Get SMART about your New Year's Goals

A woman considers her goals for 2020

The New Year sees many people making resolutions and setting goals for the year ahead. New year, new start and all that. Often these goals revolve around getting fitter, healthier or losing weight. But sadly, it doesn’t take long for many goals to fall by the wayside come February and beyond. In fact one study found out of 77% of people who were still sticking to their New Year goals after the first week of January (that’s 23% who already hadn’t) only 19% fulfilled them within 2 years. Another survey found only 4% of those who made New Year’s resolutions in 2018 actually stuck to them. So, how can we get better at sticking to our goals?

Part of the problem is that we often set ourselves up for failure from the start by making unrealistic, unachievable goals. Many goals will take longer than a week to achieve. Once the enthusiasm for the initial idea wears off and the reality of the long-term slog sets in, many people lose motivation and revert back to their old habits. I’d like to propose a better model for goal setting. It’s time to get SMART about your 2020 goals!

SMART is an acronym commonly used in healthcare and the business world for goal-setting. However, you don’t have to be an HR expert or business executive to make SMART goals work for you. The acronym stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Timely

Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

Making your goals specific is really important. It is very hard to know what you are trying to achieve and how to do so if your goals are not clearly defined. For example, your goal may be to “lose weight” – great. But how much weight would you like to lose? A drop of 100 g is still weight loss, but not what most people have in mind. Or your goal may be to “get healthier”. Again, a great goal, but it’s really too broad. Does this mean eating more vegetables, walking 5 times a week, or seeing a health professional about your problems? Try to make your goals as specific and concise as possible so you really know what you are trying to achieve and can then plan towards that goal accordingly.

Along the same lines, it is also important to have measurable goals. If you are not able to measure your progress, how do you know if you are achieving your goals? Weight is an easy one to track, but make sure you know your starting weight and try to weigh yourself at the same time of day for more accurate results. Other goals like “get fitter” or “get healthier” are much harder to measure. You could make a fitness goal more measurable, for example, by aiming to exercise a certain number of times per week – 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per week is the minimum recommended for all adults and this may be a good point to aim for. If you are already active, you could aim to increase your best performance. For example, run or cycle a certain distance in a faster time than your previous best. These are all quite measurable and specific goals. I use measures when people come to see me about their healthcare problems too – that’s why I get people to fill in questionnaires or bladder diaries, as they provide ways to track your progress.

One of the biggest problems many people encounter when setting goals is making their goals are too unrealistic or unachievable. This is not to say that we shouldn’t think big. It is definitely worth having some lofty long-term goals. But they are usually exactly that – long-term goals. For many people, they then seem insurmountable when it comes to putting them into action. Ideally, our goals should be challenging, yet achievable. This may mean breaking big goals into smaller, more realistic stages or parts. For example, your goal may be to reduce your weight, so you fall within a normal body mass index (BMI). However, if your starting BMI is in the morbidly obese range, then the reality could be you need to lose 30-40 kg or more. This can seem pretty daunting. However, aiming to lose 5 kg in a certain time-frame (we’ll get to timely goals soon) is a lot more achievable. When you reach that smaller goal, you can then set the next weight-loss target. Similarly, you may want to run a marathon, but if you can’t even run a kilometre, this is again pretty unrealistic. However, aiming to run 5 km (there are many couch-to-5-km programs out there) is much more achievable, and you can then progress from there. By making these small wins, it will help spur you on to continued achievements. Hopefully you will even find you enjoy yourself in the process.

Relevant goals can be a little harder to define. This means you should set goals which are relevant to your overall life plan. For example, if your goal is to attend the gym 5 times a week, this might not be relevant if you have small children at home, your partner works away a lot, and you have no childcare options. Likewise, aiming to run 5 times a week is not relevant for someone aiming to cycle in the Tour Down Under spectator race. In my work, I see a number of women who want to “improve their pelvic floor strength” which can be helpful for some women with bladder or bowel problems. However, this is not a relevant goal if your pelvic floor strength is not the cause of your problem. Maybe it is already good. Maybe it is overactive. Apart from being a poorly defined goal, pelvic floor strength is not always relevant to the actual problem, which may be sexual dysfunction, urinary urgency or leakage. Instead, aiming for pain-free intercourse, or reducing total toilet visits over a day may be more relevant, specific and achievable goals.

I have alluded to setting timely goals above. It is important to have a time-frame in mind for your goals for several reasons. Setting a short-term timely goal gives you something to aim for on the not-too-distant horizon, making it easier to see that the end is in sight. It is much more daunting to think of sticking to a diet “forever” but aiming to eat 5 serves of vegetables a day for the next 6 weeks does not seem so bad, and you hopefully will also discover you like this new lifestyle change. 6-8 weeks is not a bad timeframe. Research shows it takes about this long to form new habits and break old ones. Setting a timeframe also helps to make your goals more specific and measurable. Aiming to run 5 km by 8 weeks is a much clearer goal than just running 5 km, as you can then plan out the steps you need to take to achieve this. Finally, setting a time-frame will help you keep track of how realistic your goals are. If you are not anywhere near achieving your goals within 6-8 weeks, it may be time to review how you are going about your plan and resetting it. If you have way-surpassed your goal, then fantastic! You can set a more challenging goal next time around.

Hopefully you can easily put the SMART plan into action. You can apply these ideas to goals you may have already set. Or, this may motivate you to set some new goals for 2020. At Life Cycle Physiotherapy, I am here to help you achieve your goals, so please contact me for some guidance if needed.

Good luck and I hope you kick your goals in 2020!

Jenny Phillips

Life Cycle Physiotherapy

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