Set SMART Goals
Setting New Year’s resolutions is a tradition that can cause excitement and frustration. Often, our resolutions are motivating for a while, but when we don’t see results quickly or we get bored, we may give up. Making behavior change last requires thoughtful goal-setting, perseverance, and patience with yourself. Behavior change doesn’t happen all at once. It takes lots of little moments of making the new, more positive choice, and fewer moments of making the old, easier choice.
In order to get your goals in shape, use the acronym SMART to help you set goals you can meet and make last a lifetime.
S – Specific: Goals you set should be specific rather than too broad or vague. This helps you target smaller behaviors.
M – Measurable: Making a goal measurable helps you know when you’re successful and when you need to try a different strategy. These give you goals that can be tracked and worked toward.
A – Attainable: Make sure your goal is something that can be achieved. If you have never run a day in your life, setting the goal of running a marathon next month is probably not wise. Going from poor eating habits to a crash diet, does not typically end with lasting behavior change but with frustration and often weight gain. Attainable goals help you feel successful more quickly, and you can move on to something more challenging as you flex your self-control muscles.
R – Realistic: Even if a goal is specific, measurable, and attainable, it should matter to you and be something you want to achieve. If you have no desire to change your behavior toward this goal, it will not happen.
T – Time-Sensitive: Setting a timeline for achieving your goal can help you gauge your progress and boost your motivation. A vague timeline of “this year” is not enough. If you train for a 5K, go ahead and register for it! Putting some money or other resources on the line (if this is an option for you) can also help with motivation. But, be sure to give yourself enough time to actually do it.
Here are some examples of SMART goals:
Try this: “I’m going to drink 60 ounces of water every day.”
Not that: “I’m going to get healthier.”
Why? 60 ounces of water a day is a specific amount, you can measure your progress, it is a doable amount, it can make you feel better, and you have a limited time to achieve it.
Try this: “I will eat no more than one fried thing each day.”
Not that: “I want to eat less fried food.”
Why? Limiting fried food to once a day is a specific goal, you can track your food intake to help remind you that you had a donut in the morning so don't have chicken strips for lunch, you're not saying you can never have fried food again so you are more likely to stick to it, limiting fried foods has health benefits that you will feel, and you get to start over each day.
Try this: “I will train to run that 5k in March.”
Not that: “I should probably start working out.”
Why? A 5k is a specific goal to work toward instead of vaguely saying you're going to work out, you either do it or you don't, 5k is an attainable distance for most people rather than overshooting to a longer, easier to abandon distance, you may find a race for a cause you support in addition to working to improve your health, and you have a limited amount of time to train before the race.
As you work on meeting and maintaining your goals, give yourself room to stumble and recover. Nobody gets it right all the time. When you inevitably forget or “cheat” or otherwise make your old choice, give yourself the grace to breathe and start right back where you left off.