A goal is a behavior or action that you want to achieve. You may have used goals in different areas of your life to save money, get a new job, or learn a new skill or hobby.
Health goals tend to start out large, and likely need to be broken down into smaller steps to make it realistic and achievable. For example, “I want to lose weight” needs to be broken down into actionable steps in order to reach it. These steps might include weighing yourself daily, making more home cooked meals, following the Health Plate Method, and increasing your activity level.
Breaking goals into smaller, achievable steps makes it easier to understand what lifestyle or behaviors are needed to reach your ultimate goal. A goal can also change or you can set a new goal once you’ve achieved a previous goal. For example, once you’ve walked a 5k maybe you want to run one, next.
Setting a goal clarifies your desired outcome, identifies the necessary steps, and helps you visualize success. It provides a roadmap for progress and cultivates motivation and confidence that can help you reach your goal.
With goal setting, you can achieve greater focus, direction, and productivity. Once you start achieving small goals, you’ll be more motivated to continue, creating a snowball effect that can help you reach even larger goals.
There’s a framework that can help you set goals in a way that creates a clear path to success. This framework uses the acronym SMART, which stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely.
Let’s discuss how to set your own goals using the SMART goal framework.
Get a piece of paper and start brainstorming. Write out your goals, your vision for the future, and what you want to accomplish within the next 6 months to a year. No need to be organized, just write everything down whatever comes to mind without judgment.
Which goals are you ready and excited to start working on? Which goals do you need to wait on until you reach another goal first? Pick a foundational goal that other goals can be built on top of. For example, if you want to run a marathon one day, but can’t run a mile yet, start with the foundation of walking, then jogging, then running a mile. Each milestone is a goal – build on them in order!
Get a new piece of paper! Write your foundational goal (the one you are going to start on first) at the top. Then add these elements below:
Specific – Time to take those intentions and create a clear goal. Planning on hitting the gym more often? Be specific – how often? What days and times are you able to go? A vague plan is hard to follow, and it’s hard to know if you’ve accomplished it. Create a concrete plan to help keep you on track.
Measurable – Find a way to measure your goal. Want to get more steps in with your fitness tracker? Try something like “I want to get at least 6,000 steps per day, at least 5 days per week.” The Brook app has many ways to help you track progress, talk to the Brook Health Coaches to discover the best way to track your specific goal.
Achievable – While we like to aim high, it’s important to consider your starting point to make sure your goals will fit into your life. Barely have time to sleep and brush your teeth? An hour long gym session every day may not be in the cards. Start small and achievable – as you settle into a new routine and start to achieve results, you can always increase your goal!
Relevant – Make sure you set your goals with intention. What’s your “why?” As in, why are you setting this goal? Is it coming from a place of wanting to benefit your life, or is it coming from a place of negative self-talk and punishment? Ditch the deprivation and punishment, the best goals are the ones that allow you to thrive. If a goal comes from a place of negativity, it’s certainly no surprise that we’re willing to ditch it soon after we set it.
Timely – Building new habits can take a long time, but that doesn’t mean reaching your goals should. Set a time-frame to work within – a little bit of structure can go a long way. If your timeline is too far in the future, it’s easy to keep brushing aside the steps it takes to achieve it. Having a close(r) deadline combats procrastination and turns “some day” into a real time. For larger habit changes, you can create in-between goals and checkpoints to keep the momentum going. The more you continuously progress, the easier a larger, long-term habit will be to build.
Here’s an example to get your creative juices flowing:
Goal: I want to eat more vegetables.
(S)pecific: I can make half my plate low-carb veggies at lunches or dinners.
(M)easurable: I can measure progress by tracking how many times I make half my plate veggies each week in my Brook app Food Journal. If I make half my plate veggies at lunch or dinner 3 times in one week, I’ll know I’ve met my goal.
(A)chievable: Starting with adding veggies to 3 dinners this week seems like something I can do. I’ll create a grocery list today and go to the store this evening in order to start taking action tonight at dinner.
(R)elevant: I’m setting this goal to help improve my health. Eating more vegetables and making my meals look more like the Brook Healthy Plate will help me have more energy, feel less sluggish, and have better digestion.
(T)imely: I’m going to start having my 3 veggie-boosted meals/week tonight. So the deadline is in 7 days. If I reach my goal 2 weeks in a row I will boost my goal to 4 meals/week! After 1 month I will reassess my goals.
By setting up a SMART goal, you can adjust it as needed based on whether you hit your daily or weekly measurement. If you didn’t, what problems did you run into and how can you overcome them? Did you forget to buy enough vegetables when grocery shopping? Make a list for your next shopping trip and you’ll have those veggies on hand to meet your goal.
If you met your daily or weekly goal easily, make it a little harder. If you had some difficulty, keep the goal the same until it gets easier. Continue to build on those smaller goals and eventually you can meet that larger goal that was so daunting at the beginning!
What happens if I’ve reached my goal?
Congratulations! First, reflect on where you started and where you ended with your goal. Acknowledge and celebrate your successes. You can always create a new goal if there’s something else you’d like to accomplish or areas of improvement. Or you might want to focus on sustaining the habits or lifestyle changes that you’ve developed while working toward your goal!
What if I cannot achieve my goal, I’ve tried and just find myself never getting close to it?
It can be frustrating if you set a goal and you find you aren’t able to reach it. This can happen for various reasons. First, take a step back and look at your goal and the behaviors or habits you’re relying on to accomplish this goal. Is it attainable? What is your starting place? For example, if you want to eat more veggies and your goal is 3 servings a day but you’re only currently eating 1 serving a week, your goal might not be attainable yet. Re-evaluate the “achievable” part of your SMART goal. Maybe you need to start at 3 servings a week and work your way up over time.
Additionally, if the behavior that’s going to help you achieve your goal is something you dislike or that you feel unmotivated to do, brainstorm some ideas of how to make that behavior more enjoyable. Is it adding some of your favorite foods or spices to the vegetables? Or playing your favorite music when exercising? You may also need to reassess the specific behavior to find something else. If you dread running, you will find it really difficult to meet a goal to run three times a week. But if you love to dance, making it to dance classes might be easy!
Next, what does your timeline look like for your goal? Is this timeline realistic for you? You can always check on your goal to address if you need to increase or decrease the amount of time in your timeline. If you notice you push out the timeline more than once due to lack of consistency, it might be helpful to look at the behaviors for that goal. Are there changes you can make to your routine that might support this? Or loved ones that can help take something off your to-do list so you can focus on your goal?
as of September 2023. Kelsea is a Registered Dietitian with her Masters degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University.
Always be sure to reach out to your healthcare team when making changes to your diet or lifestyle. There are certain conditions and medications that need to be considered.