SMART goals set you up for success
It’s well accepted that most New Year’s resolutions go out the window before they’ve even had a chance to get started. Weight loss or getting in shape are some of the most popular resolutions—which is wonderful. Weight loss can translate to many benefits, including feeling better and healthy blood sugar levels. But as people recognize that health is more than how much we weigh, changes like improving stress management, getting enough sleep, and cultivating friendships have also been added to the resolution list.
Unfortunately, New Year’s resolutions have a small success rate. Why? It’s not that people don’t want to make changes or aren’t motivated. But after a few years of attempts, we may get down on ourselves and think we can’t change (and this isn’t true!).
Instead, it may be more about the way people set their goals. A goal without a plan is like making a cross-country road trip without a map. How will you get there without exact directions?
This year, you can set yourself up for success by shifting the way you think about New Year’s resolutions (or really any goals that you set throughout the year) by setting a SMART goal.
SMART goals consider you as an individual and help you break your goal down into manageable steps that you can track along the way. Each of these smaller steps can add up to long-lasting habits.
By consistently reaching smaller goals, not only will you be taking the necessary steps to improve your health, but you’ll also keep yourself motivated. Each time you achieve a goal, no matter how big or small, it adds to the list of “wins” you have under your belt and motivates you to keep going.
Sometimes getting started can feel overwhelming, but 9.am.health can help. Keep reading to learn more about how you can set SMART goals for health this year.
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Why don’t New Year’s resolutions stick?
Before we jump into how to set goals that last, let’s take a step back to think about how most people think about New Year’s resolutions.
If you think about New Year’s resolutions, they’re often big sweeping changes that we expect will change our lives overnight; lose 30 pounds in one month; run a marathon this summer; start going to the gym every day.
These goals may seem like great ideas at first glance since they are associated with living a healthy lifestyle or being in shape. But without a plan in place that addresses precisely how you will make the changes, or how to handle setbacks, you might be setting yourself up for failure, especially if you are brand new to exercise or diet changes.
If your goal is too far out of reach from the start, it’s easy to get discouraged and give up. This is especially true if you don’t see immediate results from your hard work. Maintaining motivation is much more challenging when progress feels slow or non-existent.
On the other hand, reaching goals of any size can improve your confidence which only motivates you further.
Does this mean you shouldn’t even think about making significant changes? No way! It’s essential to have goals that inspire us. But it’s also crucial that our goals are realistic and achievable. We’re more likely to stick with them in the long run if we know there is a tangible end goal in sight.
Instead, we can use those bigger goals as long-term motivation but set smaller, more realistic goals that help us get closer to our desired outcome.
SMART goals can help you reach your goals
Enter SMART goals, a framework for goal setting with well-established evidence for success even in research. It’s an approach that helps you tailor goal-setting to meet your individual needs.
The acronym SMART stands for:
Specific - Measurable - Attainable - Relevant - Time-sensitive
There are a few variations in the letters depending on the sources (some change “relevant” to “realistic”), but it all translates to the same overall message.
Let’s take a look at what each one of these letters stands for:
Specific: What and how do you want to achieve your goal?
Specific means spelling out exactly what you want to achieve. A New Year’s resolution of “eat a healthier diet” isn’t specific enough because it doesn’t give us any information about how you will do this. What does eating healthier actually mean to you? Instead, you can ask yourself what exactly do I want to accomplish and how will I do it? An example could be:
"I will eat healthier over the next two months by reducing alcohol to two drinks a week and adding two servings of vegetables each day."
Think about what you can specifically add or remove that will really help you reach your goal.
Measurable: How will you track your success?
A measurable goal is one where you can track your progress along the way to keep you accountable and motivated. Without tracking, it may be difficult to see how much progress you are making.
For example, if walking for fifteen minutes five days a week is your goal, instead of just hoping you’ll find time, look at your calendar ahead of time and plan out which days will work with your schedule. Each time you walk you can check-off the activity. Simply seeing the check marks can keep you motivated, plus help you keep track.
Maybe your goal is to get more sleep. In this case, instead of just sticking to old habits, try writing down (or tracking it with your favourite app) what time you go to bed each day and track how many hours you sleep. Seeing patterns can keep you accountable and help you see where you could make adjustments to help you reach your goal.
Attainable: What’s realistic for you?
An attainable goal is something that you have control over, but it’s still challenging enough to push yourself out of your comfort zone. A SMART New Year’s resolution helps you set a goal that you can realistically meet based on where you are starting from while understanding barriers that could interfere.
For example, maybe you want to start running but have never run before? Signing up for a marathon may not make sense, but committing to daily lunch walks to start could be an option.
Or if you don’t like cooking, starting a nutrition plan that requires a lot of time in the kitchen probably won’t work, but smaller changes like making sure you include a vegetable at each meal could be an excellent way to add to your diet.
You can set yourself up for success by choosing a goal that (with a bit of work) you are likely to meet.
Relevant: How will it benefit your long-term goals?
A relevant goal aligns with your individual health goals, values, and what’s important to you. If your longer-term goal is to stop taking your diabetes medications, it may not happen in the first few weeks, but what steps do you need to take to get there?
Exercise, diet, stress, and sleep can all make a big difference, so choosing just one of these to focus on can get you closer. Your smaller goals should all have your long-term health goals in mind because they add up to helping you reach that bigger goal over time.
Time-sensitive: keep yourself accountable with time limits
A time-sensitive goal has an end date and motivates you to work hard in the short term to achieve your goal. Without a time limit, it’s easy to put off goals or resolutions until “later,” which may never come.
Whether it’s for a month or six months, breaking goals up into smaller chunks can keep you focused.
Setbacks are frustrating but normal
When setting goals for long-lasting changes, it’s completely normal to experience setbacks. A setback means that you temporarily lose sight of your plan or have a slight bump in your progress.
This doesn’t mean that you have failed. In fact, it’s actually a normal part of the process, and recognizing this can help you. One study found that people who accepted that setbacks were normal were less likely to regain weight and get back on track.
Setbacks can last a few days or a few weeks. But what’s more important than anything is to not fall victim to the all-or-nothing mentality. In other words, don’t give up just because you had a bad day or week. Life happens, just recommit yourself and remind yourself why you wanted to make changes in the first place.
Take your SMART goals even farther with tailored support
New Year’s resolutions are an excellent opportunity to set goals for the New Year. However, without SMART goals, these resolutions may not work out as well as you had hoped. That is why New Year’s Resolutions that are specific, measurable, attainable, relative, and have time limits can help you achieve lasting change.
If you want to set diabetes-specific goals but don’t know where to start, or just want some accountability, we can help. 9am.health works with you to create a care plan tailored to your needs to support your New Year's resolutions and all year long.