Many of you are regular readers of this column. You read all the articles and understand how to become healthy. Unfortunately, it stops there. Another year passes and you have not lost any weight, reduced your blood pressure, or reduced your blood sugar levels. Your medication list is getting longer. You know what needs to be done, but never take any action. (You know who you are – I have lectured you in the office!) Now is the time to take action and make this year different!
If you want to succeed, you need to set goals. Without goals you lack focus and direction. Goal setting not only allows you to take control of your life’s direction; it also provides you a benchmark for determining whether you are actually succeeding. To accomplish your goals, however, you need to know how to set them. You can’t simply say, “I want” and expect it to happen. Goal setting is a process that starts with careful consideration of what you want to achieve, and ends with a lot of hard work to actually do it. In between there are some very well defined steps that transcend the specifics of each goal. Knowing these steps will allow you to formulate goals that you can accomplish. Here are 5 steps to help you out.
First of all, find a goal that motivates you. This is important. If you have little interest in the outcome, or your goals are irrelevant given the larger picture, then the chances of you putting in the work to make them happen are slim. Motivation is key to achieving goals. What are your priorities? Do you want to lose weight, reduce your blood sugar levels, get off one of your medications, reduce your dress or pant size, or just look better? Goal achievement requires commitment, so to maximize the likelihood of success, you need to feel a sense of urgency and have an “I must do this” attitude. When you don’t have this, you risk putting off what you need to do to make the goal a reality.
The second step is to set SMART goals. Make sure your goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time bound. First of all, your goals must be specific. Your goal must be clear and well defined. (For example, I want to lose 20lbs.) Vague or generalized goals are unhelpful because they don’t provide sufficient direction. (For example, I want to lose weight or I want to lower my blood sugar.) Remember, you need goals to show you the way. Make it as easy as you can to get where you want to go by defining precisely where you want to end up. Examples include: I want to lower my hemoglobin A1c 1 point, or I want reduce my pant size 2 sizes, or I want to get off one of my diabetes medications. Second, your goals need to be measurable – include precise amounts, dates, and so on in your goals so you can measure your degree of success. If your goal is simply defined as “To lose weight” how will you know when you have been successful? Without a way to measure your success you miss out on the celebration that comes with knowing you have actually achieved something. Third, your goals need to be attainable. Make sure that it’s possible to achieve the goals you set. If you set a goal that you have no hope of achieving, you will only demoralize yourself and erode your confidence. (For example, I want to lose 100lbs.) Fourth, make sure your goal is relevant to your life. Your goals need to be about you, not your friends, family, or spouse. Finally, make sure your goals are time bound. Your goals must have a deadline. Again, this means that you know when you can celebrate success. When you are working on a deadline, your sense of urgency increases and achievement will come that much quicker.
The third step is to write your goals down. This step is important. The physical act of writing down a goal makes it real and tangible. You have no excuse for forgetting about it. Post your goals in visible places to remind yourself every day of what it is you intend to do. Put them on your walls, desk, computer monitor, bathroom mirror or refrigerator as a constant reminder.
The fourth step is to make a plan. This step is often missed in the process of goal setting. You get so focused on the outcome that you forget to plan all of the steps that are needed along the way. Plan what days and time you will exercise. Plan your grocery lists ahead of time. Plan your meals. What needs to be done to achieve your goals?
Finally, the fifth step is to stick to your goals. Remember, goal setting is an ongoing activity not just a means to an end. Build in reminders to keep yourself on track, and make regular time available to review your goals. Think how you are going to feel when you have lost those extra 20lbs, when you are off your blood pressure medications, or when your have dropped 2 pant sizes. Visualize success.
Now is the time to take action to get healthier. This is the year you are finally going to make a change. Do not put this off any longer. Do not procrastinate any more. You are going to succeed. Get started now on some goals to improve your health and change your health forever.