Every year millions of people set New Year’s resolutions. Whilst most people start motivated to make significant changes, 80% of New Year’s resolutions have been abandoned by February. The reason New Year’s resolutions don’t work is because they are often made on a whim, driven by the desire for the ideal end scenario. Very rarely do we sit down to consider why the resolution is so important or how achieving it will benefit us. It is even less likely we will take the time to plan the steps we will follow to achieve it. I get it. I have set and ignored my fair share of New Year’s resolutions in the past. 

Why should you help your teenager set SMART goals instead of New Year’s resolutions?

Has your teenager set New Year’s resolutions for 2021? Perhaps they want to pass NCEA Level 1 or gain a subject endorsement for NCEA Level 2 Chemistry. It may not relate to their schooling. It could be they want their licence, first car or to live a healthier lifestyle. A desire to do well this year is a great start, but it is unlikely to come to fruition without a plan. I encourage you to talk to your teenager about their resolutions for this year. Helping your teenager turn their resolutions into SMART goals will greatly improve the likelihood they are achieved. It will also teach them important skills like perseverance and discipline. Three years ago I stopped setting New Year’s resolutions and started setting SMART goals. A SMART goal requires more time and thought to create. However, this effort at the start makes it much easier for your teenager to stick to their goals.

What is a SMART goal?

The SMART acronym stands for:


Make sure your teen’s goal is detailed. What is it that they want to achieve exactly?  What action steps will they take to achieve it and how often will they do these?  Will they need any help to achieve this goal?  Let’s use the resolution of gaining an Excellence subject endorsement for NCEA Level 2 Chemistry as an example. They could detail how often they will study and for how long each week. “I will study for 20 minutes, 3 times a week and increase this by 10 minutes and one session every month.” They can include whether they need a tutor or a textbook to support them in reaching this goal.


There should be a clear way for your teenager to determine their progress towards achieving their goal. Smaller goals, or milestones, that work towards the bigger goal should be set. Your teenager should regularly review their progress towards each milestone to determine whether they are on track to achieving their goal. For the example above, the milestones could be:

  • achieve each of their internals with Excellence
  • gain Excellence in one of their three end of topic chemistry tests
  • gain Excellence in one of their three papers in the school exam.  

These milestones are easily measurable and students can use their results to determine if they are on track to achieving their goal of excellence endorsement in chemistry. 


All goals should be realistic. Your teen needs to consider where they are at now and what small steps they can take towards their goal. The goal should be challenging but not so big that it is unachievable. If your teenager didn’t spend any time studying in 2021 it is unrealistic to start with studying for 1 hour everyday. Instead they should start with shorter study periods less frequently and build up to the 1 hour everyday. 


Before your teen sets their goal, talk to them about why it is important to them. How will achieving it make their life better? For example, if they achieve NCEA Level 2 Chemistry with Excellence, they will be accepted into university. They are also more likely to gain a scholarship to help cover tuition. This means they can then complete a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Chemistry. This can lead to their dream career in environmental science. They could find new solutions for reducing carbon dioxide emissions and slow down global warming. 


Ensure your teenager sets dates for when they will achieve each milestone and their overall goal. This will help them track their progress so they know they are on track to achieving their goal. If they are not reaching their milestones, they need to adjust their action steps. If they do not achieve with Excellence in their first internal, they may need to consider finding a chemistry tutor. 

Why do SMART goals work?

People who focus on the process of achieving their goal rather than the final outcome are much more likely to reach their goals. New Year’s resolutions are focused on the outcome whereas SMART goals focus on the process of reaching that outcome.

Actionable steps:

SMART goals provide a plan for achieving the goal. They include clear steps to take, so you are not left trying to figure out what to do each day to reach the goal. Often by the time we have worked out what to do, we have lost the desire to actually do it. With an easy to follow plan already in place, this barrier is removed. As the big goal is broken down into a number of smaller, relevant, goals, it does not feel so overwhelming. We need to believe a goal is achievable otherwise we will give up.


As we achieve each milestone, our brain releases dopamine which makes us feel good about our accomplishment. This improves our motivation so we continue working towards the next milestone and can be rewarded again. If the feeling of achievement is not enough motivation, we can set concrete rewards for ourselves too. We will buy a new phone, go on holiday, or go out for dinner when we achieve the next milestone. The reward is what helps us keep repeating behaviours that we know lead to the next reward, until it becomes a habit. To set a SMART goal, we must also consider why this goal is so important to us. Clarity about how this goal will improve our lives, or the lives of those we care about, provides further motivation. This keeps us working towards achieving our goals.

Helping your teenager turn their resolutions into SMART goals will greatly improve their chances of sticking to them and achieving them!

How to turn your teenager’s New Year’s resolutions into SMART goals

To turn your teenager’s resolution into a SMART goal, make sure they have included the five SMART criteria. Let’s write the ‘gain an Excellence subject endorsement for NCEA Level 2 Chemistry’ resolution as a smart goal.

“I will gain an Excellence subject endorsement in NCEA Level 2 Chemistry in 2021. To do this I will study chemistry for 20 minutes, 3x a week , and increase this by 10 minutes and one session per week each month. I will achieve with Excellence in all 3 of my internals and 1 of my 3 externals in the end of topic tests and school exam. I will find a NCEA chemistry tutor if I do not achieve with Excellence for any of the internals or in one of my externals. Achieving this will increase my chances of receiving a scholarship to study chemistry at university, so I can help reduce CO2 emissions and climate change in the future.”

Why is this a SMART goal?

This goal is specific, as there are clear steps to achieve it and includes milestones that can be accurately measured. As a result they would know whether they are meeting their study targets and gaining the required grades to attain their goal. As well as this, it is achievable, as they are starting small and developing their study habits over time. It also includes why this goal is important and when it will be achieved by.

Your teenager’s goal may not relate to their schooling and this is OK. Writing SMART goals and forming positive habits to achieve them is an important skill. These skills can be applied to any type of goal they set in the future and will give them strategies for success. 

Extra resources to help your teenager achieve their SMART goals for NCEA in 2021.

The Ultimate Study Planner Workshop

If your teenager has made a SMART goal to improve their results in 2021, The Ultimate Study Planner Workshop will show them how to set up a study timetable they will actually stick to. It also includes templates so they can work out what they need to study and create a timetable they can keep referring to.

Successful Study Strategies Suited to YOU Workshop

Quite often high school students are not taught how to study. This leaves them to figure out how to study on their own. All too often they end up reading and highlighting notes, which just does not work! They get into the test only to discover they cannot remember anything they revised. Once they believe studying is a waste of time it becomes really hard to convince them to get their books out at home.

If this sounds familiar, you can enrol your teenager in the next Successful Study Strategies, Suited to YOU workshop here. This workshop teaches students which study strategies actually work and which just waste their time. They get to try different study strategies to find the ones that best help them learn new information, so that they can be rewarded for their efforts with the grades they deserve!