If you are like the 44% of Americans who made New Year’s resolutions in January, you might by now also be feeling like the 92% of people who fail to keep their resolutions. If so, you might be wondering what is the best way to stay on track? What can I do if I fall off the wagon? Or why bother setting them at all?

The “fresh start” effect explains why so many people start the new year with a plethora of goals for the coming year. Research shows people are more likely to engage in aspirational behavior after calendar milestones, like birthdays or a new year. Most popular among goals is the ambiguous “being a better person”, but financial goals such as “saving more” and “spending less money” rank as 3rd most popular. And judging by how many phone calls I get this time of year, financial goals are at the top of the list for many people.

The reason so many people fail to keep their goals is that they set unrealistic goals with no clear plan to achieve them. So, how can you avoid bailing on your goals that seemed so important just a few weeks ago?

  1. Be SMART. The SMART system was pioneered by management guru Peter Drucker and stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-based. Experts say if you make goals that meet these criteria, you’ll be able to track progress during the year and are more likely to achieve them.
  2. Try other approaches. A year-long goal might not work for you. Increasingly popular are month-long challenges, which only require you to focus on a goal for 30 days. Doing something new for 30 days is more manageable than doing it for a year, so you are more likely to have success.
  3. Be forgiving. If you fall off the wagon, don’t be too critical. Mis-steps are a common part of creating new habits, so don’t be afraid to start again.

In summary, it seems in keeping with human nature to want to begin a new year with aspirational new goals. With a bit of perseverance and willingness to try different approaches, you could be part of the 8% who manage to achieve their goals. With odds like those, you might wonder why bother at all? Because those who set New Year’s resolutions are 10 times more likely to achieve goals than those who don’t make resolutions at all. This phenomenon reminds me of the phrase often attributed to Lewis Carroll – “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there”.