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As we get to the end of the year, most of us look back at what’s gone yay, hmm, and eek.

We pat ourselves on the back for the victories, small and big, but we mostly look at those what the heck! moments that highlight the mistakes we never want to make again.

Because this is the year we’ll change. For real.

Or, at least, this is what most of us keep telling ourselves, year after year.

Reality check anyone? 

80% percent of us abandon New Year’s resolutions within a month and only eight percent of resolution makers follow through.

That’s not good news for the millions of Aussies (nearly half of the population) who pledged to save more and those who had alternative money goals, such as getting out of debt or investing.

Let’s start by discussing what usually goes wrong, so we can improve these statistics, shall we?

Photo by Bich Tran

Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

According to research by Finder.com.au, men and women of all generations believe they haven’t followed through on their NYE resolutions because they “don’t have the willpower.”

There is so much willpower one can muster. The more you’re trying to change, the more tired you get and the harder it gets to practice willpower.

22% of respondents believed it was all Covid’s fault; others blame it on being lazy.

The truth is, New Year's resolutions mostly fail because:

  • The goals are unrealistic

  • People don’t keep track of their progress 

  • They forget about their resolutions altogether

  • They set too many resolutions.

New Year's resolutions are just like any other goals we set in our lives. The issue is that many people don’t have a good process in place.

Set S.M.A.R.T.E.R. Goals

Most people are familiar with S.M.A.R.T. goals. Those are goals that are Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-bound.

Keep reading to discover how to make your goals more sustainable and less dependent on willpower with S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goals. 

Let’s go through all the steps, one by one.

S — Specific

Be as specific as possible and never be afraid to be too specific. You can create clarity by writing down the what, when, where, why and how of your goal. 

If you aim to buy your own home this year, think about where you want to live, why you want to buy instead of rent, and whether you’re ready to give the whole Australian home buying process a go.

M — Measurable

Make your goals measurable so that you will know when you achieve them. It’s important to put an exact number next to it. 

Instead of saying “I want to start saving this year”, think about (and write somewhere) exactly how much you want to save. If you want to invest, put down on paper the amount and the return you’re expecting from the investment.

A — Assignable

Make your goal assignable and make sure each party is clear on their tasks. This keeps everybody accountable and promotes better teamwork.

Are you planning a trip abroad with friends this year? Knowing the destination and flight dates is important, but don’t forget to consider assigning roles within your group of friends. Who’s planning the trip? Who’s booking the flights and hotels? 

R — Realistic

Set a goal that is achievable, but also not too easy to accomplish. For two reasons: something too accessible probably won’t make a big difference to your life. Plus, a little challenge requires you to stay focused and gives you that bit of adrenalin that makes things interesting!

Consider where you’re starting from and the timeframe you’re giving yourself. If this is your first time following this process, I suggest you start with a one-year goal, such as reducing your debt by 20% or saving enough for a course that will help you get a promotion.

Why? Setting a too difficult goal will reduce your chances to succeed and require too much energy. Even if you achieve it, you’ll be so exhausted that you won’t dare going through the process ever again. Instead, achieving your goals increases motivation to set and pursue a second one and a third and so forth. That’s because when you achieve a goal, your body produces dopamine (the feel-good hormone) giving you the proverbial kick everyone loves!

T — Time-Bound

Ensure your goal is time-bound - i.e. you know when you want to achieve it. If you have a long timeframe, make sure you break it down into milestones to make the journey less daunting.

If you are planning on saving $10,000 by the end of the year, focus on 3-month intervals.

E.R. — Emotional Resonance

A goal needs to be relevant to your life. It needs to be in line with your values, the way you’re living, or what you want out of life.

If you’re concerned about the environment, buying shares in companies that offer high dividends but have a dubious environmental reputation will contrast with your values. Investing in an ethical portfolio however, could give you lower returns (and I stress could, because that’s not always the case), but will increase your chances of keeping those shares in the long run.

As Tony Robbins said, “success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure.” 

When you have a goal that fits with your life, you create positive reinforcements. Your like-minded friends might push you towards achieving it. Some related goals you’re pursuing, a hobby or a job that is somewhat related to that goal, might support you by providing insights, information or extra motivation.

Now it's time to apply this to your specific situation

So how do you get started? Well, start with a vision of how you see your life in six months, a year, five years or longer. With this vision, you can then create goals based on your values. 

Next, you create action steps that will ensure your success. When you set goals this way, you will be better positioned to get the most from the money you have and to keep to a budget that supports rather than restricts you.

The secret is to be flexible. Regularly evaluate and readjust.

An important part of goal setting is to plan when you will evaluate the progress you’ve made towards your goal.

Start by setting the right frequency. Not too often, as it will make the task tedious, but often enough for you to keep track of how you’re going. Opting for a fortnight review? Make sure you put it in your calendar and don’t let anyone double book that time. And if you need a little trick, use "temptation bundling", as Wharton psychologist and "How to Change" author Katy Milkman calls it. Pair the task with something you enjoy, like eating some decadent chocolate cake or listening to your motivational playlist. That will make you look forward to your evaluation session.

Why? Evaluating not only keeps you focused on your goal (as we’ve seen, many people forget about their New Year’s resolutions altogether), but will prepare you for the last and fundamental step.

Once you know how you’re tracking, it’s time to readjust your approach.

If you’re finding it challenging to hit your milestones, consider changing technique or asking for support from someone you trust. This is also the opportunity to see if your goals were too ambitious or too easy to achieve.

Thanks to this step you’ll be able to realise early on what is working and what is not. You won’t get frustrated and abandon your goal because ‘it’s just too hard’. Instead, you will constantly adjust your trajectory to get closer to the finish line.

And finally, celebrate your wins 

Acknowledge and celebrate as you achieve your goals or make progress towards them. Enjoy the journey along the way and seeing how your combined efforts are creating your desired change.

Don't get so fixated on the finish line that you forget to smell the roses along the way. Cherish those little moments of victory.

On your way to your goals

Yes, 2024 can be the year of change. By next December, you could be joining those few who see their resolutions through.

Simply set goals the S.M.A.R.T.E.R. way. Be persistent, but also kind to yourself, and you’ll make it!

Want some extra help?

To achieve any type of money goals, a budget becomes an indispensable ally.

If you want to learn the essential steps of budgeting, without having to sacrifice the things that matter to you, take a look at Life Sherpa’s Budget Bliss.

Our resources-packed online course will take you from struggling to thriving in just 12 weeks.

Find out more about Budget Bliss.
Francesco Solfrini Profile photo

Francesco Solfrini


For 15 years, Francesco has approached communication from various angles: client-side advertising manager, agency account director, freelance photographer and content writer. Working for several global and Australian finance brands (Morningstar, CBA, American Express, uno Home Loans, OFX and InvestSmart) he has learnt to understand how people save, spend, invest and feel about their money. Today, Francesco develops online content that addresses the real needs and aspirations of Australians when it comes to personal finance.

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