Woman running up stairs outdoors

The secret to setting smart health goals

Everyone says set goals if you want to achieve something substantial. It’s true for your career, your savings, just about everything that matters. It’s something we do naturally and unconsciously, even as children, when we see something we really want. When it comes to health goals, it might be anything from eating better to running a marathon. But that ‘end destination’ is not really what we’re talking about here. It’s more the journey to get there and how goal setting can turn it from a fleeting wish into something imminently doable. It’s part motivation, part focus, part seeing the steps to the finish line. And if you do it right, it can make all the difference in being the healthy you you want to be.

Runup_StairsLet’s say your end destination is ‘being fitter and healthier’. You’ll need to break that down into steps and smaller goals to get you there, things like ‘start exercising’ and ‘eat better’. And as for those smaller goals, well, let’s talk about setting S.M.A.R.T. goals.

The S.M.A.R.T. system is a goal setting technique that is popular with everyone from life coaches to sports psychologists to business mentors. It stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. Use these 5 steps in creating your health goals and you’re well on your way to success.

Specific

So it’s very clear what you are aiming for

The more specific your goals the better. It will help you focus and help you see the goal being achieved. ‘Start walking’ is too broad to be truly useful. ‘I will walk in my neighbourhood for twenty minutes every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday morning before work for the next ten weeks’. Now that’s something specific that you can hit.

Measurable

So you will know when you have achieved it

To achieve a goal, you have to know if you’ve… well… achieved it. And you can’t do that unless it’s measurable. ‘Eat better’ can’t be measured. ‘Eat 5 serves of vegetables every day’, is easy to measure. Only set goals that have a concrete measurement criteria.

Achievable

Something you are able to do

Starting a health program is exciting and it’s easy to get caught up in the wonderful possibilities. That’s great, but make sure the goals you’re setting are genuinely achievable. If taking part in a 5km charity walk in October is part of your journey to ‘being fitter and healthier’ that’s excellent. If running a Marathon next month is in there, you may have overstepped the mark. Remember, make them ambitious but achievable. Start easy and set gradually more challenging goals

Realistic

Something that is practical for you and your circumstances

Hitting a goal feels great. Not hitting a goal… not so great. So before you commit them to that sheet of paper on the fridge, make sure they are doable given your abilities and commitments. ‘Walking the neighbourhood for twenty minutes every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday morning before work for the next ten weeks’ won’t go so well if you travel a lot for work. Be ambitious but practical.

Timely

Set a time-frame

A goal isn’t much use unless it has a timeframe. Someday never got anyone out of bed for a walk at 5.30 in the morning or made them say no to a second piece of chocolate cake. Putting a date to your goals gives them a sense of urgency and accountability. Just make sure you keep the ‘R’ above in mind and make your timeframes realistic.

So those are the five criteria for setting your health goals and giving yourself the best chance of success. If you’ve struggled in the past, maybe this is just what you’ve been looking for. Now why not grab a piece of paper and give it a go.