The month of January for many represents a chance for a fresh new start. After the excesses of the holiday season of December, many of us want to reboot our lives and focus on improving some aspect of our health we feel needs improving. Unfortunately, many of us begin to feel overwhelmed very quickly as our goals feel too ambitious. One big mistake is to set unrealistic goals and then become disillusioned and simply give up. Another hazard to avoid is setting vague, non-specific goals, such as “lose weight, exercise more, eat healthier, manage stress.” While all of these endeavors are certainly worthy, they lack specifics.
Over-reaching, nebulous goals set us for failure. Developing a plan with small, very specific steps can help bring focus to achieving your goals. Another key is to make the goals realistic. How many of us have set a goal of losing 20 pounds in a month, but it is entirely unrealistic. Likewise, joining an expensive gym or buying a big piece of exercise equipment may set of us up for disappointment. When we fall short of the improbable goals, it’s very easy to completely abandon any effort.
Creating a healthier lifestyle complete with better eating, moving our bodies more, reducing stress, and cutting out unhealthy habits can help improve many maladies Americans suffer from today. Even modest weight loss can help to reduce high blood pressure or reduce our blood sugar.
Additional benefits of dropping a few pounds include reducing stress on our joints, especially important as we age. Reducing stress can have significant health benefits, including reducing headaches, stomachaches, muscle tension, and improving sleep. Adequate sleep is an often-overlooked key to good health. Stress can also lead to a weakened immune system, which can increase the likelihood of disease.
When we set out to improve our health, the best approach is one of slow and steady progress. Setting realistic, small, incremental goals which we can articulate very specifically will serve us well. One approach many have found successful is the system known as SMART, an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Trackable.
For example, say you want to improve your diet choices. The following scenario could fit nicely into the SMART scheme. Instead of making an unrealistic goal of eating healthier from here on out, you identify SPECIFIC steps you plan to take such as I will drink 8 oz. of water with each meal. The goal is MEASURABLE by choosing an exact amount. The amount of 8 oz. is ATTAINABLE and would not be too much.
Likewise, the amount and timing with each meal is REALISTIC, and finally the amount and coordination with each meal is TRACKABLE. Similarly, SMART technique can help you to narrow down some fitness goals. Committing to walking each day for 30 minutes following your evening meal is a specific goal that is measurable, attainable, realistic, and trackable.
There are numerous apps and devices to help you set these small specifics goals. Even the old fashioned notepad or journal can help you solidify your mind around accomplishing these doable goals. Studies have shown the simple act of writing out your goals increases the likelihood the goal will be met. Once a goal is met on a regular basis, a habit begins to form, and with continued practice of the habit, it is easier to build on those goals.
There’s a saying that success breeds success, and such is the case with achieving and succeeding in small goals. Once accomplished successfully, it’s easier to expand and modify your small goals into larger goals. For instance, a small goal of adding one fruit or vegetable to a meal twice a week can increase to five times a week once you have been successful with the more modest goal.
Similarly, increasing small breaks to mediate for stress relief can grow progressively longer once you’ve proven you can reach a smaller goal. Hopefully, building on small successes can get you where you would like to be in the long run. With perseverance, you can start to see the health benefits of the accumulated work you have done.
So as the new year rings in, make a promise to yourself to improve your mental and physical well-being by setting up some realistic goals and enjoy the benefits all year long.