How to Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals for Good Health

January 3, 2019

Clinical Contributors to this Story

David C. Leopold, M.D. contributes to topics such as Integrative Health and Medicine.

By David C. Leopold M.D.

With the New Year comes New Year’s resolutions. People all around are feeling the impact of over indulging during the holidays and are ready to kickoff January with a fresh and healthful start. So many are setting lofty goals of weight loss, planning to eat healthier foods and exercise regularly in 2019. But how can you actually achieve your goals and make your resolutions stick? Utilizing S.M.A.R.T. goal planning significantly improves the likelihood of success for any goal. This means your goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time bound:

Specific: Instead of simply saying you’re going to “exercise more” a better option would be “I am going to commit to go to the gym three times a week for at least 45 minutes each time and when I’m there I’m going to spend 20 minutes on weights and 25 minutes on cardiovascular and stretching.”

Measurable: Goal achievement is enhanced by using metrics such as waistline measurement or charting your vegetable servings. Other ideas are taking photographs, recording something you want to improve, journaling or a log tracking progress. A measurable goal would be saying, “I am going to lose 10 pounds over the next three months” as opposed to “I’m going to lose weight this year.”

Achievable: Even small victories enhance successful behavior patterns. Reward yourself once you have completed these goals. Get yourself some new workout gear; treat yourself to new music or that audiobook you’ve wanted to hear. Meditating now? Get yourself a comfortable zafu pillow to sit on. Establishing a healthy diet and some weight loss? How about a few pieces of new clothing? Studies show small rewards for achievable goals reinforce your positive behavior and make it more likely you will continue with positive changes.

Tip: Rewarding yourself with junk food is somewhat counterproductive; consider lunch at that cool new organic restaurant that’s a little pricey.

Bonus tip: Better than material rewards is to give yourself experiences: a Broadway show, a movie, lunch with a friend, a trip to a museum or gallery where you always wanted to go. Studies show that for long-term happiness, experience far outweighs material.

Relevant: Make sure that the goals you set are for you and align with what YOU want for your life. One of the most important things in making a New Year’s resolution is that it is in alignment with your own core beliefs. The resolution needs to be for you, what you feel in your heart, as opposed to what you think you should do, or what society tells you to do.

Time: Allocating specific time periods is also beneficial for completing your goal. For example, “I am going to learn to play one simple classical piano song in the next three months” or “I will be able to run or walk one mile in the next three months.”

Goal setting is enhanced by asking yourself some deeper questions:

  • “How do I want to feel?”
  • “What do I want my life to look like?”
  • “What is the natural result of the current patterns I am in? What would be the natural result of a change I will make?”
  • “What do I want more of?” (Examples: health, happiness, companionship, etc.)

Consider identifying the WHY of the changes you want to make. This also increases your likelihood of sticking to a goal.

  • I want to eat healthy so I will be there for my family.
  • I want to exercise so I have more energy to play with my kids.
  • I want to meditate so I can form a deeper relationship with my partner.
  • I want to practice stress management so I can be a better leader at work.

Beginning a lifestyle change can seem daunting. If we focus on these deeper questions, the WHY of the changes, and specifically how you will feel once you have completed the goals, it can serve as a beacon to get us to our goal.

Remember that this is a non-linear path to improvement. All people who do things of importance fail multiple times along their path to success. Those who succeed overcome adversity and continue to see their goals through. It’s how we respond to failure that determines whether we are ultimately successful or not.

Check out another of Dr. Leopold’s recent articles to help you achieve your New Year’s Resolutions: A No Frills Guide to Good HealthDr. David C. Leopold is the Medical Director for Hackensack Meridian Integrative Health & Medicine and believes in helping patients achieve a state of optimal health. Learn more about Dr. Leopold and Hackensack Meridian Health Integrative Health & Medicine

The material provided through Health Hub is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.