“Get healthy”: does this sound like a fitness goal you might set? Those two words are responsible for more secondhand fitness equipment than any other words in the dictionary. The problem with this goal is that it isn’t very SMART, and when it comes to healthy fitness resolutions, SMART goals are the only way to go.
SMART is a goal-setting acronym used to structure goals so that they are successful. SMART goals are:
Let’s look at how you can use this acronym to set yourself up for fitness success.
SMART goals are specific
Let’s say your fitness resolution is to lose weight. If you state your goal that simply, even losing six ounces of weight would count as having achieved the goal. Chances are good that you’d like to lose more than that. An example of a specific goal is, “Lose 15 pounds.” The number might change, but the number is specific, not general, and it gives you something to focus on.
The same thing applies if you are trying to increase your level of physical activity. You could say, “I want to exercise more,” a vague goal that allows you to exercise precisely 15 more seconds a day to achieve it, or you can say, “Exercise 30 minutes daily.” In this example, more is defined and specific.
To make your goals more specific, think in terms of:
- Who is involved: Only you? Will you need a trainer or other support?
- What you want to achieve
- Where you will meet your goal: The gym? A hiking trail? Your own neighborhood?
- When: Commit to a timeframe
- Why: What are the benefits of achieving the goal? It helps to write them down
So your final SMART goal statement might be “Join a local bike club and go on their weekly ride while also riding my bike for 30 minutes a day.”
SMART goals are measurable
Fitness resolutions include not only physical health but also mental and emotional health. Maybe you reflected on the past year and have decided that you want to increase your level of happiness over the next year. Setting the goal “be happier” will not be helpful because you have no way of knowing whether or not you are actually happier than before. That goal is not measurable. Because research has shown that a gratitude practice can make you happier, your goal might be to cultivate gratitude to increase your happiness. You could say, “Write five things I am grateful for every night before bed.” You can see whether or not you have written five things nightly and extrapolate your increased level of happiness.
With more concrete goals like weight loss, a scale is your measurement. For goals related to nutrition, recording the servings of fruits and vegetables daily and checking against recommended daily allowances is measurable. Thinking like a scientist helps here. Try to set a goal that anyone could measure. Don’t base a goal on whether or not you “feel” different: prove it.
SMART goals are attainable
Maybe we’d all like to look like a movie star and have the body of an Olympian. Maybe we want to cook fresh, healthy meals with the ease of a celebrity chef, or bend and twist our bodies in yogic serenity like the yoga stars on Instagram. While these goals may be possible for some, they are not attainable for all. Every body is different, and every person setting goals needs to accept their own body’s strengths, limitations, and pocketbooks. Movie stars have stylists, Olympians have trainers (and no other job), celebrity chefs have prep cooks (and dishwashers!), and some particularly bendy yogis practice daily for hours. For most of us, being a movie star, Olympian, celebrity chef, or rockstar yogi is not an attainable goal.
Attainable goals are goals that are steps to the final destination. They are waypoints that you can actually achieve on your way to the overall end goal. Your overall goal may be to exercise for an hour daily, but if you are just starting an exercise regimen or you are coming back from an injury, maybe your first goal is to exercise for ten minutes daily, gradually adding time and intensity over a period of six months.
The same goes for diet. An attainable dietary goal might be to eliminate soda completely or to add two servings of fruit and vegetables daily. You might set the goal to have one meatless meal a week. Fitness resolutions dealing with diet often fail because the level of deprivation is so high people feel unable to maintain their willpower.
SMART goals are realistic
There is the simple fact that some goals are not realistic. If you are aiming to lose 200 pounds in five months, that goal is not only very difficult to achieve but it is also very unsafe. If you have not exercised at all and try to set the goal of two hours of daily exercise you risk injury. SMART goals focus on what is realistic for you based on where you are starting and what you can safely and realistically accomplish.
According to an article in Shape magazine, a SMART goal would be to lose eight to ten pounds a month following a strict plan:
“Losing one pound of body fat is equivalent to 3,500 calories. To lose two pounds per week, you must drop 1,000 calories per day.”
Eliminating 1,000 calories a day may be difficult for you, but safe weight loss is about two pounds a week. Any other goal endangers your health and can lead to eating disorders.
Setting realistic weight loss goals sets you up for success, just like setting realistic fitness goals. Work and family get in the way of training or exercising for five hours a day. That schedule is not realistic. A realistic exercise goal might be to go on a hike every weekend with your family and walk daily for at least 30 minutes. A daily 30-minute walk is more realistic for most people.
A realistic goal is also one that your are both willing and able to work towards. If you are setting a goal based on anything else, chances are good you will struggle to achieve it.
SMART goals are timely
Give yourself a deadline. Fitness resolutions to “get fit” and “eat better” are not worth the screen you read them on. Give yourself daily deadlines, weekly targets, and monthly milestones. This will help you break a larger goal into smaller steps and make it seem less overwhelming. Plus, the calendar doesn’t lie. Setting a timeframe keeps you focused and on track.
Setting SMART goals doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t aim high for diet, weight loss, and exercise. Your fitness resolutions should aim for optimal health, both mental and physical. SMART goals help you take steps along the way and keep you focused on your ultimate goals with a higher chance of success.
What are your SMART fitness resolutions for this year?
Image by jayneandd via Flickr