Posted by Dr. Ian Bier on Dec 30, 2020 12:14:36 PM
Setting goals is easy—but setting goals you’ll stick to and actually achieve is much more difficult than it seems.
For many people, new year’s resolutions are lofty and overwhelming. Perhaps you never go to the gym and set a goal to start exercising five times per week suddenly. Or you might currently eat most meals out, and come January decide to prepare each meal at home. These ambitions might look good on paper, but chances are they aren’t completely realistic.
Be honest with yourself about your health goals from previous years—what has worked and what hasn’t? Use your own historical data for self-discovery and progression. Some people know they are able to completely overhaul their diet and stick to a new plan long-term, but for many others, this amount of sudden change won’t be sustainable or effective.
This article offers some strategies to make 2021 health goals more impactful—and less overwhelming—than previous years, hopefully setting you up for success.
If you have a provider who knows your health history, patterns, and specific physical needs, brainstorming your goals for 2021 can be extremely helpful. The support and encouragement of a knowledgeable professional can help motivate you, helping you to pinpoint and achieve goals that you haven’t considered on your own.
You can also ask your provider for help with tracking—an extremely effective way to reach your goals. Methods might include tracking metrics like body fat, circumference measurements, or weight, or having someone check in on your diet and exercise journal to ensure optimal accountability. If a healthcare provider can’t serve this role for you, a trusted friend or family member can also help.
Setting and working toward goals is only possible when you establish new routines and habits. Subjecting your body to yo-yo dieting and exercise is hard physically, mentally, and emotionally, and this sort of inconsistency can even set your body up for weight gain or weight loss resistance.
Coming back to the fitness example above, if you currently don’t exercise, take some time to think about what is realistic for you. Maybe this means beginning with two days per week and slowly increasing in volume and intensity. Or, if you want to develop a meditation practice and currently don’t have one, perhaps you can start with five to ten minutes a day instead of 30.
This sort of realistic routine will help you establish new habits in your daily life that can be further developed over time, instead of setting goals that feel overwhelming and unattainable from the get-go.
Setting impactful goals is another key to success. This is the part where you take stock of past years and health goals, write down what has worked and what has failed. Why have you struggled with certain goals in the past, and why have you succeeded at others? Use this information to get to know and accept how you approach goal-setting. For example, some people can quit smoking cold turkey, while others require a slower process.
Goals that are relevant to your life, personalized, and meaningful are critical to ultimate success. For example, perhaps you have a wedding to attend in June, so you set a goal to work out three times per week until the wedding. The event is a great motivator, and by June, you will have developed a habit of working out that is likely to last. This sort of goal can be something small, such as fitting into your favorite pair of jeans or feeling confident in a certain bathing suit.
There’s no right or wrong here, but it’s critical, to be honest with yourself about what works for you.
Goals must be specific, concise, clear, and easy to understand. Two common and non-specific examples would be “eat healthily” or “exercise more.” That’s a great start, but what will that look like for you? How many times will you exercise per week? Where? Which of your current eating habits do you consider unhealthy, and what will you specifically do to change them?
Instead of saying you’d like to “exercise more,” write down something more detailed, like: “I will exercise two times per week at the gym next door to the office.”
Successful goals also tend to be time-bound. Set a time limit or deadline by which you will have either met or made specific progress toward your goal. For example, if your goal for 2021 is to lose 20 pounds, set the goal in phases: aim to lose 10 pounds by July, which translates to roughly two per month. This is a very attainable goal, and by tracking progress toward your deadlines, you are much more likely to succeed than if the goal were left open-ended.
Setting rational goals that are realistic to your current circumstances is key.
For example, if you are addicted to sugar, aiming to eliminate all sugar from your diet will probably feel extremely difficult. Instead, setting up a specific diet plan with your healthcare provider will help you curb cravings with plenty of protein, healthy fats, and fiber. You can talk to your functional medicine doctor about supportive supplements and slowly cut back on sugar until it feels easier.
In the end, taking better care of your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual body will help you achieve improved quality and quantity of life. Setting goals that will make you suffer or set you up for failure won’t help in the short or long term, so choose practical goals that will allow you to improve your general health and help you feel your best each day.
This year, approach health goals as a self-discovery process and build effective strategies based on your personal history, current life circumstances, and what you’d like to achieve. Keep your goals practical, relevant, time-sensitive, and measurable, and learn to accept your unique goal-setting personality. Write down the reasons behind your goals and keep those statements as motivators in a place you’ll see every day.
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