New Years Resolutions and SMART Goals

December 27, 2019

A guest article by mental health counselor Erin Jackson

It’s that time of year – Christmas is over, and the year is nearly over too. The new year is upon us, and for many, it’s time to bust out the New Year’s resolutions.

Okay, I don’t know about you, but for me, the phrase “New Year’s resolution” scares the socks off me! You may as well be saying, “Climbing Mt. Everest,” because as far as I’m concerned, the two phrases are one and the same in terms of level of difficulty. And wait a minute – talk about pressure: as if a New Year’s resolution isn’t enough, we’re about to embark upon a whole new decade! Are you breaking out in a cold sweat too, or is it just me? 

You know, there are many reasons to want to make some resolutions for the start of a new year. Some people are natural-born achievers, always striving to better themselves and setting those goals just to bust through ‘em. Others are closing out the current year with so much regret and depression that they know they can’t face a new year without at least the possibility of self-improvement and growth.

Whatever the reason, New Year’s resolutions are a thing — and as it turns out, a popular thing, with 60% of us making them, according to inc.com. Though they’re popular to make, they’re apparently difficult to keep. According to an article at Forbes.com, less than 25% of people stay committed to their resolutions after 30 days, and a mere 8% actually accomplish them.

I think it’s safe to say that resolutions are daunting for the vast majority. Resolutions can be a good thing: They can motivate a person to start a new, healthy habit or completely change their lifestyle. Or on the other end of the spectrum, they can cause discouragement, frustration, and shame. All three of those emotions are difficult, but shame is especially tough. A person could experience shame if they know that year after year, they fail to stick to their resolutions or fail to make any at all. 

Shame is a debilitating emotion that differs from guilt in that it brings thoughts and feelings of “I am a bad person,” whereas guilt would cause one to think more along the lines of “I did a bad thing.” Shame is more self-focused, and because of that, it can be tougher to deal with than guilt.

Shame freezes us and keeps us from doing things we know we need to do because we have this overwhelming sense of wanting to hide when we feel ashamed. A good example of shame would be embarrassment, which is a type of shame.

Think about what it feels like when you’re embarrassed: you want the ground to open beneath you and swallow you up. That’s how it feels to be ashamed. It could be the feeling of worthlessness when you compare yourself to someone else and think, “She is so much better than me. I could never be like that.” On a psychological level, shame can lead to depression and anxiety.

On a spiritual level, shame keeps us from doing what we are called to do. It may be a fear of failure or fear of rejection that keeps us from going forward in our calling. Many times this shame comes from something traumatic that has happened to us in the past. Whatever the cause, shame must be dealt with and eradicated in order to be able to move forward in effective ministry and a truly fulfilling and peace-filled life. To seek healing from shame, consider seeking counseling from a licensed mental health professional as well as your pastor and/or trusted spiritual mentors in your life. 

With all this in mind, changing our perspective on New Year’s resolutions could help us feel less intimidated or discouraged about first-of-the-year self-improvement. There’s nothing wrong with self-discipline and bettering one’s self and striving for bigger and better things, but if the journey to get there could be a little smoother and a lot more achievable, sign me up!

So instead of making resolutions, do this: try setting goals. You’re changing your perspective from making a resolution, or “resolving” to do something (which can sound strict and stressful) to setting goals, which are healthy and necessary for improvement. Resolutions seem vague and don’t really offer a plan, whereas goals are more specific, attainable, and measurable. There’s actually an acronym that describes it in more detail: SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-based. If you set goals that fall under each of those criteria, your chance of meeting those goals will be higher. 

Quick tips for making and achieving goals:

  • Cultivate a mindset of focusing on the process, not just focusing on achievement. You’re growing throughout the process, not just when you’re meeting those goals. Remember that you’re not going to experience change right away – it will take time, and that’s to be expected.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others. We’re all at different points in our journeys.  
  • Start small. Make small, easy changes and build upon those changes. Before you know it, you’ll be well on your way to meeting those goals!
  • If you “fail,” try another way! Ask yourself what worked, what didn’t, and how you can change it to make it more attainable. Learning from your failures is a part of growing, so even if you do “fail,” you are still in the process of self-improvement – so it’s actually not really failure at all!

Proverbs 16:9 says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”

Obviously, we can plan all we want, but Jesus will ultimately have the final say. We should make plans and set goals but should do so while seeking the Lord for His will in our lives and leaving room for Him to take us in a different direction. 

So as you embark on this new year and decade, do so with a prayerful heart. Give yourself some grace, and don’t allow shame to take up residence. Set some SMART goals and equip yourself with a positive mindset and the perspective that we all have room for improvement and must keep growing. Let God mold you into the you that He wants you to be in 2020. However, do remember that He loves you as you are now, in the last few days of 2019 – despite all your flaws and shortcomings. Here’s to a new decade and God’s grace that covers it! 

A few resources:

Check out Dr. Caroline Leaf. She is a cognitive neuroscientist and communication pathologist. She has a lot of information to share about shame and how to heal from it. Find her at drleaf.com. She has a helpful podcast, many videos on YouTube, and she is the author of many books. 

Rev. Chester Wright has studied shame extensively from a spiritual standpoint. He has a few videos on YouTube that are definitely worth watching.


Erin Jackson is a mental health counselor in Oklahoma City. She happily serves in many aspects of her church, from women’s ministry to guest follow-up. She enjoys the company of friends, loving on her three cute nephews, and listening to podcasts. Indian food is her absolute favorite. Above all, Erin is a follower of Jesus. 

Connect with Erin on Instagram @erinnicolejackson.

Bio Photo: Ty Welch | Edward Dane Photography.