Where do you want to be in two months … six months … or a year?
Setting a goal requires more thought than saying you want to lose weight or cut back on sugar. Aim too high or set an unreasonable deadline and you’re apt to get frustrated and give up. If your goal is too vague, you may lose focus and motivation.
Having a precise plan makes it more likely you’ll follow through. Goal-setting should include particulars about how you’ll proceed, from the time of day you intend to go to the gym to how you’ll measure your progress. Same time, same place. With a structured approach, you eliminate “decision points” that could get you off track, while freeing up mental resources to focus on your endgame.
Be SMART, Think Small
One popular approach for goal-setting is the SMART strategy. While the components of this acronym can vary, SMART goals generally are:
For instance, you might want to lose 10 pounds (specific, measurable, attainable) because your doctor advised you to for your health (relevant) over the next three months (time-bound). Or you’d like to get more exercise because you feel out of shape (relevant) so you’ll start with a walk around the block (specific, measurable) after dinner, when you have free time (attainable), and will be doing this five times a week by midyear (time-bound).
That advice you’ve heard to start small is solid as well. If you’re out of shape, you might aim for 15 minutes of walking, gardening or other light activity daily. But start with something you know you can achieve, like one or two minutes built into the same part of your day every day. After that initial success, work up.
You could pursue healthier eating by adding one vegetable daily to your dinner (or even begin with just a bite or two) until that becomes routine; then add a few bites more.
Small modifications — one at a time — make it easier to establish habits you’ll maintain over the long haul. Plus, simpler actions become habit in less time . Meditating for five minutes during a lunch break could make a noticeable difference in your coping ability.
Healthful eating doesn’t require fancy recipes or extra prep time. It may be as easy as limiting portions or finding a more healthful takeout option than pizza and wings. Repeating one easy behavior will take you further than varying the pattern to reduce boredom.
To introduce a habit, set it and forget it. Take a tip from people who practice “habit bundling.” Meet several healthy goals at once by building a routine of simple actions, one at a time, that can be done in tandem consistently.
When you wake up, for instance, you can stretch and flex, then use your inhaler or take medication, before you brush and floss your teeth. With repetition, you’ll get into a rhythm, which will morph into a habit you do without thinking.