Learning to set goals is an important part of the puzzle when creating healthy habits. I mentioned goal setting when discussing how to get motivated and we’ll delve into it a bit more here.
Some of you will have learnt how to set goals as part of your life experience, but for many goal setting is a new concept. The closest a lot of us get to it is to set a new year’s resolution that we’ll be fitter or we really are going to start a healthy diet. The problem with goals such as these is that they don’t really help us much. They are too vague and too hard to measure.
Goal setting the SMART way
A really common way that people structure their goal setting is to use the acronym SMART as a guide to set goals. This way of setting goals has been around for a long time and is a really helpful process to follow. I’ll describe each of the letters individually but in reality they all overlap to become a really ‘smart’ way of setting goals! SMART stands for…
S – specific.
This means that instead of setting a goal such as ‘I’d like to become fitter’, or ‘I’d like to eat healthier’, we really drill down to focus on something specific such as ‘I will walk for ten minutes 3 times a week’ or ‘I will reduce my soft drink intake to one can of soft drink once a week’.
M – measurable.
As mentioned in the example above, when setting a goal we need to be able to measure whether we have achieved it or not. For instance, it is difficult to measure something vague like ‘an increase in exercise’. It is much more useful to be able to measure something that says so many minutes, so many times per week.
A – attractive or achievable.
Some people say the A stands for attractive and some say achievable. I like to think it stands for both! The goal needs to be something that is attractive to you – that suits where you are at this point in time and is going to be something that you believe that you can do. From an exercise point of view, if you don’t enjoy being in water, there is no point setting a goal to join the aquarobics class as you are unlikely to follow through, but you might meet a friend for an early morning walk instead.
R – realistic.
This ties in with achievable. The goal needs to be realistic from where you are now in your life. Before exercise became a part of my life I used to relate to the saying by Robert M Hutchins that ‘whenever I feel like exercise I lie down until the feeling passes‘. So when I was setting my initial goals to begin exercise again I needed to start where I was at and begin small. Far too often I would set my goals too high and then give up because it all seemed too difficult. I learned the hard way to set smaller goals initially and then build up from there. This may mean starting with just a 5 minute walk initially.
T – time-framed.
This also ties in with setting goals that we can measure. So instead of writing things such as ‘eat healthier’ or ‘exercise more’, we would write ‘I will replace one take away meal with a healthier alternative once a week’ or ‘I will participate in a gym class twice a week’.
Write it down
Now that you’ve come up with a goal, commit it to paper! We often read about the study in personal and professional development books about the 3% of the graduating class at Harvard or Yale who wrote down their goals and 20 years later were earning ten times more than the rest of the class. Well, that study is purported to be a myth but there IS research that those who write down their goals, formulate action commitments and set up a way to be accountable with a supportive friend achieve significantly more than those who don’t do any of those things.
How could you set up an accountability partner? Some people have an exercise buddy while others might have a friend who they ring once a week to discuss how they went with their goals for the week. Technology these days makes this so much easier. Be creative. How could you make this work for you?
If you’ve never tried the SMART way of goal setting give it a go. And if you’d like some additional help, you can book a session with me here.