By: Sam Stadter, Cooking Matters at the Store, Field Manager
With 2019 right around the corner, some of us are beginning to think about New Year’s Resolutions and how we can be our best selves in the next twelve months. Year after year, “get healthy” remains near the top of most lists. Even though research has shown very few of us are able to stick to our resolutions, you can help yourself avoid this pitfall by making your goals SMART goals. After a little careful consideration, we can take a broad idea, such as “get healthy,” from a wish to solid plan, following the SMART goal formula. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Using this as an outline, we can take a broad goal and transform it into a workable plan.
“Get healthy” is a broad goal that could cover a lot of different thing from eating, to exercise, to stress management. Close your eyes and think about what being healthy looks like for you. Then choose just one aspect of that vision and create your goal around that. For instance, maybe part of your goal is to be more physically active. Even this idea may be a little too broad, so let’s narrow it down even further to something like “walk more often.”
The only way we can know for sure that we’re making changes is by measuring our progress. Depending on the goal, there are many ways this can be done. For walking, you could use your phone or a step counter to count steps, or you can measure by distance or time. Keeping a record lets you track your progress and helps you identify any patterns. It can help you see certain times or certain days that are extra challenging, so you can modify your plan for those days.
An important part of measuring progress is knowing where you’re starting out. For our example, in order to know that you’re walking more, you need to know how many steps you’re getting right now on a normal day (let’s say it’s 5,000); then you can add a realistic number of steps for your goal. Use the step counter on your phone to make sure you’re getting more than 5,000 steps every day.
Attainable and Realistic
This is one of the most important parts of goal setting. If our goal is too drastic, then it’s probably going to be hard for us to keep up with for a long time, and it can be discouraging to not be able to reach the goals we set. Instead of creating big changes, we’re more likely to be successful in the long run if we can achieve small wins each day. Once you get comfortable with these smaller goals, you can always add to them later on, but when you’re starting out, give yourself just one baby step to focus on.
In order to know that your goal is achievable, take the time to think about what your days look like and identify where you might face challenges to carrying out your goal, and where the greatest opportunities for success are. Ask yourself, “What could get in the way of achieving this goal?” and “What can I do to make achieving this goal easier for me?”
For our example, I want to increase my step count every day. I know I should probably be more specific about this. I don’t want to overwhelm myself when I’m starting out, so I’m going to carve out an easy victory for myself and try to get 1,000 more steps (this equates to about 10 extra minutes of walking) throughout the day. Using the step counter on my phone, it will be easy to make sure I get 6,000 steps every day.
Finally, decide on a specific time or times that you’re going to carry out your goal. Make sure to be realistic here. You’re the expert on your life and know which times would work best for you. If you’re not a morning person, don’t plan things for the morning. Or if you’ve got lots of things going on in the evenings, look for a different time to work in your new goals. Take time to consider your schedule and pick out a time that you think you could make work best.
Some ideas for additional steps might be:
- Weekdays on my way to work, I will take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- I will take the longer route from my parking spot to the office.
- At lunch, I will walk around the building.
Though these may seem like small actions, the small stuff really does add up. Most importantly, these are small things that I’m confident I can do every day. Once these are a cinch, I’ll think about adding to it, but for now, I’m going to focus on this goal. Remember that these are your goals and no one else’s.
Alternately, if you find that you’re having a hard time meeting this goal, it’s okay to revisit it and make some modifications, or even move on to an altogether new goal. If the walking wasn’t working out, maybe that’s not where you’re ready to make a change in your life. That’s okay! What’s important is that you ask yourself honestly where you’re ready to make changes and create SMART goals around that.
So, we took a big, broad goal of “get healthy” to a small, manageable plan that we can keep up with for a long time and build on in the future. Often New Year’s Resolutions don’t work out because they are too vague or too lofty. Breaking these down into smaller parts, creating a plan, and taking baby steps will help us create change that we can maintain for years to come. Whatever your SMART resolution, you can find lots of helpful resources for leading a healthier life on the Cooking Matters website and on the Choose MyPlate website.
Happy New Year!
Sam Stadter, RDN
Cooking Matters at the Store