After a food-filled holiday season, many share the same goal of getting healthier in the new year. And my goal is always to get people to set goals using the S.M.A.R.T. system: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, timely. Whether you’re looking to lose weight, gain muscle, or eat healthier, here’s what it means to set S.M.A.R.T. goals that you can stick with beyond January.
Specific. Goals should be as defined as possible. So instead of saying you want to lose weight, plan out how much you want to lose, what your meal plan and fitness routine will look like, where you’ll exercise, and when you’ll go to the gym. The more specific you are with your goals, the more likely you are to meet them.
Measurable. If you don’t measure along the way, it can be hard to see how far you’ve come. Accountability is a great way to track progress and stick with your goals. There are many ways you can be accountable—writing milestones down in a notebook, using a mobile app, creating a vision board, or enlisting an accountability partner. Many people don’t realize how effective and significant small successes can be. Don’t ignore every pound lost on the way just because you haven’t reached the overall goal yet.
Attainable. Be realistic when defining your goals and don’t try to take on more than you can handle. You should really be able to envision yourself achieving your goal. When you set too many goals for yourself, the importance of each individual goal gets overshadowed by the others and you’ll just end up frustrated. If you’re feeling overwhelmed because you’re not where you planned to be, that could be a sign your goals are unsustainable or too rigid. Also remember that setbacks are a normal part of the process—don’t think of them as failures. Perfection can be the enemy of progress.
Relevant. Your goals should be important to you, not someone else. Set goals that you want to meet. If your goal is to eat healthier, don’t jump on the bandwagon of fad diets. The minute you tell yourself you’re never eating pizza again is the minute you’ll want it more than ever. To be successful in the long run, eat in a way that you’ll want to eat forever. You should never be thinking, “I can’t wait for this to be over.”
Timely. In addition to your long-term goal, you should continuously set new smaller goals, with each one raising the bar a little bit more. These short-term goals will provide incentive and motivation, enabling you to stick with it longer than a few weeks. Think of each small goal as one brick in a brick road—together they set the path to the main goal.
When it comes to creating healthier habits, there’s no quick fix. Set S.M.A.R.T. goals. Have patience. Allow for flexibility. And don’t minimize the small achievements. If you’re looking to improve your health through nutrition, talk with a registered dietitian about creating a plan that’s best for you.