Ahh, New Year’s resolutions. Those grandiose goals for all the things we want to do or change about life when a new year rolls around. If only we didn’t lose track of them soon after.
Whether or not you indulge in the tradition of resolutions, you likely have things related to health, family, relationships, work or finances that you would like to improve. Research has shown that the foundation for goal setting is the same – if you want to increase your likelihood for success, you need to make SMART goals!
Before you begin, it’s important to know what goal setting is, and isn’t. Wikipedia defines it this way:
Goal setting involves the development of an action plan designed in order to motivate and guide a person or group toward a goal. Goals are more deliberate than desires and momentary intentions. Therefore, setting goals means that a person has committed thought, emotion, and behavior towards attaining the goal.
Few have explored the effectiveness of goal setting as much as industrial-organizational psychologist Edwin Locke, who is famous for his research and widely-accepted SMART goal theory. He found that employees perform significantly better and are more motivated to complete goals if those goals are specific and difficult as opposed to easy goals, no goals or an abstract goal (i.e., Do your best.).
That’s why simply thinking “I want to eat healthier this year” or “I want to lose weight” is not likely to lead to better nutrition or weight loss. And why setting a super-easy goal isn’t a sure bet you’ll reach it. Of course, you don’t want to go too far in the other direction. Setting complicated goals that are unrealistic are equally useless. Instead, make your goals SMART, and then get ready to succeed!
First, ask what results do you want to see?
What is it you are trying to do? What is your “big picture” desire? Is it something YOU really want? Is it important? Is it realistic? Are you willing to work for it? How will accomplishing this (or not) affect your life?
Once you have this vision, cull your goal down to just a few sentences detailing exactly:
- what you want to accomplish,
- what your completion date will be, and
- what you will use to measure success.
Also, don’t set goals in every aspect of your life. You have limited resources. Prioritize your efforts.
Make your goal SMART.
The SMART goal setting criteria is a very easy to use, making it a great way to set a goal, track progress and ultimately succeed. You can find a number of pre-made SMART goal worksheets with a quick Google search. With each letter representing an important criterion, these five areas will help you focus in and achieve your goals.
S SPECIFIC – Ensure your goal is clearly defined.
M MEASURABLE – Decide what measurement scale will define your progress and attach a specific number to include in your goal. A few examples:
- Exercise goal – Complete # workouts each week or complete a 1-mile walk/run in # minutes
- Attitude goal –Reserve quiet time to destress on # days a week
A ACHIEVABLE – Make goals that are realistic to your current circumstances. For example, increasing your salary from $20,000/year to a 6-figure income in 6 months is not likely. By setting performance goals rather than outcome goals, you maintain more control over your success. Lose 1-2 pounds per week? That’s more likely! Learn a new job skill to improve your chances for promotion? Go for it!
R RELEVANT –There’s an old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” If this is something you are doing to please someone else, it will be harder to accomplish unless you are also on board with the goal. You need to believe that the goal is important to you personally and have a desire to reach it.
T TIME-BOUND – Set a specific start and stop date for the goal and when applicable, include steps and milestones along the way. If you want to take a class at the local college, you have to get your application submitted by the deadline. If you want to run a marathon, you will need to train to be ready before the day of the race. Want to complete 50 workouts in 3 months? You don’t want to wait until the 3rd month to start! Use your big goal to set smaller milestone goals along the way to help you stay on track.
Write it down!
There is something about writing down a goal that makes it more real and tangible. If you used a SMART worksheet, you may have already done this. If not, do it now. Write it down using positive language to help motivate you. Get creative and use crayons or markers for color. Cut out images from magazines and make a collage. This activates a different part of the brain and helps you have a more finite concept of the goal. Then, put it somewhere that you will see it every day. This helps keep your goal at the front of your mind and helps you remain enthused about your success.
Make your roadmap for success
Here is the place to note the steps you will take that will ultimately help you reach your goal. Does your goal involve improving nutrition? Steps may include meeting with a dietician or talking with your chiropractor about your diet and activities, trying a new vegetable once a week or packing your lunch 3 days a week rather than eating out. If your goal involves exercise, your chiropractor can help you determine what types of exercise might be more appropriate for your current health status.
Think you will need encouragement along the way? Consider “rewards” for certain milestones that will help propel your further along. Working on nutrition? A reward might be a meal at a new restaurant that features fresh foods, or a kitchen gadget to help make meal prepping easier. Does your plan include exercise? What about that new workout shirt you’ve been eyeing? Trying to reduce stress? Consider a new book or scheduling a massage.
This is also the place where you can anticipate and mitigate potential roadblocks. Not meeting a goal for reasons that are out of your control can be frustrating and discouraging. Try to think of what could happen and give yourself some grace to overcome those obstacles. DevelopGoodHabits.com (DGH) suggests forming specific if-then statements.
A few examples could be:
“If I make a bad food choice, I will immediately resume my healthy eating plan without beating up on myself.”
“If I am unable to register for a class to improve my skills in ______, I will research online training options and read books from my local library to learn as much as I can while waiting for the next class to begin.”
“If I have an injury, I will see my chiropractor and get information about what I can safely do to continue towards my goal as well as information on preventing a re-injury in the future.”
Now Do It!
You’ve considered your wants and needs. You’ve created a clear goal with specific, measurable objectives and made a plan for how to get there. Carry out that plan and get on track for success.
Check your Goal Gauge
Remember that “Measurable” part of the SMART goals? Evaluating your progress every week or two (include this on your roadmap!). If your progress is not going as expected, look at why. Are you following your plan? If not, re-commit to the plan you made.
If your plan isn’t working, either by time/resources not available as expected or, you are doing it all, but progress is slower than expected, it’s ok to adjust your goal and/or plan. Adjust the plan to be more attainable.
Talk to someone knowledgeable about your goal and ask for advice. If your plan is health related, talk to your chiropractor or other medical professional. If it is business/career related, talk to a trusted mentor or your supervisor.
Maybe you need to tweak a small area of the plan. Maybe your actions need to change, or maybe it will simply be an 8-month process instead of a 6-month process. Keep working your plan while you research the options, then make adjustments where applicable.
If you are struggling to figure out all the details of a big goal and plan, or if all this seems too involved, it’s ok to start small! The National Institute on Aging has a shorter, more basic Goal-Setting Worksheet.
Goal met – now what?
First off, congratulate yourself! Give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done. Look at where you started and what you accomplished and be proud of the work you did. You deserve a reward (like you did for milestones along the way). Or maybe, just knowing the progress you made is a reward in and of itself. If your goal was health related then the difference in how you feel may be all the reward you need.
The website MindTools emphasizes to “learn from the experience”. In the case of health-related goals, whether you reach a certain number on the scale is less important than how well your body is able to function.
Think about your “big-picture”. How close are your current circumstances to that dream image? How can goal setting help you get to that big-picture? Maybe you are almost there and just need a few more steps. Or maybe it’s a long way off and will take multiple smaller goals to reach. Whatever it is, you can start today. Set a goal and start working towards it. Even if it’s small steps, they all add up.
Lucid Content Team “The Ultimate Goal Setting Process: 7 Steps to Creating Better Goals” https://www.lucidchart.com/blog/the-ultimate-goal-setting-process-in-7-steps accessed 1/10/2022
Mind Tools Content Team “Personal Goal Setting” https://www.mindtools.com/page6.html accessed 1/10/2022
4 Free SMART Goal Setting Worksheets & Templates [2022 Update] https://www.developgoodhabits.com/goal-setting-worksheet/ January 5, 2022
Goal-Setting Worksheet https://www.nia.nih.gov/sites/default/files/goal_setting_worksheet-fillable.pdf accessed 1/10/2022