Article Category: Speaker Habits

How to Achieve All Your Resolutions

It’s the time of year for making — and breaking — resolutions.

Whether your resolutions are health-related (exercise more), family-related (spend more quality time together), or career-related (become a more effective speaker), there’s a proven way to set yourself up to succeed — make SMART resolutions.

S.M.A.R.T. Resolutions

Smart resolutions, or smart goals at any time of year, have five characteristics:

  • S – Specific
  • M – Measurable
  • A – Achievable
  • R – Relevant
  • T – Time-bound

As we’ll see, these criteria are not entirely independent, but they are all critical.

Let’s look at each characteristic in more detail.


State your resolution and its expected outcome as simply, concisely, and explicity as possible.

Attempting to achieve a vague goal is like trying to steer a boat across an ocean without a compass. Which way do you go? What’s the best way to get there? What small steps will lead me there?

Be stating your resolution in specific terms, you provide sharp focus for yourself. What exactly will you do?


  • General – I resolve to get healthy.
    Specific – I resolve to lose 10 pounds and eliminate alcohol.
  • General – I resolve to become a good public speaker.
    Specific – I resolve to design, write, and deliver a 60-minute seminar on time management.


Define the criteria that you will use to measure your progress and eventual success.

Think in terms of criteria which can be counted, or those which lend themselves to answering a clear “yes” or “no” question.


  • Not Measurable – I resolve to lose weight.
    Measurable – I resolve to lose 10 pounds.
  • Not Measurable – I resolve to exercise.
    Measurable – I resolve to exercise for 30 minutes, 3 times a week.
  • Not Measurable – I resolve to spend more time writing my speeches.
    Measurable – I resolve to devote five hours to writing and editing each of my speeches.


This third factor is perhaps the most tricky.

Goals which are too large given your current situation, resources, and available time are likely to be discouraging from day one. It is unwise to set a goal which requires you to spend many hours a day (if your existing commitments don’t allow it) or which requires you to spend a great deal of money (if you don’t have it) or use advanced skills (if you haven’t learned them).

When setting many simultaneous goals (as we tend to do at this time of year), be aware of how they may conflict with each other. You may have an hour a day to devote to a single goal, but not multiple goals. Be honest with yourself. It’s better to make and succeed in one goal than to make and fail on several goals.

At the same time, greatness is achieved by those who dream big dreams. If the goal is too easy to achieve, and if you know you can meet it with little effort, then it isn’t much of a goal at all. Don’t let fear of the unknown prevent you from stretching.

Find the balance that works for you. Reach high, but reach within your grasp.


  • Improbable – I resolve to triple my consulting income this year.
    Achievable – I resolve to increase consulting income by 30% this year.
  • Improbable – I resolve to spend 5 hours a day reading marketing books.
    Achievable – I resolve to spend 1 hour a day listening to marketing audiobooks during my commute.
  • Improbable – I resolve to raise my speaking fee from $500 to $500,000 for a speaking engagement this year.
    Achievable – I resolve to raise my speaking fee from $500 to $2000 for a speaking engagement this year.


Goals which are relevant to your personal or career development and tied to your core values are more likely to be achieved. It is this relevancy which will keep you going when failure seems imminent.

Are you losing weight so you can see your daughter on her wedding day? Or perhaps your granddaughter on hers? When you don’t feel like going for a run on a rainy, cold morning, a vision of that white dress which will propel you forward.


  • Irrelevant – I resolve to take a course in Swahili, just because.
    Relevant – I resolve to take a course in French, to prepare myself to attend a French culinary school next year.
  • Irrelevant – I resolve to learn to play the harmonica, because I may find myself alone on a deserted island.
    Relevant – I resolve to learn accounting skills, so that I can contribute to my local not-for-profit organization.
  • Irrelevant – I resolve to develop a full-day course on tying knots, because the world needs more sailors.
    Relevant – I resolve to develop a full-day course on change management, to raise my profile and attract coaching clients.


Humans are wired to work toward deadlines. Fixing your resolutions to a date on the calendar makes them real, and separates them from all those “Someday, I’ll get to it” dreams.

Failing to attach a timeline to your goals means you have no way to track progress. Are you on pace to reach your goal? Do you need to speed up? “I’ll work on it tomorrow” becomes a chronic excuse preventing you from inching forward.


  • Unbound – I resolve to lose 10 pounds.
    Time-bound – I resolve to lose 10 pounds by July 1st.
  • Unbound – I resolve to find a club and join Toastmasters.
    Time-bound – I resolve to find a club and join Toastmasters by January 31st.

Achieving All of Your Resolutions

Making your resolutions SMART gives you the best possible chance of success. But there’s one additional key: tell your family and friends about it!  Sharing your goal with others helps in two ways:

  • It makes you more accountable. Knowing that you’ll have to answer to your friends if don’t stick to your exercise program may keep you from adopting your sedentary habits. (Note: This won’t help much if your goal isn’t SMART in the first place.)
  • It provides an invitation to them to help you, probably in ways that you can’t imagine. Your friends and family want you to be successful, but they can’t help you if they don’t know what you need.

What Are Your SMART Resolutions?

Here’s your chance to go on record… share your SMART resolutions — for public speaking, or for anything else — in the comments.

Good luck!

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Comments icon4 Comments

  1. Andrew:
    My first specific resolution is to use more pauses this years, as shown by this Doug Savage cartoon –

  2. Harry says:

    Great advice.

    I’d like to recommand a goal setting tool at, a very nicely built web app designed for tracking goals and todo lists, and supports time tracking too. It’s clear, focused, easy to navigate, worth a try.

  3. Lathif says:

    SMART resolutions! I thought the use of Maxwell was cute. I must use that in my class but…not everyone will get it.
    Happy New Year.

  4. Cayla Nolder says:

    Andrew, wonderful advice! I personally love the S.M.A.R.T. acronym because it’s an effective way to accomplish your objectives. Strategic communicators typically use SMART or RACE if you’re a public relations practitioner. R.A.C.E. stands for research, action, communication, and evaluation. RACE is wonderful for public relation campaigns.

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