12/31/2015 03:17 pm ET Updated Dec 31, 2016

Slacker's Guide to New Year's Resolutions

Cynical about the value of New Year's resolutions? You tried a few years ago and failed. Maybe you tried again and failed again. That doesn't mean resolutions are worthless or that you're weak-willed.

It probably means you goofed in setting your resolutions. The most common traps are having too many goals or too ambitious goals.

Start by thinking about how you want your life to be better - not your spouse or your boss or your mother. What is really important for you to move the dial on? How will you know when you've achieved it?

Your answers to these questions will provide the foundation for setting your goals. Choose just one or two over-arching goals for 2016. No more or you risk dividing your focus and your energy.

The mnemonic SMART spells out the key steps to goal setting. A goal should be:





Time bound

The most important of these elements is Attainable. Many folks are too ambitious and set a goal that would challenge a superhero. Those who insist on aiming high can increase their odds of reaching their objectives by breaking them down into small, achievable pieces.

Here's an example. One client came in stating her goal was, "Lose 60 pounds before my daughter's wedding in April."

On its face, this objective meets four of the five SMART requirements: specific, measurable, relevant and time bound. But was it attainable? The client's doctor had advised her that losing that much weight in four months wasn't healthy.

My client grudgingly agreed to lower her overall goal to a 40-pound weight loss. To help her stay on track, I suggested she set intermediate goals of 10 pounds a month. Her objective became more attainable -- and was, in fact, attained -- by breaking it down into smaller pieces.

Another common reason New Year's resolutions fail is that we have too many of them. Each of us has a finite amount of will power not to mention time and energy limitations. If you have multiple goals, your effort may be pulled in too many directions and you may become frustrated.

Don't let past failures with New Year's resolutions deter you from setting your sights for 2016. It takes courage to identify goals but without them you will muddle through each day's routine again and again and again until a year has passed. You'll be a year older but chances are, you won't be any closer to becoming a better you.

Set aside some time and identify your goals for the coming year. Remember to be SMART. Most of all, be kind to yourself. Goal setting isn't an invitation for your inner critic to appear with scathing observations.

"If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else." This bit of wisdom from Yogi Berra seems obvious, but it contains a great truth. Unless we have purpose and direction -- unless we have goals -- our days get consumed by trivialities.