Most of us have, at one time or another, made a promise to achieve some kind of vague health or fitness-related goal. Statements such as "I will lose weight" or "I will get fit" are good examples. While it’s important have these positive lifestyle intentions, we often fail at following through with them because the goal is simply too vague, unplanned and unrealistic.
Not following through on a goal can leave you feeling discouraged, which leads to the exact opposite result than the one you had intended. Feeling like a failure can in turn lead to an increase in unhealthy lifestyle behaviours. But on the flip side, achieving a goal can make you feel strong and well-organized, which often leads to following through on more positive lifestyle changes.
So what makes the difference between success and failure? It all comes down to being "SMART." This five-step method of goal setting is a valuable tool when trying to set realistic and attainable goals, and will set you up for a successful outcome.
S is for "specific"
This means that every goal should be clearly defined. For example, saying “I want to lose weight" is too vague. Instead, try "I want to lose 20 pounds total, in increments of one to two pounds per week.”
M is for "measurable"
This means that you should be able to clearly measure your progress. Saying "I want to get in shape" gives you no clear way to assess your progress. In order to re-frame the above goal so that it is measurable, start by measuring your fitness level. Then, determine a six-week goal based on the initial data. For example, if you start out by being able to run five kilometres in 34 minutes, a measurable’and realistic’six-week goal would be to run five kilometres, with no walking breaks, in under 30 minutes.
A is for "action-oriented"
This means you should outline specific steps that will enable you to successfully complete your goal. "I want to be able to run five kilometres" is a good starting place, but does not include any training details. Instead, you should say: “In six-weeks I want to be able to run five kilometres. I will achieve this goal by running four days per week. One run will be 45 minutes at a slower speed and three runs will be 30-35 minutes at a faster speed.”
R is for "realistic"
When it comes to losing weight, we all tend to want the unrealistic’and typically unhealthy’quick fix. Don’t let yourself fall into this trap by setting unattainable health goals such as, "I want to lose 10 pounds in 10 days." Instead, aim to lose half a pound to two pounds per week. Attempting to lose weight faster than this is unhealthy and will only set you up for disappointment.
T is for "timed"
This means you should set deadlines that will keep you on track. Don’t say, "in one year I will go to my doctor, and she will be happy with my weight and blood pressure results." Instead, set a firm date for that appointment, and then establish mini-goal deadlines between now and your appointment so you have plenty of time to achieve your final goal. If you track your progress with mini-goals over the course of that year, you won’t be scrambling to see results the week before your appointment.
Reward yourself for reaching goals
It can be helpful to set up both long term and short term goals. Plan to reward yourself with non-food treats each time you achieve a mini-goal. These rewards serve two purposes: First, having smaller, more achievable goals allows you to be’and feel’successful. The feeling of success can keep you motivated and on track. Second, non-food rewards help change behavioural patterns. Often in our society, we reward ourselves with fancy meals at a restaurant, a nice bottle of wine or an extra scoop of ice cream. Instead, try to reward yourself with all the other pleasures in life’a massage, a bubble bath, or that new yoga bag you’ve been eyeing.
Bottom line, remember that there are no quick fixes when it comes to fitness. Setting realistic goals, following the SMART program and making a genuine effort to attain your goal is a solid way to develop the healthy habits that will help you achieve long-term success.
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