Target by Bill Frymire
New years resolutions rethink:
Successful goal setting
Every week I see people in clinic with goals. Some may not know they have goals, others have definite goals but they may be the wrong ones for that moment. I often spend a lot of time with people focusing on their aspirations and plans and sorting through what they want to achieve, the motivations for these aims and how they fit into the big health and lifestyle picture.
A goal is the picture you have in your head of where you want to be. Taking them from merely thoughts and notions and making them reality means first defining them in a few ways, giving them the qualities they require to be of use to you. This means asking a few questions and giving your goals some important characteristics; transforming them from just hope and dreams on a piece of paper into a lynchpin of long term success:
Are they pointless?
Giving up crisps and cakes for January may be a healthy gesture, but what in the great scheme of things is this going to accomplish other than a) making you want crisps and cakes a LOT more and b) using up all that willpower that could be better spent.
If however, it changes a behaviour long term i.e. eating a lot less snacks foods then it has been beneficial but ask yourself, is it really going to achieve this?
Are they the right ones?
It’s a simple question, I know, but a very important one and the one that most people gloss over. Should you really be focusing on this? Is this going to play the main role in the big picture? Is there some more rewarding AND important aspect that you could be considering?
All these questions need careful level-headed consideration. You only have some much time so focus on the things that matter.
Are they attainable?
If your goal just isn’t one you can reach then you’re going to have to make peace with that idea. Note I didn’t say ‘get a realistic goal’ – there is something to be said for ‘shooting for the stars and getting the moon’. For example you could think one of two ways:
Un-attainable: ‘I will loose 50lb or (3.5 stone) by Easter’
Un-attainable but constructive: ‘I will endeavor to loose 50lb by Easter using only safe methods. If I don’t get there then, so be it, but I will try.’
Be ambitious but be constructive and safe.
Are they attainable AND realistic?
Getting to the Olympics is not a reasonable goal for most people. Of course if it were the Olympics wouldn’t be worth watching, however some goals that on first inspection seem to be reasonable may not be realistic. The problem often isn’t the task itself but the other resources like time or mental bandwidth they take to achieve. Sometimes you have to temper your, quite doable goal because of your circumstances. You see, whilst most people could learn to sail, not many live by the sea and can afford a boat.
Are they well defined?
Goals are all very well but they should be a bulls-eye you can aim at not an ill-defined cloud you can only shoot in the general direction of. Please give yourself something to aim at. What exactly do I mean?
An example of an ill defined task: ‘I’m going to loose some weight’
Well defined task: ‘I will loose 10lb of body fat’
Get specific and then you can make yourself properly accountable.
Is there accountability?
Making a resolution is one thing but telling others so that they may mark your work, means that you’re accountable. The fear of failure just got more serious but it is a tool that you can use for your own gain. A little fear and trepidation can be a real motivating force for when the process gets tough or just plain boring.
Tell loved ones, tell colleagues (actually very useful), and write your goals down somewhere public or semi-public, like I have at the end of this post.
Are they measurable and testable?
Of course with any project you’ll want to know where you are and how far you have to go. Having a measurable and testable goal is obviously intimately connected with a defined goal but there is a subtle difference. Being able to track progress along the way will aid motivation and lend a little perspective to your goals, because getting the work done and getting it done in a reasonable time are two different things.
Is there a time frame?
Put yourself under a little pressure, it helps. Just enough though, not too much. Without a defined time frame the project can rumble on and on which is not very satisfying and may mean more work and guilt, in the long term. Compare for example the following goals:
By June 2010 I will loose 30lb
I will loose 30lb
Which one of those goals is going to keep you motivated? Which is going to mean a greater level of accountability and fear of failure? Loosing 30lb of fat is still a worthwhile task but if it takes you 10 years then health wise you’re going to get a lot less out of the process.
Do you have a plan for when you reach your goal?
Seems silly, but having a plan for after your plan is a good idea. Too many people clean up their diet, loose the fat and then go back to their old ways.
A very useful trick is to plan a project which will feed into and upon the first. If your original plan was to loose some body fat, the second could be some form of athletic endeavor or vice versa. Changing the task dramatically keeps the mind engaged, but making it a connected activity builds upon the habits and success already in place, solidifying them.
Define a realistic goal, plan and then get it out of the way in a timely fashion and then reap the rewards by focusing on an exciting goal you couldn’t have even dreamed of before.
In PART II I’ll go over the steps for putting this goal making into action.