Losing weight. Starting an exercise program. Giving up caffeine. You’ve probably heard lots of tips for sticking to healthy goals, but how do you separate the wheat from the chaff? What works? What sticks?
If you’ve never heard of SMART goals, now is your chance. SMART is an acronym for:
SMART goals have long been used in the corporate and academic worlds for managing employee performance, but they’ll work for setting health goals, too! SMART goals should be simply written and should define what you’re going to do to get where you want to be. Here’s a breakdown.
Be as specific as possible. If weight loss is your goal, your goal can’t be “to lose weight.” That’s too general. How many pounds do you want to lose? When do you want to lose it by? What are the specific areas of your body you’d like to reshape?
A better example is: “By the end of this year, I want to lose 15 pounds, with focus on my belly fat.” Make your goal as specific as you possibly can because it provides a metric to work toward and you feel better about interim progress and achievement. For example, when you lose 7 pounds, you are halfway to your goal.
All goals should be measurable. If they’re not, how on earth do you ever know if you achieved it? Again, using weight loss as the example, you can measure that in several ways. Certainly, you can get on the scale and see how much you lost, but many people also measure inches lost or even how their clothing fits. The measurement you choose doesn’t matter, just make sure you have a measurement.
Write your measurements down, too. This helps on days when you feel unmotivated. You just have to look in your notebook and see how far you’ve come to keep at it. Remember—small victories count too! Tangible evidence that you can see in writing helps you accomplish that goal.
When a person sets a goal, they must be accountable for reaching that goal. Otherwise, it will never work. With weight loss, be accountable by tracking your calories. Write them down, or use a smartphone tracker app—they’re lots of them! They add up, so summing those up can help you stay on track.
Others make sure they tell family and friends about a health goal. Tell your best friend that you’re giving up caffeine or starting an exercise plan. You’ll be embarrassed if you have to admit to them you’ve slacked off, and they’ll bug you to stay on track.
Many people fail at goals because they’re not realistic in setting them. You have to be realistic. Losing 75 pounds in one month is not feasible, nor is jogging five miles a day on Day 3 when you’ve never jogged a day in your life. If you’re trying to give up caffeine, don’t go cold turkey on Day 1. Taper off to three cups of coffee per day, then two, then one, then voila!
You have to be able to visualize yourself reaching that goal. There’s a balance—goals should stretch you a bit, so you feel challenged but not overwhelmed. Being too unrealistic can even be a huge demotivator, and you certainly don’t want that. You can’t be overwhelmed. Put a lot of thought into it and bounce ideas off other people to determine whether you’re being realistic or going overboard.
You have to box your goal into a period to have a fighting chance of keeping it and reaching it. If you just say, “I want to lose 15 pounds” but you never set a deadline, you’ll be much more apt to cheat. “I can have a big cheeseburger now because I still have time to drop those 15 pounds.” Sound familiar?
Set a deadline and stick with it. When goals don’t have time limits, you will have a much more difficult time not only starting on the road to meeting the goal, but a much harder time staying motivated and sticking with it until the end. Let’s say you want to lose your weight by December. Set that goal. Even if you slip a bit into January, you’ll still be more successful setting a date, even if it takes you a bit longer.
If you haven’t used SMART goals, give it a try. With this method, you can meet most any goal. Plan wisely and pick realistic steps and an achievable time frame. Don’t forget to look back at where you started. What seemed impossible at first may now amaze you and fill you with a sense of well-deserved accomplishment.
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