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Setting Goals 101

By Sev Baron
January 19, 2021
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Do you have difficulty setting goals for yourself? Or, if you manage to set goals, do you then struggle to meet those goals? If you answered YES to either of these questions, you are not alone. I’ve been trying to lose weight and live healthier for like the past 10 years! Failing to set goals or meet goals we’ve set can be very frustrating. It’s easy to get lost in self-doubt, become discouraged, and scrap the whole process all-together. I mean, you took the time to set some goals, gave it your best shot, and just didn’t succeed. You’re left thinking, maybe setting goals works for other people, but it just doesn’t work for me. 

Now, what if I told you that not all goals are created equal? That there is a simple, straightforward framework you can follow to create realistic, meaningful, and achievable goals? And if you follow this framework, you are much more likely to succeed at reaching your goals.

What if it’s not you, but the goals you’ve set that are the problem? Are you back in? Good. 

Let’s take a look at my goals to lose weight and live healthier. The glaring problem with these goals is that they are too vague. Lose weight? How much weight? By when? Why? How? 

Using a systematic guide to set goals can streamline the process and help you get it right. In turn, more than likely increase your odds of success. The SMART framework is one such approach to goal setting with a body of evidence that suggests robust application. Although you probably already guessed it, SMART is an acronym.

What do the letters stand for?

SSpecific
MMeasurable
AAchievable
RRelevant
TTime-bound

Essentially, SMART outlines the key ingredients needed to bake a tasty goal. As presently constructed, my goal to lose weight is clearly not up to par so let’s refine it the SMART way.

First and foremost, in order for my goal to be achievable, it needs to be specific and measurable. That’s easy! I’ll just change my goal from lose weight to lose 15 lbs. All good? Not so fast! Even though there’s now a measurable component, my goal still needs more specificity. Let’s remedy that: lose 15 lbs. via portion control, healthy diet, and daily exercise. Aha! Now we’re getting somewhere. Need to tweak it a bit more though. 

According to SMART, my goal needs to be time-bound. Is my goal to lose 15 lbs. by next week, in 6 months, by 2025? I need to add some type of temporal context. Again, I want this goal to be achievable. I definitely don’t want to sandbag it, but I want a reasonably attainable challenge. Let’s see… a quick search on the internet machine reveals that 1-2 lbs. per week is a healthy weight-loss target. Now the wheels are spinning! I mean, I work full time and I have family responsibilities outside of work.

Although I’m confident I could get some sort of daily exercise, I may only get around to vigorous exercise (cardio, yoga, weight training, etc.) 3 times a week, if I’m lucky. Factor in like one cheat day per week times an extra sneak-a-snack here and there… I think I’ll split the difference and aim for a pound-and-a-half per week. So, 15 lbs. divided by 1.5 lbs. per week equals 10 weeks!

New Goal: In the next 10 weeks, I will lose a total of 15 lbs. via portion control, a healthy diet, and daily exercise. 

Now I’ve got something I can work with. I have clear-cut target for a goal that’s very relevant to me. I just started a family. I want to be healthy and thrive so that I can provide for them and increase the odds that I stick around planet Earth long enough to walk my daughter down the aisle. Truth be told, I also want to look good and feel good. In short, this goal matters and I’m motivated to get after it! 

At this point, I’ve nailed my goal. The next step is to come up with my process. I can use my new-and-improved goal as a center point from which to formulate the details of my plan. It might also be worthwhile to create some smaller target objectives that I could reward myself for achieving on the way to reaching my goal (e.g., earn 1.5 extra servings of protein and dessert on the next cheat day for meeting the previous week’s target of -1.5 lbs. weight loss).    

Initially, my plan might look something like this:  

Weight Loss Plan

In the next 10 weeks 🡪Start Date: End Date:
Lose a total of 15 lbs. 🡪Need to lose 1.5 lbs. per week to accomplish in 10 weeks; check weight weekly; document weight on start date, every 7 days thereafter, and on end date
Portion Control 🡪- Pay attention to calories and nutritional information on foods
- Use measuring cups and scale at home 
- Must reduce calorie intake by ~500 calories per day
- Target = 1700-2000 calories/day
Healthy Diet 🡪- Limit fast food intake and snacking
- Prepare meals at home 5-7 days per week, when possible
- Take lunch from home, when possible, to avoid eating out
- Make healthier choices when eating out or snacking
- Eat at least four servings of vegetables daily Eat at least three servings of fruits daily
- Replace refined grains with whole grains
- Use modest amounts of healthy fats, such as olive oil, vegetable oils, avocados, nuts, nut butter, and nut oils
- Cut back on refined sugar as much as possible (except the natural sugar in fruit)
- Choose low-fat dairy products and lean meat/poultry
Daily Exercise 🡪- At least 30 minutes of cardio via walking, each day – weather permitting; elliptical is a suitable replacement.
- At least 20 minutes of Yoga 2-4 times per week.
- Take stairs rather than elevator or escalator, when possible.
- Walk to the corner store or nearby destinations (within 1 mile of current location), when feasible

Again, this is an example of what my process might look like. Yours might look different, but it should feel the same. Moving forward, I can make adjustments to my plan as necessary. Documenting progress is good practice and will help with decision-making about how to change my plan. For this goal, I’ll need to document my weight on the start date, every 7 days thereafter, and on the end date. I think I’ll just note on my iCalendar when I exercised, what exercise I did, for how long, etc. As far as tracking my diet, I’ll use the trusty food diary method, since it’s the most cost-effective (see: FREE!). 

Alright, I’ve got a SMART goal, a solid plan, and a system to track my progress. I’d say I’m ready to rock and roll! Let’s see how this goes… 

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