It’s the season of new beginnings, with many of us declaring a New Year’s resolution (or two) in hopes of making substantial change in our lives. It can be easy to identify a way to improve an aspect of your life – like your health, wealth, or happiness – but without taking time to put a resolution into the framework of a goal, your January wishes may turn into empty promises come February.
The excitement of a New Year often comes with fresh motivation to achieve new goals – usually from old desires that were abandoned over the course of the previous year. While our intentions were true, our plans to reach those resolutions may have come up short. This year, put a new spin on your resolution by using a framework behavioral scientists call a “SMART” goal.
What makes a goal SMART? Let’s consider the acronym:
There’s no room for vagueness when it comes to making a goal. Being specific in identifying what change you are hoping to see is important in setting up a plan to reach a goal. A clear goal helps you envision exactly what it is you hope to achieve, and can bring out nuances to consider when making a roadmap. Being vague around a goal gives you subtle permission to alter it, or dismiss it all together. For instance, a resolution (goal) to “lose weight” or “get healthier” does not specifically state how much weight you intend to lose and what “healthier” means. On the other hand, a specific goal would read: to “lose fat mass and gain lean muscle mass.”
Similar to specifying what you hope to achieve, a goal must be measurable. Assigning number on a goal helps guide your action plan towards that goal. Continuing with the example above, a more effective goal than “lose fat mass and gain lean muscle mass” using the measurement concept would read “lose 30 pounds of fat mass and gain 20 pounds of lean muscle.”
This one can be tricky for the go-getters out there. We all tend to aim high when thinking of New Year’s resolutions. However, lofty goals can backfire if they are unrealistic. When thinking of a goal, make sure it is actually attainable. Again, considering our weight loss example above, think to yourself: “Do I actually have 30 pounds to lose?” “Is it possible to gain 20 pounds of muscle on my frame? Or are those numbers out of reach?” This will be different for each person. Tweaking your goal to “lose 15 pounds of fat mass and gain 10 pounds of lean muscle” may be more attainable based on your body’s unique makeup.
In a similar sense, a goal must be realistic. Being realistic about a goal encourages you to recruit other factors into the planning process of reaching a goal, like lifestyle, time constraints, and resources. For instance, our example goal to “lose 15 pounds of fat mass and gain 10 pounds of lean muscle” may not be realistic within a two-week window of time, per say. A goal might be technically attainable, but is it realistic to make substantial body composition changes that quickly in a healthy way? Not necessarily. A tweak to our goal to consider its realistic factor would be “lose 15 pounds of fat mass and gain 10 pounds of lean muscle in 6 months’ time.” Realistic, therefore, plays into the last concept in the SMART goals framework: Timely.
Not only do you need to consider time as an element to ensure a goal is realistic, but it also helps to put a time stamp on when you want to complete a goal to create momentum and start outlining an action plan that makes sense. Creating a nebulous goal to “lose 15 pounds…” could take a few months or a few years. A time stamp helps create an element of urgency with a goal, which can help boost motivation. Developing an action plan towards a goal also requires a sense of timing – when to take first, second and third steps. Without an element of time surrounding a goal (or New Year’s resolution, in this case), months or even years may go by without any work put towards change.
SMART goals can be applied to any type of goal you’d like to achieve, not just body composition changes. However, it is an effective tool used by our expert coaches to drive meaningful and substantial changes in client health. For your 2022 New Year’s resolution, try applying the SMART framework and put steps in place to reach your goals.