Something I cannot stress enough is the importance of making changes which you will be able to stick with for the rest of your life. If you are really serious about achieving a healthier lifestyle, goal setting is a good way of making you focus on what you actually need to do each day to achieve this.
We are much more likely to reach our goals if we record them. Therefore it’s a really great idea to write down your goals and display them somewhere visible at home, or work so that you will be forced to read them every day, and therefore less likely to forget about them.
So, how can you set SMART goals, and what are they?
SMART goals are:
• Specific – You should state exactly what you want to achieve and how you’re going to do it. It’s a good idea to plan a series of small goals that build on each other to reach your main goal at the end. A small goal might be to ‘Eat fruit between meals, instead of biscuits.’
• Measurable – Measurable goals will help you to see the progress you’re making. You may say, “I will eat three portions of fruit each day.” This is something that you will then be able to measure at the end of the month, and as a result you will be able to note achievement in this area.
• Achievable – We are much more likely to maintain goals which are achievable – this is fact! When you succeed in achieving small goals you can gradually build up to a main goal. For example your main goal may be to “eat less fatty foods.” You may achieve this by changing to low-fat dairy products, or eating biscuits only two times per week. Or you may want to set a manageable weight loss goal of losing 1-2lbs each week. It is much easier to achieve one small goal each week than to aim for large unachievable goals, which may result feelings of discouragement. Start with 1-3 goals initially and see how you get on.
• Relevant – Goals must be relevant to you. You’re the expert on what you need, so choose goals that work for you and fit in with your lifestyle. There’s no point in making your goal to go to the gym five times each week when, at present you barely go once each month!
• Time-specific – Set yourself a time scale for achieving your goals. If you’re changing a habit of a lifetime, it will take time, so allow yourself weeks, rather than days to achieve goals and be patient with yourself.
Examples of SMART goals may be:
1. Limit chocolate intake to one fun-sized bar three times a week;
2. Eat three pieces of fruit everyday;
3. Grill/bake/steam/microwave rather than frying foods;
4. Have a salad with lunch everyday;
5. Switch to semi/skimmed milk;
6. Eat breakfast at least 5 days each week;
7. Eat 3 planned meals every day;
8. Always eat at the dinner table;
9. Serve food on smaller plates;
10. Avoid keeping food temptations in the house;
It really is worthwhile taking time to plan ahead. Think about possible barriers, or obstacles that may get in the way of your goals, a food diary may help you with this. Try to get support from your family and friends as this can really boost your motivation, and think of ways to overcome obstacles. If you’ve already got a plan of action in place, you will be better prepared to deal with setbacks if they do come.
Achieving your goals
If you’ve set SMART goals you should have no problem identifying when you have made progress, for example you may have replaced biscuits with fruit, or you are now having breakfast most days.
If you relapse don’t worry, this is often part of the process of change and should never be thought of as failure, just a small step back. The important thing is that you succeeded overall. Get back on track as quickly as possible by reminding yourself what your reasons are for wanting a healthier lifestyle, and by being encouraged by what you’ve achieved so far.
It is really important to recognise and reward your successes. When your goals have been achieved reward yourself by with a non-food treat, for example by taking a relaxing bath, buying a new CD, DVD, or book, or by going for a swim.
Keeping a food and activity diary will help you to see how you’re really getting on. Making a note of your eating habits, and how active you are will help you to decide what changes you still need to make in the future.