Setting goals for the New Year? Be SMART

Setting goals for the New Year? Be SMART

As we go into the New Year you may be thinking about making some resolutions or setting yourself some goals. Many people start the New Year with grand intentions to improve their health and fitness which may include getting fitter, being more active, eating healthier, losing some weight etc, etc.

Unfortunately being human, our short-term experiences tend to win out so we struggle to prioritise the long-term benefits of our new behaviours (e.g. being a healthier weight, being fitter) over the short-term discomforts and inconveniences (e.g. not having a cake, doing an exercise session). The reality is that all too often we struggle to follow through with these. Something that can help is setting yourself really clear goals for what you want to achieve.

Top sports people set clear goals around how they are going to improve their performance and what their targets are for the season or year ahead. This helps them maintain their focus and motivation. But you don’t need to be a top athlete to set goals that can keep you on track. After all, if you aren’t clear on what you are trying to achieve how will you know when you have done it? And how can you create a plan to get you there?

Setting Your Goals

One simple model is to set yourself SMART goals.  This means ensuring that the goals that you set are:

  • Specific:  be really (really) clear about what you are trying to achieve or improve. For example “I want to get fitter” isn’t very specific. What do you mean? Is it stronger, being able to run faster losing body fat, being more flexible? The clearer you are about what you want to achieve, the easier it will be to plan and work toward it.
  • Measureable:  if you can measure something you can see if you are making progress towards it, and importantly know when you succeed. E.g. If you just say “I want to lose weight” you can measure it, but how do you know when you have finished? It would be much better to say “I want to lose 1 stone (or 6.3kg)”.
  • Achievable:  is the goal that you are setting yourself realistic for you at the moment? Yes it needs to stretch and challenge you, but if there is little chance of you achieving it you will quickly become disheartened and forget about your goal. You may be better to split bigger challenges up into smaller progressive steps to keep achieving and maintain your motivation. You could say “I want to lose 3 stone (or 19kg)”, but it may be more realistic to set yourself a goal to lose 1 stone (6.3kg), then when you achieve that set a new goal.
  • Relevant:  your goals need to be relevant and meaningful to you – if it isn’t it pretty unlikely that you will follow through with actions to complete your goal.
  • Time-bound:  you need a target date to focus our attention. Without a deadline most people will let things slip and not stay focused on their efforts to achieve their goal.

Close up of feet of a runner running in leaves

Outcome Goals and Process Goals – as well as being clear about what you want to achieve (your outcome goals) you might also want to include some process goals. These are things that you will do to help achieve you goal. Some process goals could be: to eat 5 portions of fruit and veg a day, walk for 30 mins every day, to an exercise session or class at least 3 times per week

Short, Medium and Long Term Goals:  The period that you set for achieving your goals depends on you and what you want to achieve. You may find it more motivating to set goals that are short-term (next 4 weeks), medium term (next 2 or 3 months) and long-term (6 months or longer).  This can help make achieving bigger changes in your life more realistic, and keep you more motivated by having more opportunities to achieve success along the way.

Five tips to help achieve your goals:

  1. Write your goals down – you can refer back to them and use them to keep you focussed.
  2. Put them somewhere prominent – if you see them every day you are more likely to stay focussed and keep on track than if they are hidden away.
  3. Share your goals with friends – this can help increase your commitment to your goals, involve other people who can support you, or even get others to join your journey and provide mutual support.
  4. Celebrate – when you achieve your goals remember to celebrate or reward yourself. (Just keep in mind that you don’t want to undo all your good work!) it may help to plan ahead for what rewards you will give yourself when you are successful.
  5. Review and reset – when you achieve your goals, look back at worked, why and what is next (a new goal or maintaining good habits). If you aren’t successful look back and try to see what went wrong and why – use this to set new goals and a new plan to get you there.

Also see my other article on 10 tips for success for more ideas on how to plan fro success.

Finally, don’t be deterred – changing your behaviour is not easy and lapsing into old habits is normal. If you’ve had a bad day or week, tomorrow is an opportunity to re-start and make progress. And remember even if you are making slow progress it is still progress!