Setting SMART Goals

It’s January and, now that the holiday festivities are over, many of us find ourselves looking to focus on making this new year the best year possible. Most New Year’s resolutions center around health, and unfortunately, most of them are forgotten by Valentine’s Day. Make your healthy living goals stick this year by setting SMART goals.

What are SMART goals?

goal setting
Thanks to A Game Fitness and Performance for the image.

Often when we set goals, we focus solely on what we want to achieve. An extremely common New Year’s resolution looks something like this: “This year, I’m going to lose weight/eat healthier/get in shape/get healthy.” While the intention is there, these types of goals often end in failure. They are too vague, and they lack a defined plan for how to reach the end goal. SMART goals, on the other hand, are more detailed and force you to think about your goal in a more concrete way.

SMART goals are:

S – Specific:  To be successful, you need to be specific about what you are trying to achieve. If your goal is weight loss, how much weight are you going to lose? How are you going to get there?

M – Measurable:  A good goal involves something that can be objectively measured. To determine if your goal is measurable ask questions such as “How much? How many? How will I know when I’ve met my goal?” Instead of “get healthy,” a better goal might be “exercising 4 times a week” or “lower my cholesterol numbers to the level recommended by my doctor.”

A – Attainable:  Consider what is realistic for you. Drastic weight loss or extreme changes in lifestyle may be difficult to achieve and maintain. By setting smaller, more realistic goals, success is much more likely.

R – Relevant:  Why are you setting this particular goal? Is it something that you are doing because you think you should, or is it because you want to do it? The more personal meaning a goal has for you, the more likely you are to stick with it when things get difficult.

T – Time-based:  You’ve heard the saying, “Deadlines turn wishes into goals.” By setting a deadline for achieving your goal, you will have a more concrete objective to shoot for. If you leave it open-ended, things will always come up that prevent you from getting started or get you side-tracked.

Examples of Good SMART Goals Include:

I am going to lose 20 pounds by June 1 by exercising at least 3 times a week and keeping a food diary.

I am going to start eating healthier by adding a piece of fruit to my breakfast every morning and a vegetable to my dinner every night for at least one month.

Create an Action Plan

Setting a SMART goal is a great start, but to increase your likelihood of success, it’s important to create an action plan. An action plan lists out in detail how you will actually achieve your goals. It also explores potential obstacles or setbacks and how you will manage them. For each goal, write out the following:

  • Your reason for the goal
  • The steps you will take to achieve the goal
  • Potential obstacles that may stand in your way
  • Your plan for overcoming those obstacles
  • Ways to stay motivated
  • Outline your support system
  • What will you do in the event of a setback?
  • What are your next steps once you reach your goal?

Achieve Your Goal

When setting your goal, try to avoid absolutes. It’s easy to think in terms of all or nothing, never and always, or good and bad. By expecting perfection from ourselves, we end up frustrated and throw in the towel over minor setbacks. So, go easy on yourself. Focus on progress, not perfection. And when setbacks happen (because you know they will), get back on track as soon as possible. Planning, patience, and persistence are the three keys to success. Remember these things, and you can achieve your goals in 2018.

Sarah Wood, the author of this article, is available to speak to groups or hold classes on a variety of health-related topics such as nutrition, physical activity, healthy cooking, stress management, and wellness. To schedule an event or get more information, call 816-279-1691 or email woodsarah@missouri.edu.

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Sarah Wood is a registered dietitian with a Master’s Degree in Applied Health Sciences. Currently, she is a Nutrition and Health Education Specialist with the University of Missouri Extension. When taking time for herself, she runs, travels, and creates art.

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