Setting Achievable Goals
Many people have limited or no experience with setting realistic goals for themselves.
In the pursuit of healthy lifestyle changes, many people set themselves up for failure by not having a clear, realistic pathway to success.
This can lead to frustration and self-doubt.
Ellie Foster is here to help you learn how setting small, achievable goals can boost confidence and lead to lasting lifestyle change
Ellie Foster (Guest): Sure. As you know, we live in a culture where people expect results immediately. People really have this fascination with instant gratification, so I think one of the major problems is that people have unrealistic expectations of how long it takes to make changes and how difficult it can be. So,I think that can be one of the major problems. On top of that, people just set really unrealistic goals. They want to achieve significant weight loss in a very small amount of time and they don’t think about the short-term goals that it’s going to take to get them to that success in the end. Then, there’s all of that negative thinking and we are surrounded by media that shows people living these healthy lives and celebrities and that’s a big part of our culture. It’s really easy for people to compare themselves and start to feel really bad about the decisions that they’re making.
Melanie: I certainly agree with you and I think that’s such an important point. How do you set realistic goals? What do you do to begin?
Ellie: The first thing, really, is to think about your long-term vision. So, instead of thinking about the immediate “I want to lose 30 pounds,” or “I want to run five miles a day,” think about how you really want to live your life. Are you healthy and well? Are you able to have energy? Are you living the way you want to live? Sort of use that as motivation to get you through because you’re going to go through some tough times. So, keeping the big picture in mind is really important. On top of that, you want to narrow it down to one area. So, you’ve got this big vision that motivates you but then you want to keep it small. So, sure you might want to lose weight but there’s a lot of pieces that go into that. There’s healthy eating, exercise, stress. So, try to pick one of those areas and don’t try to do it all at once because that’s how you set yourself up for failure. Once you have that area, picking a small achievable goal that you know you can do is going to get you into that habit of setting a goal, working towards it, feeling success. You want to set that pattern up for yourself, so then you can build on that as you move forward.
Melanie: That’s so important. Do you believe in writing these goals down and starting that way and looking at them every day? Or, if weight loss is your goal, for example, journaling, keeping track of what you eat that first week to see how you’ve been doing, to see what needs to change?
Ellie: Absolutely. So, writing it down is huge and it’s often an underestimated piece of goal setting. People don’t realize how important it is to track your progress. That’s the way that you can really see where you’ve started and where you’ve gone. Sometimes people are afraid to track because they don’t want to see when they go off the track, off the rails a little bit, but it’s important. If you’re tracking what you’re eating, you can think back, “Why did I eat so much that day? Oh, there was a party at work.”Then, you can start strategizing around those barriers that come up. So, tracking is a huge piece and there’s so many different ways that you can track today. There are apps; there are websites. Just a simple wall calendar can even do.
Melanie: What if you do all of these things and you set those smart, attainable, realistic goals and you fall off the wagon? How do you tell yourself to get back on? What motivation can you use to say, “It’s okay. I did this. I’m going to get right back on there?”
Ellie: That’s like going into it with this big picture in mind, not thinking about those little details but thinking about yourself living this healthy life. Things do get in the way and you’re not always going to achieve the goals you set for yourself. You can just stop. Reassess what you’re doing. Maybe the goal you set wasn’t exactly achievable. You mentioned SMART goals. We are talking about specific, measureable, attainable, relevant, and time bound. So, maybe the goal you set wasn’t exactly an achievable goal. You can reassess. Maybe make that goal a little bit smaller, maybe look into some of the environmental factors that came into play and just start brainstorming and planning around those barriers because things will come up.
Melanie: They will come up and so, then, you just have to really jump right back on. What if it’s something really difficult that you might need support with? Quitting drinking, quitting smoking-- something that’s tougher than just the decision to get healthy this year.
Ellie: Exactly. Those things are really important to find support. Any decision, any change that you are trying to make in your life, find somebody who can support you. With those bigger decisions, maybe you want to quit smoking or you want to quit drinking. There are support groups out there, there are hotlines you can call, even just letting somebody know that you are trying to make this decision and asking for a little bit of accountability as you move forward. It’s always great that you know that you’ve got some body to check in with.
Melanie: I think support groups are another great way. What’s your best advice, Ellie, about getting started on an exercise or nutrition program? People say, “Okay, I’m going to do that,” and they’re going to set those SMART goals. They’re writing it down, doing all of those things and then they stand there at the grocery store and they don’t know what to buy.
Ellie: Well, I think it’s a matter of being realistic and really checking in with yourself about if you’re ready to make this change. Ask yourself some questions, “Is this change really going to impact my life? How would my life be better if I decided to do this?” and using that as your motivation to move forward. Again, so, you’re at the grocery store, you’re figuring out what to buy maybe you need to take a few steps back and do some research. Set that as your goal. “Before I go to the grocery store I’m going to make a list of the things I want to buy.”That way you’re prepared. You don’t want to leave yourself in a lurch. You want to make the healthy choice, the easy choice, and that’s all about planning and organization.
Melanie: Really, that’s such great information. What about starting an exercise program? What’s your best advice on just beginning one if you’re not somebody that’s really never done it before?
Ellie: People have this mentality that exercise is not fun. There are so many different ways just to move your body in a way that’s fun for you. If it’s not fun, it’s going to be really hard for you to stick with it. So,I recommend finding something that you feel enjoyment out of, whether that’s a walk in the morning with your dog, maybe you spend a little extra time with your husband out for a walk, maybe you find a Zumba class. It’s really fun to dance and move around. You don’t have to hit the gym and start lifting weights and doing all of that stuff. There are many, many options for moving your body and it’s about finding what’s going to work best for you.
Melanie: Now, we look toward the long term. The things that you want to make changes. How do you gradually progress? If you started with the small, realistic goals but now you’ve got a loftier goal that you would like to achieve. How do you make that progression to the bigger picture?
Ellie: I think you can’t jump right into it. You still have to plug away. If you started to see success with these smaller, little piece by piece goals there’s no need to rush into it. Keep making those goals but just sort of adjust them for what you think is realistic. So, maybe your first goal was to just get out and exercise a few mornings a week. Then maybe you started finding yourself able to run a little bit and now maybe you’ve signed up for a 5K road race – keep with those small goals that you can make that step-by-step progress with and you can track, otherwise you’re going to launch yourself into something that you’re not ready for and you already know what works. These small goals work for you.
Melanie: So, in just the last-minute, Ellie, give us your best advice for setting those achievable goals. Kind of wrap it up for us and tell us how you can help at Maine Health Learning and Resource Center.
Ellie: I think we mentioned the SMART goals. So, a specific measureable, attainable, relevant and time bound goal. Write it down. Don’t just write the goal down but write down the steps that it’s going to take to achieve the goal. So, it’s not just one goal of exercising, it’s “I’m going to put my shoes out; I’m going to pick the days of the week I’m going to exercise and I’m going to track it on a calendar.” That way you’ve got it all wrapped up neatly and you know exactly what you’re going to do. If you need a little extra support, you can come in and see me at the Maine Health Learning and Resource Center. I’m a certified Health and Wellness Coach and I can help you make some goals for yourself. We also have some great resources on our website that you can check out for tracking and doing a little more education about healthy changes.
Melanie: Thank you so much. It’s great information. You’re listening to MMC Radio and for more information you can go to mainemedicalcenter.org. That’s mainemedicalcenter.org. mmc.org. This is Melanie Cole. Have a great day.