How to Set a Successful Health, Fitness or Weight Loss Goal
How many times have you set a new years resolution and kept it? How about just a health or weight loss goal? Maybe you started strong for first couple of months, then things started to dwindle by the 3rd month, and by the 4th month your goal was like dust in the wind (cue song).
Truth is, you’re not alone. In 2012, over 141 million Americans (45% of the population) made resolutions for New Years (with most being weight loss related) and only 8% of were successful at their goal. Womp, womp. Why this that?
It could be that there was a concrete plan missing. Sure, you wanted to lose weight but who was holding you accountable? Was something reminding you day to day that you needed to work toward your goal? Were there checkpoints scheduled to measure your progress?
It could’ve also been lack of awareness. Many people don’t realize that there are multiple components to health and weight–it’s not just diet and exercise. Stress, sleep habits, and genetics also impact health and weight, in some cases more heavily than diet and exercise. Most people only resolve to change their diet or exercise–when they should be trying to improve both along with stress and sleep habits too. (There’s not much we can do about genetics.) That’s why it’s called a lifestyle change.
Diet change is also one of the most challenging components. The foods you like and why are very personal and something you learn from childhood, so its no surprise they wont change over in a few weeks or even a couple months. Diet changes should fit your lifestyle and eating preferences while being healthy at the same time. They take years to perfect before they become a permanent lifestyle change. It’s a lot like creating a new habit. For example, try storing your toothbrush in a new area. How many times will it take to permanently place it in its new “home” rather than the one you have been used to for years?
Goals take time, commitment and persistence. In any case, the S.M.A.R.T way can help to set a successful health-related goal:
Specific – Be as specific as possible when setting your goals/resolutions.
State what, when, where and how. Instead of “better stress management,” your goal should be “By March 15, 2016, I will take yoga classes 2 times per week and practice meditating for 20 minutes, 3 times a week.”
Measurable – Choose a goal with measurable progress.
Record your progress weekly or bi-monthly—the choice is yours. Seeing the progress helps to keep you motivated. If there is no progress, you can figure out why, and which obstacles you need to overcome to ensure progress. Also, make sure you are measuring what you want to see change in. If you want to change your body fat–measuring your weight will not be accurate. If you are managing your stress, keep track of often you are actually attending yoga and mediating, then measure things like how better you are sleeping.
Attainable – Choose a goal that is meaningful to YOU.
Set your own goal, rather than having someone else choose it. You are more likely to remain committed if it is something you truly want and it is important to you. Don’t do it for anyone else.
Realistic – Choose a goal that is ambitious but not impossible to achieve.
Don’t set yourself up for failure. Your goal should motivate you, rather than discourage you. If it is too far-fetched you will be less likely to commit to it. It might be helpful to break large goals into smaller goals. For example, instead of attending yoga classes 5 days a week, 2 is more realistic to start with.
Time-based – Choose a designated time to complete your goal.
This makes the goal more concrete. Without a time limit you are less likely to commit and less likely to start taking action.
Most importantly, write your goal down! Sign and date the commitment to yourself to achieve the goal. Then post it somewhere visible to you every day to remind you of it.
Norcross, et al. Success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and nonresolvers. J Clin Psych. 2002; 58: 4.
By: Scarlett Full, in-house Registered Dietitian