchen refrigerator or the screen saver on your phone are great places to start. I have noticed that when I review my goals weekly I am able to achieve them throughout the year, instead of watching them disappear like the snow in spring.


Remember—everyone is unique.  That you want to improve an area of your life and stretch yourself in new ways is admirable, but a one-size-fits-all goal is usually not the best way to do it.  Decide on specific positive actions that will get you to a happier self.  Don’t forget to keep track of your progress, and most importantly, be proud of the new you!


Originally published in the Utah Valley Health and Wellness Magazine:

Utah Valley Health and Wellness Magazine – Resolutions: Tricks of the Trade

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