Friday, December 28, 2012

Be S.M.A.R.T.

Here we are once again at the start of a New Year, and with that comes the tradition of the exciting yet dreaded New Year's Resolution. Across the globe we unite, committing pen to paper, feverishly scratching out master to-do lists for the upcoming year. We resolve to do things differently, to cast off the mistakes and failures of the year before and to start fresh. For a brief moment we can see our future selves doing anything, being anyone. But by the time the ball has dropped, many of us have given up before we've even started, and by March most of those who remain have finally had enough touting, "There's always next year.” But why are so many of us failing year after year? The answer lies in the details (or lack thereof) of the goals we are setting.

A typical fitness related resolution for the New Year might be “to lose weight” or to “get in shape.” These are good general concepts, but as goals they are sloppy and a little lazy. How will you know when you get there? How much weight do you want to lose?  How will you determine if you are in better shape? Be SPECIFIC. A specific and meaningful goal will remind you why you are putting forth effort and motivate you to continue. With that in mind, the previous goals “to lose weight” and to “get in shape” might be changed to “I would like lose 30 lbs so I can fit into my wedding dress when my husband and I renew our vows,” and “I would like to improve my cardiovascular endurance so I am able to run a 5k with my daughter this year.” These goals state what we expect to achieve and also present us with motivation to keep us on track.

Now that you have set a specific goal, you are going to need to know if you are on the right course to get there, and the only way to do that is to measure you progress at points along the way. Setting a MEASURABLE goal provides you with a way to see your progress and know when you’ve reached your goal. A goal “to lose 30 lbs” is a measurable goal. You can see how close you are getting to this goal simply by stepping on a scale and tracking your weight.

Outcomes and the rates at which we achieve those outcomes are variable, and while it’s ok to set an outcome as a goal, it is important for our goals to be ACTION-BASED as well. For example, our previous goal, “to lose 30 lbs” is an outcome, a byproduct of something we are doing, or an action. An action-based goal might be “to do cardiovascular exercise 5 days a week for 30 minutes. A more complete goal might include your desired outcome as well, and don’t forget to include why this goal is so important for you to reach. “I will do cardiovascular exercise 5 days a week for 30 minutes” now becomes “I will lose 30 lb. by doing cardiovascular exercise 5 days a week for 30 minutes so I am able to fit into my wedding dress when my husband and I renew our vows.”

One of the biggest reasons we fail to reach our goals is simple because our goals are oftentimes unrealistic. We set ridiculously high standards for ourselves, and then beat ourselves up when we cannot live up to them. We are setting ourselves up for failure. By setting REALISTIC goals, we set ourselves up for success! Losing 30 lbs in 2 months or committing to working out 7 days a week might sound good—at first, but neither goal is realistic. When you are setting a goal, say it out loud and visualize the process that will get you there. Does it sound ridiculous or impossible to achieve? Then it probably is. Now, I’m not saying not to challenge yourself, but don’t create a goal so far out of reach, that you can’t even see yourself getting there. If you’re not sure what is realistic for you at your current level of fitness, check with a fitness professional. He or she can help you draft a list of long-term and short-term goals that will help you get to where you want to be.

The last point to consider when setting goals is the deadline by which we will complete that goal. Without a deadline, a goal is more or less just a loose guideline, something that we are trying to follow but aren’t really all that serious about. A TIME-BOUND goal creates a sense of urgency and pushes us forward. Taking that into consideration, it is important to set both short-term and long-term goals. Each serves a purpose in your overall plan. Short-term goals act as stepping stones by which we are able to reach our long-term goals and give us something to celebrate along the way. Based on our previous example, a complete goal might be: “I will lose 30 lbs by doing cardiovascular exercise 5 days a week for 30 minutes so I am able to fit into my wedding dress when my husband and I renew our vows in the fall.” This goal meets all of our requirements for a S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Action-Based, Realistic and Time-Bound) goal.

Be S.M.A.R.T. this year when drafting those New Year’s Resolutions and next year at this time you will be looking back on a year that was filled with success!

Happy New Year and Best Wishes for 2013!