SMART Goals for Lifestyle Change

The Elements of Effective Health Goals

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When setting goals for better health, you are more likely to achieve what you want if you follow the SMART criteria. Specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based goals incorporate guidance and realistic direction, which increases motivation.

Goals such as walking five times per week are SMART, in contrast to goals such as being healthier, eating better, or having less stress, which are far too vague to help in making a change.

Spending some time planning your goals will make then more effective. You can use the SMART criteria to help you put more detail and direction into your health goal.

Take a look at each element of the SMART goal approach.

S: Specific

  • State your goal as specifically as possible.
  • Try to put as much decision work into your goal before you get started.
  • A goal like “lose 20 pounds” is more specific than “lose weight.”
  • It helps to incorporate the method into the goal, not just the outcome. Try “lose 20 pounds by increasing my exercise to four times a week and reducing sugar and portion size.”
  • Have your goal be like an instruction telling you what to do.

M: Measurable

  • You need to have a way to measure progress as you work towards your goal.
  • Progress will feel good, and measuring can help keep you from cheating. The goal “lose 20 pounds” can be measured gradually by a scale, and exercising four times per week can be tracked on a calendar.
  • Consider creative methods of tracking your progress. If you want to reduce stress, devise a stress measure for yourself, like the number of times you get upset every day. Keep a log and record each stressful reaction.
  • Measuring can help you adjust as you work towards your goals. When it comes to stress, you can watch for trends, such as situations that are more likely to cause you to stress, so that you can avoid them or respond differently in the future.

A: Attainable

  • Do not set yourself up for failure by selecting unattainable goals.
  • Goals should be ambitious, but not impossible. Choose a goal that you are confident you can reach, but that will stretch you also.
  • Break large goals into smaller goals.
  • Make sure that the process is realistic so that you can achieve all of the individual steps that you need. If you don't have time, supplies, or the right location, make adjustments to your method of reaching your goal,

R: Relevant

  • Your goal should be meaningful to you. It should be set by you, not someone else.
  • Each step of attaining the goal should make sense. If you want to lose weight, be sure to select a type of exercise that you enjoy. Zumba, jogging, cycling, and swimming are all exercises that can help you lose weight, but not everyone considers each of these enjoyable. So, pick the method that is right for you.
  • If you don't actually care about the goal- you are unlikely to work on it. For example, if your goal is to eat vegan, but you don't truly believe that this will produce the desired outcome, you are far less likely to achieve this goal.
  • The goal should be inspiring enough that it motivates you to success. If you are not determined to meet your goal, obstacles will be very difficult to overcome.
  • If your doctor says, “lose weight” and your wife says, “lose weight” but you are not inspired by this, find another goal that also improves your health while you try to find a way to become inspired about weight loss.

    T: Time Based

    • When will you finish your goal?
    • You need to choose a time, the sooner the better.
    • Saying “I will lose 20 pounds in three months” is good, but saying “I will lose an average of 2 pounds every week for 10 weeks” is better.

    Write Your Goal Down

    Now really think about your goal. Finish the following sentence, write it down and put it somewhere you can see it.

    • I will [your goal here] by [how you will do the goal]. I will know I am making progress because [how you will measure the goal] [time goes here].

    For example, I will lose 20 pounds by increasing my exercise to four times a week and cutting back on sugar and portion size. I will know I am making progress because I will lose two pounds a week for 10 weeks.

    Now evaluate your goal. Is it Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based? If not, go back to each element and ensure that it meets the criteria. Once your goal meets all of the requirements to be SMART, you are ready to get started working on it.

    A Word From Verywell

    Now that you know the elements of setting effective goals, you can work on reducing your health risks and building vibrant health. You don't have to wait for New Year's Eve to set goals. There is no better time to start than today.

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