With the New Year quickly approaching, many of us have begun thinking about all of the changes we want to make now that the holidays are over. “I’m going to eat healthy, lose weight, and exercise more!” — sound familiar? Unfortunately, we often see the same thing happen year after year. Big lofty goals lead to temporary success followed by a lapse into old unhealthy behaviors. Despite our best intentions and efforts, by March, all of our goals and new healthy habits have been abandoned and likely forgotten.
So let’s discuss how we can effectively set sustainable goals with these five steps:
1. Lay a Foundation.
To lay a foundation, you must first identify your why. Assessing the why will be one of your best motivators and ultimately will drive behavior change. To identify your why ask questions such as, “What is important to me in life? What do I value? What do I hope to accomplish?” Write down all of your desired outcomes, or your whys, as you prepare for your journey.
2. Identify your Focus.
Having a clear, defined focus helps increase the effectiveness of our efforts. So if time needs to be spent thinking through what your focus is, do it! Think of specific actions, choices, and behaviors that if changed will have a positive impact on what you are hoping to accomplish. Here are a few questions that may help with the focusing process:
- Of all the changes you would like to make, which one would you like to work on first –or which one do you see as most important?
- What steps of action need to be taken to reach your desired outcome? Of those steps, what do you see yourself ready to work on right now?
3. Set your goal.
You’ve laid your foundation and identified a focus, so now it’s time to set a specific and meaningful goal, one that is focused on a small, simple, and realistic change in behavior. “Exercise more,” “lose weight,” or “be healthy” are too vague!
We want specific and realistic behavior change based goals. With the behavior or action you have chosen to modify in step 2, think about what you are going to do differently so that you know (or someone else observing you knows) that you are making progress toward your goal. Be specific. Specify a time period—when are you going to do it and how often (daily, one day per week). Specify where you will do it (home, work, restaurant, social gathering), and with whom (husband, children, coworkers, etc.). Be sure to think through all of the details.
Here are a few examples:
- I am going to walk for 30 minutes, 4 days this week by taking 3, 10 minute walking breaks at work.
- I am going to track my food intake for 3 days this week with the MyMedifast app on my smartphone.
4. Develop a Plan of Action.
A concrete, specific plan for change is powerful. To begin the planning process, identify the challenges that you are most likely to encounter in your efforts to reach your goal. Determine what you will do to manage those challenges in order to prevent them from affecting your ability to attain your goal. To do this,
- Brainstorm possible solutions on how to overcome any challenges you may face. Write down any ideas that you can think of.
- Look back over each idea and determine if they are truly a viable option. Ask, “What about this idea would work well? What may get in the way of me being successful with this idea?” Choose the one that you are most willing and able to do.
- Before you step away from your plan, assess how confident you feel on a scale of 0% to 100% that you can achieve your goal. If you are not at least 75% confident, modify or change your goal to increase the likelihood that you will be successful.
5. Follow up!
Take some time to reflect on your progress each week with these questions:
- How did I do with my plan?
- What helped me stay on target?
- What difficulties did I encounter?
- What did I learn throughout the week?
- Where does this leave me? What’s next?
Continue to set short term goals each and every week.
And there you have it! Five tips for effective and sustainable goal setting.