New Year’s Resolutions

SMART Goals = SMARTer Habits

Are you better off now than you were twelve months ago? Did you achieve everything you intended to in 2017? Anything you intended? In life, love, work… and poker? If not, why not? 

One probable answer to falling short of last year’s New Years goals is simply due to the fact that you’re not SMART. Or more accurately, you’re not S.M.A.R.T. At least not in the right way. And, no, this is not one of those generic Specific, Measurable, Achievable Blah-Blah-Blah SMART blog posts. Well, sorta. Uh, let me explain…

Around this time of the year I hear this sentiment a lot. From friends, co-workers and family alike: “Where did the year go?” or “Time flies!” or, worse: “Why didn’t I get all the things done I wanted to this past year!? Next year will be different!”  


The sad truth is that nothing in your life will change unless and until you decide to change your approach. Yes, you indeed do have to actively decide on specific outcomes and results (i.e., goals), but then you need proactively put in place habits and goals that will result in those outcomes. As is oft said, insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. 

Or, said another way, you’re basically nuts if you think this coming year will be any different than last year—unless you actively put in place and implement habits, practices, and processes that will lead to achievement of the goals you want. We can make all the lofty resolutions we want, but unless you put in place deliberate habits and processes that focus on achieving these goals, you might as well just wish for winning the lottery—without even buying a damn ticket. In other words: why bother setting goals if you aren’t willing to a) identify; and b) do the necessary work required to achieve the goal?

Step 1: Define the SMART Goal

The first step to improving your lot in life is determining what exactly it is you want to improve. You can’t get to a destination unless you first define where it is you want to go. Further, you need to be SMART about it, meaning the goal should meet the five criteria spelled out by the letters S, M, A, R, and T. 

If you spend even a few minutes googling “SMART goals” you will discover that there are a plethora of different definitions of the acronym SMART that are commonly used. The one I personally like is:

  • S is for Significant. The goal you chose has to mean something. It has to be significant. It has to change and/or improve your life in a meaningful way. There is no sense setting your sites on something unless it has meaning and significance. For instance, the goal of losing weight can have great significance in that it can reduce your likelihood of contracting diabetes, high blood pressure, and/or cardiovascular disease. Losing weight is a significant goal.
  • M is for Measurable. In engineering, we say a specification for a new piece of equipment is meaningless if it can’t be measured. For instance, when we are specifying the requirements for a piece of software, we don’t require that, “the software application shall be robust.” That’s not a measurable thing. Instead, we might specify that “the software application shall have a mean time between failure (MTBF) of 100 days.” That’s something we can measure. The same is true for goals. It’s not enough to say you want to get in shape, for instance. You have to actually define, in hard numbers, what “getting in shape” actually means. Losing 10 pounds, for example, is a measurable goal. You can and will know when you hit that number.
  • A is for Achievable. This aspect of a goal is vital. It’s where reality meets desire. You want to get in shape, fine. Further, you define this as meaning you’re going to lose 50 pounds. Given your current weight, state of fitness, and other parameters, is that actually an achievable number? If it’s not, then you need to re-think the specifics of the goal. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
  • R is for Risky. The flip side of Achievable is Risky. Again, using losing weight as an example, the measurable value of the goal needs to stretch you, it needs to push you. It should not be something too easy to achieve. If it is too easy of a goal, it won’t be meaningful to you—which means you’re likely to ignore it. Sorry, but this is just human nature at work. Losing just a few pounds might be easily Achievable, but it’s not truly helpful in the long run, or difficult to do—so you probably won’t even try. Losing 20 pounds, on the other hands, might be challenging but will also have a large effect on your health. And this means you’re more likely to work on achieving it.
  • T is for Time-bound. The final letter in our SMART acronym is all about putting a deadline to the goal. Humans are far more likely to get something done if there is a hard date in place for it to be completed. Want a teenager to get a big homework assignment done, tell him or her it’s due tomorrow, not at some ill-defined time in the future. Using our weight loss example, it’s not enough to say that we want to lose 20 pounds, but we also have to say we want to lose that weight within, say, three months. If you don’t bind the goal with a milestone deadline, it usually won’t get done. 

To help illustrate this further, let’s look at two of my own personal poker SMART goals for 2018:

  • PLO SMART Goal: Build my skills and PLO bankroll such that I am playing and winning consistently at $50PLO by 30 June 2018. This is Significant, in that I want to add Omaha authority and credibility to the Exceptional Poker brand. It’s also Measurable; i.e., I’ll either be winning consistently at $50PLO by the end of June or I won’t. It’s also both Achievable and Risky, meaning that with some work I am confident I’m going to accomplish this goal, but it’s going to take just that: hard work. I can’t sit on my laurels and assume it’s going to happen on its own. Finally, it’s Time-bound, which means I’ve got to get cracking on achieving this or June will blow by in a flash.
  • Hand Reading Book SMART Goal: Finish writing—and publish—my R-is-for-Reading-Poker-Hands book by December 31st. This is Significant, as it should help a number of my readers (plus generate a little income for the blog); it’s Measurable (I either write the book or I don’t); it’s Achievable but also Risky (writing a full book whilst starting a new job is doable but challenging); and it’s Time-bound (I have until the end of the year to get this done).

So you see how this SMART goal setting process works. Now it’s your turn. What are your SMART poker goals for 2018? It’s not enough to just think about them; you actually have to write them down. Seriously. On a piece of paper, write down the words “Significant,” “Measurable,” “Achievable,” “Risky,” and “Time-Bound” and then fill in the blanks. I can’t stress this enough— the act of writing these things down forces you to focus and get specific. Just thinking about them doesn’t achieve this same effect.

Step 2: Put in Place SMART Habits

Okay, so now we have SMART goals for 2018. Great. Now what? Answer: Develop corresponding SMART Habits, Practices, and Processes that will lead to the goal being achieved.

Look, defining the SMART goal is the first step in the process. It’s necessary, but insufficient, to achieving the goal. Just knowing that your goal is to lose 20 pounds by March, or play consistent winning PLO at $50 stakes by June, or finish writing a Hand Reading book by December, is not enough. You actually have to figure out how you’re going to achieve those goals. Enter SMART Habits.

For instance, let’s say the goal is indeed to lose 20 pounds by March. You now need to think about how you’re going to achieve this. For weight loss, the answer is pretty easy; I.e., we all know that the best way to lose weight is a) diet; and b) exercise, right?

Okay, so we’re going to diet and exercise our way to achieving this goal. Uh, okay. But how? What diet program and what exercise regimen? It’s not enough simply to identify the goal, nor is it sufficient to understand the basic method to achieve that goal. You have to narrow in and get specific before you can begin implementing that method. And the best way to do this is to begin new habits that will lead to the goal. Specifically, you want to begin SMART habits:

  • S is for Significant. We need to do a significant regular thing to achieve the goal. For instance, we need to improve our daily diet. And we need to implement a consistent exercise routine.
  • M is for Measurable. On the diet front, the specific habit/practice/process we might implement is to limit our daily intake calories to a specific, measurable number per day. Further, we are going to log those calories in a journal—meaning it’s measurable. Similarly, on the exercise front, we’re going to do some specified amount of aerobic exercise every week, and we will measure (log) it in a journal.
  • A is for Achievable. We can’t (or shouldn’t) go on a starvation diet, nor should we exercise to the point of collapse, right? We need the measurable habit to be reasonable and achievable; I.e., we have to limit our calories to something that is doable. And the same holds true for our exercise regimen, too.
  • R is for Risky. Ah, okay, but we do have to push ourselves a bit. The habit has to be meaningful and, dare we say, a bit challenging. We need to limit calories a little more than is comfortable to make it matter, and we have to do the same on the exercise front, too.
  • T is for Time-bound. Finally, we have to add time into the equation. We can’t just limit calories every now and then; we have to do so for some number of days in a row. The same with exercise; we have to hit the treadmill or elliptical machine for Y minutes a day, Z days a week.

Putting all this together, we might come up with a SMART set of habits and daily practices that will lead to the SMART goal of losing 20 pounds by March being achieved. For example, our diet plan might be to limit calories to 1800 per day, six days a week, from now until March. We’re allowed to cheat (up to 2500 calories) on Fridays. And we’ll do twenty minutes of aerobic exercise on a rowing machine three days a week, and 30 minutes of strength training twice a week.

Think through and then implement SMART habits that are centered around achieving your SMART goals, and your New Year’s resolutions will take care of themselves. 

For me with my two aforementioned goals, my corresponding SMART habits are as follows:

  • $50PLO Goal. In order to achieve this goal of playing and winning consistently at $50PLO by June, I will put in place the following SMART habits:
    • Take a shot at $50PLO at least once out of every five PLO sessions I play.
    • (Re)read Jeff Hwang’s PLO book in the month of January. Take notes.
    • Blog about PLO concepts and lessons learned at least once out of every five blog posts I write.
  • Book Writing. In order to achieve this goal of writing and publishing a book on Hand Reading by 31 December, I need to do the following:
    • Write 250 words per day, five days a week, every week for the next ten months. This will generate 50K words.
    • Arrange for copy editor(s) by June. Begin giving them material at that point to review.
    • Contract cover art by August.
    • Send draft to beta readers by October.
    • Etc…


A few years ago, I realized that I was living the definition of insanity. Every January 1, I made lofty resolutions and grand pronouncements about how I would change my life. And then I expected these things to somehow magically change in my life by themselves. But I didn’t really put any kind of permanent changes into place. I simply did the same things I always did, and—not surprisingly—the results never materialized. I had known about SMART goals, but I hadn’t had that “a-ha!” moment when I realized I needed related SMART habits and processes, too, in order to achieve those resolutions. 

We all set new year goals and resolutions—big and small alike—and then more often then not fail at them. And then we repeat the same thing next year, and the year after, and… well, you get the idea. Don’t be this way. Don’t be dumb, like I was. Instead, be SMART.

Exceptional Poker — Learn. Master. Crush.

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2 thoughts on “New Year’s Resolutions

    • Yes, I completely agree. It’s really easy to just wake up and realize another week, month or year has passed without any proactive improvement. I’m nudging myself as much as anyone with this post! Happy New, too, Dave!