The Chicago Marathon is quickly approaching, and the autumn leaves will soon begin to turn. Big athletic events and the change of seasons are great reminders about the importance of goal setting and how goals can improve your health. As a fitness professional, I observe how goals can motivate individuals toward success. They create boundaries for healthy behavior and can act as a tether when one feels discouraged. Goals provide people with a path that helps them stay on track and ultimately, feel accomplished. However, despite their usefulness, setting health-related goals is often a task many people avoid.
Holding yourself accountable and committing to a plan is challenging. How one arrives at completing a goal can vary (short- v. long-term) and goals can range from big ideas (training for a marathon) to smaller achievements (eating more vegetables). Falling short of any goal can lead to feelings of shame, guilt, and frustration. Despite the variety of goal types and action plans people often refrain from establishing goals because they are afraid of failure and/or simply don’t know where to start. Do not be afraid of goals; achieving them may be simpler than you think.
The first thing to do is to identify why your goal is important and then apply the SMART method. The SMART method suggests goals be Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. This method is simple and provides direction. Here is a breakdown of the SMART method:
Specific: Set a clear goal. Instead of saying, “I will eat more vegetables.” commit to “I will eat one serving of vegetables at every meal and as an afternoon snack.” Identify the goal, its significance, and ask yourself how you will achieve it.
Measurable: Again, be specific and select a goal that can be measured. For example; “I will lower my cholesterol.” could be measureable, but “I will lower my cholesterol by replacing processed foods with one serving of vegetables at every meal and as an afternoon snack for 90 days.” creates parameters and a timeline for your goal.
Attainable: Aim to succeed. Select a goal you know you can honestly work toward and remember that big goals can be broken down into smaller units. Small goals can help you build momentum and confidence to work toward the longer/bigger picture. If replacing processed foods at every meal is too overwhelming, start by replacing them in one meal for two weeks, then in two meals for the following two weeks, and so on.
Realistic: You want to win, so be honest about your abilities, motivation, and time. Make sure you establish a sensible timeline for your goal, even if that means breaking it down into phases. You have to learn how to run one mile, before you run a marathon.
Timely: Both attainable and realistic, your timeline should make sense and work with your schedule. Set an endpoint or deadline so you do not procrastinate.
Again, begin by identifying the goal and its relevance. A desire to improve your fitness level, diet, or overall health should not be overshadowed by fear. The internet and various fitness and wellness programs can assist you in achieving your goal…but the idea begins with you. If you want to improve your health and have never set a goal take small steps. Create a two week challenge: start taking the stairs at work, or try to get 7 hours of sleep every night. Notice if the goal makes you feel physically healthier and stronger. Upon completion of your two week challenge notice if you also feel mentally more confident and ready to set your next goal. By setting yourself up for success with thoughtful goal setting strategies and gently pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, you can take control of your life and create healthy change. Go get it!