Have you ever had a New Year’s Resolution flop? Or feel like you have good intentions to do better, but constantly struggle to meet your own expectations? Well, you aren’t alone! The problem many people face when it comes to goals is that they have a finish line in mind, but they don’t know what the race course looks like or what obstacles it may contain. They also don’t have a good idea of what it will look like or feel like to actually cross the finish line. Considering the obstacles and defining success are very important steps to successfully achieving any goal. One strategy to make your goals more attainable is to make the SMART!
SMART goals have been widely utilized in the healthcare field as a comprehensive method to goal setting. So what are SMART Goals? They are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based details about your goal that help give you clarity and greater chance of success in reaching that goal.
As an example, let’s say your goal is to feel better about your body. Well… Specificity is begging you to give that goal more definition. Are you looking to target your weight, your diet, your sleep, or your physical ability? If you’re looking to include more than one of those options, consider making a SMART goal for each one.
Let’s start with just one of these target areas for now and assume that you’re interested in improving your diet. This goal is still vague, so let’s get even more specific about what you want to improve about your diet: cutting back on soda intake.
Is that goal Measurable? No. Let’s assume that you currently drink four 12oz cans of soda a day (48oz). A measurable goal would be to aim to drink no more than two 12oz cans of soda a day (24oz).
Another factor to consider when putting measurement parameters on your goal is your frequency. We could say that your goal is to drink no more than 24oz of soda every day or we could consider doing a “trial period” and trying out this new goal three days a week.
Wondering how to decide what frequency will work best for you as a starting point? Ask yourself the next question: is this goal Attainable for you? In other words, does that seem realistic? Let’s say at this point doing the trial period of 3 days a week feels more attainable. That’s nothing to be ashamed of! It’s important to set goals up so that you feel empowered to continue. If our goal is so tough that we fail to accomplish it in the first week, it can turn us off from trying the goal out again entirely! It may feel discouraging to set small expectations at the beginning of your journey, but remember that small steps taken over time lead to large ground covered in the long run.
Next, you should consider if your SMART goal is Relevant to your end goal. Will drinking less soda make you feel better about your body? Consider the consequences, or better yet the results of your new SMART goal. Does it in any way help you reach the large, overarching goal?
Lastly, make your SMART goal Time-Based. Currently you have a weekly plan (no more than 24oz of soda on at least 3 days out of the week), but how long would you like the trial period to last? This is highly subjective, but consider the time you need to make a lasting change. A good place for many people to start is to commit to the goal for 1 month. Weeks 1 and 2 are hard, but weeks 3 and 4 show you that you are capable!
It’s also important to remember that life is unpredictable! If your SMART goal is just not matching what is happening in your reality, then go back to the drawing board. Don’t relent when things get tough, but if overly ambitious expectations stand in your way then it’s okay to change the goal in order to keep moving forward.
Another important aspect to setting a goal is finding your motivation behind it. Studies indicate that motivation that is rooted in a reward system is more likely to wax and wane over time than motivation that is rooted in joy and personal satisfaction. For example, let’s say that you are looking to train for a 5k. What would motivate you more – a medal for being the fastest, losing weight, the feeling you get after a good run, or the simple satisfaction in partaking in an activity that brings you joy? Although getting a medal and losing weight are still viable motivators, it can be difficult to maintain that motivation if you simply do not enjoy what you are doing. The bottom line is, don’t do something because it’s trendy or leading to fleeting reward; find the foods and activities that not only support your health, but also bring you joy.
Lastly, if you’re finding it hard to focus on one specific goal or what seems to be a realistic goal for you, reach out to your Registered Dietitian, Personal Trainer / Exercise Physiologist, or Physician for goals that are tailored to best fit you, your needs, and your dreams!