For many people, a new calendar year signals a fresh start and an opportunity to make improvements and changes to their lifestyles. But we also know that it can be very difficult to stick with goals and that by February, many people are right back where they started. To help you with your goal setting, we spoke with Paula Kilkenny, a registered nurse in our Family Medicine/Urban Family Health Team who specializes in helping people with chronic diseases make healthy behavior changes, including creating realistic goals and developing strategies to successfully achieve them.
Step one: Make it SMART
A SMART goal is one that is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely – all of this adds up to the fact that it’s something that makes sense for you, says Paula. Telling yourself you’re going to run every morning might not be realistic, but saying you’ll run once a week might be. Creating a goal means taking the time to think about your lifestyle and habits and how likely you’ll be able to stick to it.
Step two: Write it down
Once you write your goal down, it’s no longer just a thought – it’s a written statement. You can post it on your fridge, desk, mirror – anywhere that will help you remember what you committed to. Paula says you should also be specific: write down all of the steps needed to achieve your goal so that you have a clear plan for how to get there, as well as a place to pick up from if you get distracted along the way.
Step three: Plan it out
Are you planning on doing yoga tomorrow? Set your clothes out before you go to bed tonight, says Paula, and decide on what time you’re doing it and which flow you’re doing. Often we have ideas but our follow through is lacking so it can be easy to ignore our best intentions. The clearer you can be in your plans, the better chance you have of making them happen. This is especially important when it comes to food – Paula recommends meal planning at the start of each week so that when you’re hangry and craving junk food, you’ll have healthy snacks to eat instead.
Step four: Use your friends
If you know someone is waiting for you at the gym, you’re far more likely to make it there than if you’re just going by yourself. Sharing your goals with the people around you will make you more accountable, and finding those people who will support you in achieving your goals is one of the best ways to help achieve them, says Paula.
Step five: Recognize your achievements
It’s important that you check in on a regular basis to see how you’re doing and celebrate your accomplishments. Haven’t quite made it to the gym three days a week, but increased your vegetable intake? Celebrate! It’s the small things that will lead to big changes. Staying positive will increase your likelihood of continuing to work towards your goals.
Step six: Make it long-term
Goals can be set at any time of the year and Paula recommends you check in regularly to adjust yours as needed. When thinking about your goals, don’t just set them for a few months at a time – think farther down the road. Any healthy habits you implement now will have a positive health outcome not just in the next few months but five and ten years from now. Keep in mind how your goals are contributing to a healthy future and let that be even more motivation to keep them up.
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