Heather Bamlet RD, LD
Each year, in December and January, many people focus on creating “New Year’s Resolutions.” These resolutions are usually lofty goals we set for ourselves that often focus on health and wellness. More often than not, however, these resolutions are abandoned by the end of January, forgotten about by summer and vaguely recalled again by the end of December.
Think about yourself – have you set a New Year’s Resolutions in the past? Have you stuck with it? If so, for how long? If you have set a resolution and stuck with it, congratulations! If you have set a resolution for yourself, but didn’t follow through, think about why that may be as you look forward to the future.
Often, when we want to change something in our lives, we set a goal. The goals we set are usually big and general such as: “I want to lose 50 pounds,” or “I am going to exercise every day.” The challenge with these types of goals is that they can be very overwhelming. When goals are overwhelming, it is easy to fall off track and lose motivation. Exercising every day may not be realistic for some people, and when someone commits to this type of goal and something happens to prevent them from exercising for a day or two, the goal goes unmet. Many times an unmet goal is deemed a failure and then forgotten.
So, how can we make this year different? How can we achieve better health in 2015? Think about your overall goal; where would you like to be in terms of exercise or eating habits or even weight at this time next year?
Keep your overall goal in mind and then consider making smaller goals to get there. One way to do this is to picture your overall goal as the top of a staircase and each step a smaller – more manageable – goal to get there. Would you like to be 50 pounds lighter? Or perhaps run a 5K race? For weight loss you might consider smaller initial weight loss goals, starting with a goal of losing 10 pounds and then reassessing. If your goal is to run a 5K race — but you haven’t been very active, perhaps start with a goal of walking for 30-60 minutes several days a week and then as you are able to do this, reassess and create another step up the staircase towards running that 5K. Having intermediate goals can help you stay focused and motivated to continue working towards your ultimate goal.
As you work to set goals for yourself, consider these 5 tips to help you achieve your goals. These tips come in the form of an acronym that makes it even easier to guide you through the goal setting process. Make 2015 the year that you set SMART goals. SMART goals are: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Trackable.
- Specific: State what you want to do exactly, keeping in mind who, what, where and when
- Measureable: If a goal can’t be measured, how will you know if you’ve achieved it?
- Attainable: Your goal should be something that you have resources to complete (time, equipment, finances)
- Realistic: A goal should always be something that is reasonable for you to attain
- Trackable: Did you or did you not do it? Being able to track your actions can help to keep you motivated if you are doing a good job and can help to motivate you if you have fallen off track
For example, let’s look at a weight loss goal that follows the SMART principles.
Goal: I will lose 25 pounds over the next 6 months by eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, limiting my snacking to not more than 150 calories daily and walking 3 days a week for 45 minutes.
- Specific: By stating the amount of desired weight loss and providing specific examples of how you want to lose the weight (eating more fruits and vegetable, controlling snacking and walking) this goal becomes specific.
- Measureable: In the end you can measure overall weight loss, but through smaller steps you can measure how frequently you exercise and the length of each exercise session. You can also measure how many servings of fruits and veggies and how many snacks you eat each day.
- Attainable: In this example, walking 3 days a week for 45 minutes seems like something most people can fit into their lives. Think about your goals – what can you commit to doing? Consider scheduling exercise in your calendar to ensure that you have the time set aside for it!
- Realistic: Here, the goal for 25 pounds over the course of 6 months is an average of about 4 pounds per month or 1 pound per week which is pretty realistic for most people who have 25 pounds or more to lose. Think about your own situation – maybe your goal is to achieve a specific weight or clothing size – a goal may be realistic if that size or weight is something that you have been able to maintain before. It may not be realistic to set a goal of weighing 150 pounds if you have never weighed 150 pounds or less as an adult. Usually, experts talk about a weight loss of 10% of your starting weight as a realistic starting point for weight loss. So, if you start at 250 pounds, a weight loss of 25 pounds might be a realistic place to begin.
- Trackable: Believe it or not, keeping track of your diet and exercise is one of the best predictors of success with long-term weight management. By having a specific goal, you are able to track what you have done and compare back to the goal you set for yourself. There are many applications for smart phones and tablets, even more online diet and exercise trackers and of course, the old pen and paper method! Measuring your success can be motivating and seeing where you are off track can help you focus on what you can do even better!
As you think about your 2015 New Year’s resolutions, keep in mind the SMART elements and make 2015 the year that you make positive changes for the rest of your years to come!
Hensrud, Donald, MD et. al., eds.The Mayo Clinic Diet, Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 2010, print.