Happy New Year! How are your New Year’s resolutions coming along? Did you know that by January 31st 40% of people have given up on whatever it was they wanted to change or improve? It doesn’t have to be that way. Whether you want to lose weight, lower your cholesterol, get healthier in general, or whatever your health goal may be, knowing a few things about setting goals might keep you going for the long haul. Jeffrey Rossman at Rodale.com has five “S.M.A.R.T.” pointers for us that might help a lot.
Specific. The goal you set should be as straightforward as possible. How much weight do you want to lose? How many points of cholesterol do you want to improve? Define the specific goal you want to reach, along with the steps you are going to take to achieve it.
Measurable. Once you have a specific target, you need a way to measure your progress as you move toward achieving your goal. Instead of saying “I want to go to the gym more” say “I will work out on the elliptical machine at the gym for 30 minutes four times a week,” and keep track of how many times you do. Choose a goal that is quantifiable. Keep a journal and track your progress. Tracking keeps you accountable to yourself and sustains motivation over the long term. Also keep a record of how you feel as you move towards your objective. Chronicling your emotional reactions to the positive changes you make enhances your self-esteem and self-awareness along the way.
Attainable. The goal you set needs to be within your ability. That doesn’t mean it should be easy; pursuing it may push you out of your comfort zone (if it that wasn’t the case, you probably would have achieved it already). But the goal itself needs to be potentially achievable given the time and effort you’re capable of investing. Instead of aiming to lose 20 pounds in a month, try to lose two pounds—once you achieve that goal, aim to lose another two pounds the following month. The feeling of success that comes from setting and achieving attainable goals keeps you motivated and gives you the momentum needed to continue making progress in the long run.
Realistic. Not to be confused with “attainable,” setting a realistic goal means that you devise a plan for attaining your goal that works for you. If you’re a lifetime smoker trying to quit smoking, gradually cut down on the number of cigarettes you smoke each day rather than quitting all at once. If your goal is to run a marathon, don’t go out tomorrow and try to run 10 miles.
Timely. Make sure to set a timetable for your goal, and for each step that will take you there. Timeliness adds urgency and reinforces accountability. Instead of pledging to “read more,” decide that a month from now you will have finished that book you’ve been meaning to read. The timetable must be realistic, measurable, and attainable.
Rossman gives two other tactics that might help you stick to your New Year’s resolutions. First, get a buddy or a family member to work with you or at least take an interest in your progress. A little encouragement can help a lot.
Second, don’t get discouraged by setbacks and relapses. These are normal! Many resolutions require breaking with old, ingrained behaviors or attitudes. It takes time to transform habits and emotional reactions. So don’t give up because you ate a piece of cake or missed some gym time. Applaud yourself for your successful days and get back on track.
I’d add this: it helps to visualize yourself as having achieved whatever goal you’re after. Think of a goal you’ve achieved in the past and how good it made you feel. That works for me.
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