Some of you might be familiar with the term SMART goals, but for most, this is likely a new concept. Before breaking down the definition, let’s consider what so often happens post-January 1st fitness resolutions, and why it is so important to wisely and realistically set our goals.
For many of us, our new years resolutions are lofty. They might go from zero to sixty, instead of taking into account our current lifestyle, habits, and fitness level, and they might ignore past resolutions that have failed. For example, if you haven’t worked out in a year, how realistic is it that you suddenly work out 5 times per week? Or, if you eat out just about every meal, how likely are you to begin never eating out, and preparing all of your food at home?
These are just two common examples of many. The point is, when it comes to setting nutrition and fitness goals both in January along with every other month of the year, it is essential that we understand the science and psychology that goes into setting and achieving a realistic and attainable goal.
SMART guidelines were originally published by George T. Doran in his 1981 paper called There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives. Doran’s focus was on SMART guidelines from a business management perspective, but they have become increasingly known and used in the world of health and fitness. The beauty is, they apply to just about every realm of life, and of goal-setting.
In approaching your 2016 health goals, consider these guidelines:
Make your goals specific. Your fitness goal should be concise, clear, and easy to understand. Two common and non-specific examples would be “eat healthy,” or “exercise more.” That’s a great start, but what will that look like for you? How many times per week? Where? What are the eating habits now that you consider unhealthy, and what will you specifically do to change them? Instead of “exercise more,” your goal might be, “2 workouts per week in X gym at 8:00 am, and 1 jog outside per week for 30 minutes, on Wednesdays.”
Make your goals measurable. This means that you set goals that can be measured, or tracked. Tracking and measuring your progress for a goal such as “get healthy” is nearly impossible. But, measuring a goal of “get in 3 workouts per week” is easy to track. Either you’re doing it, or you aren’t. If we can’t track any progress towards our goals, we are likely to give up, or simply forget about them. Even more importantly, this allows us to pinpoint where we might be failing/lacking, and change the specifics of our goals accordingly.
Making your goals attainable might be the single most common mistake people make when goal-setting, especially around exercise. What is attainable for one individual might not be attainable for another, so it is of utmost importance not to constantly compare ourselves to others. And, what is attainable for us now might very well look different from what is attainable to us down the road. For example, losing 5 pounds. per week is largely not attainable, nor it is healthy. Same goes for exercising every day. Not only will we put undo pressure on ourselves to achieve goals that do not meet our needs, but we setting ourselves up for failure.
Make your goals relevant to your life. This way, you will have something to look forward to, and a motivator that is truly personalized. For example, perhaps you have a wedding to attend in June, so you set your goal to workout three times per week up until the wedding. The event is a great motivator, and by June, you will have developed the habit of working out that is likely to last. This could also be something small, such as fitting into your favorite pair of jeans, or feeling confident in a certain bathing suit.
Last but not least, make your goal time sensitive. Specifically, set a time-limit or deadline to either meet or make a certain amount of progress towards your goal. For example, if your goal for 2016 is to lose 20 pounds, make it a goal to lose 10 by July, meaning you will have to lose just under 2 per month. This is a very doable goal, and by tracking progress towards your deadlines, you are much more likely to succeed than if it were open-ended.
If your 2016 health goals seem to lack in some of these important categories, go back and reassess. By following these basic yet crucial steps in goal-setting, we will be set up for success in every aspect of our lives.