The start of a new year often motivates people to adopt a new lifestyle and take charge of their health. Positively intended New Year’s resolutions are made by the masses. Unfortunately, more often than not these resolutions are forgotten by the end of January. Behavior change is never easy, but it will be helpful to follow general guidelines for goal setting when making resolutions.
A good place to begin behavior change goal setting is by making sure that your goals are developed with the SMART acronym. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic, and Time-bound. The acronym is meant to guide goal development so that the individual making the goals is clear on what they’re trying to accomplish, how they will do so, and by when.
S Develop goals that are specific. You may think of this piece of your goal as the main mission statement or what it is that you’re trying to accomplish. The trick for making a goal specific is that it should not be too broad but instead, very detailed. For example, a specific goal can distinguish between “I want to lose weight” and “I want to lose 2 pound each week for the next 3 months by going to the gym every other day.” In this part of your goal setting you should consider: what it is you want to achieve, how you will do so, where, with whom, and what your limitations may be.
M Your goals should be broken down into measurable elements. This means that you have identified exactly what the concrete evidence will be when your goal has been achieved. Examples of evidence may be pounds lost, days at the gym, or servings of vegetables. Defining these measurable units will make your goals more clear as well as easier to reach.
A You cannot expect to reach your goal without taking action. This piece of your goal setting should define the clear action oriented steps you will adopt in reaching your goal. If you have a goal to eat healthier in the New Year, this piece of goal setting defines what actions you will be taking to eat better. Perhaps you will chose to include more vegetables or adopt weekly meal preparation practices. Establishing the clear actions you will be taking on a day to day basis is key to ensuring your goal will not fall by the wayside. It may be helpful to frame these actions in a positive way, describing behaviors that you plan to adopt rather than ones you will be avoiding.
R Your goals should be realistic, this will require that you question whether or not the goal is truly achievable. To make this determination you should weigh the effort it will take to meet the goal against your current obligations and priorities. Your past behavior should also be considered in establishing how realistic a goal is. For example, if you’ve not worked out for the past year, it may not be realistic for you to suddenly begin exercising for 60 minutes each day. Unrealistic goal setting will likely lead to failure. Remember, that doesn’t mean that you can’t obtain a seemingly unreachable goal eventually through progress and planning. Once you meet your first realistic goal you will likely feel empowered and motivated to make a follow-up goal.
T Goals should be framed in a time-bound manner. A target date or time-frame provides something to work towards by a specified deadline. A time-bound goal will clarify what can be done this year, in 6 months, this month, or today. In this model everyday tasks will take priority over long term goals and will push you to be working day to day towards your overarching goal.
After developing your SMART goals there are a few other things to consider that may be helpful in reaching your goals.
Accountability can play a large part in lasting behavior change. Make sure to tell the important people in your life so that they can be there to support you throughout you taking action on your goals. Better yet, find a teammate and identify someone who is willing to work towards the same goals with you.
Don’t forget to reward yourself when you’ve reached a goal. A reward system may help you to find extra motivation when it’s lacking. Make sure that your reward is still in alignment with your goals and does not contradict them. For example, rather than rewarding yourself with unhealthy foods, choose to purchase new fitness clothing or to go to a fun event.
Everyone has bad days, rather than giving up altogether when you slip in your behavior change goals it is important to plan for some of these failures and to not be discouraged by them. No one is perfect and some days are better than others. When you have an unproductive day forgive yourself and remember that the next do is a new opportunity to continue in your goal progress.