So often when it comes to health improvement, we start with the best of intentions. Unfortunately, intentions aren’t enough. There are too many distractions, temptations and conflicting information making it difficult to make permanent changes. But with some careful planning and the goal-setting strategies outlined below, you can accomplish great things.
1. Get Specific - “I want to lose some weight” isn’t good enough. How can you work toward a goal if you’re not clear on exactly what it is? “I will add one extra serving of fruit or vegetables to my daily diet each week until I’m getting the recommended five daily servings” is better because you have made it clear exactly what you are going to do, and you can track your progress.
2. Be Realistic - Come on. Do you really need to fit into your muslin prom dress with the macrame belt? If you weighed 110 in high school, get over it. As Garth said in Wayne’s World, “Live in the now!” If you’ve never run more than five steps in your life, planning to run a marathon in two months’ time is a recipe for failure. A more practical goal might be to walk for 30 minutes three times in a week. Realistic means achievable.
3. Challenge Yourself - Be realistic, yes, but don’t be too easy on yourself. Without a challenge, the sense of achievement is limited at best. For many people, challenging themselves sets in motion an innate competitive streak, which is highly motivating. Select a something you’re about 85 percent sure you can do, i.e., drinking two more glasses of water per day. Once that’s accomplished, you can set a more challenging goal.
4. Set Long and Short-Term Goals - Baby-step short-term goals should lead gradually to your larger, long-term goal. For example: You need to lose 50 pounds, but the mere number makes you want to dig a hole, jump in, and decorate it with candy-wrappers. If you take it in five-pound increments, you’ll greatly increase your chances of success.
5. Write Your Goals Down - The problem with keeping your goals in your head is that your head has the tendency to mold your goals according to the immediate situation, i.e., when standing in front of a platter of pastries, your mind might turn your goal from “lose ten pounds” to “gain ten pounds.” That’s how the mind works. With written goals, you can whip them out when your motivation gets wavery and remind yourself where you’re headed.
6. Develop Goal-Achievement Strategies - If you want to quit smoking, you might want to read up on the current medications, talk to people who have successfully quit and look into support groups. You could also modify your environment to remove the cues that cause you to light up. These are all practical strategies that will aid your cause. Or if you want to lose weight, success is unlikely if you swear off all sugar and fat. A balanced, realistic strategy will more likely result in victory. The problem often stems from an all-or-nothing mentality.
7. Consider Your Personality - Are you a social animal? Then joining a weight-loss group or fitness club is probably a good idea. Does competition intimidate you? Then you might not want to sign up for that race. Tailor your tools and strategies to your needs, ability level and interests.
8. Develop Commitment - As devout instant-gratification junkies, we have a tough time with this one. Commitment means you make a promise to yourself (or others, depending on the goal) that you will do what you say you’re going to do. Making a commitment means you stick to your game plan not just in the good, easy times, but more importantly in the bad, difficult times. The only way to reach your goals is to work conscientiously over a sustained period of time. If you don’t see results by tomorrow morning (and you won’t), keep on. Track progress at regular intervals to strengthen your commitment.
9. Gather Support - Family support is nice, but if it’s not available, there are groups for almost every goal to help you on your journey. Oftentimes family and friends will subconsciously sabotage your efforts because they are afraid of change. Rather than bemoaning the fact and letting lack of support be your excuse for quitting, try to surround yourself with enthusiastic, supportive people, even if it means meeting some new ones. If you blame others for your failure, you’d better reevaluate your commitment – you may just be using them to keep yourself down!
10. Evaluate Your Progress - Constant evaluation and record keeping facilitates your progress. Some people find that the making of charts and graphs is a fun and inspiring activity, a tangible, visible record of how far they’ve come. It also keeps setbacks and detours in perspective – when viewed against the bigger picture, these events lose their devastating power. The unexpected is to be expected -- and adjustments made in response.
Remember: Balance. Flexibility. A sense of humor. Perseverance. These things, in concert with the ten tips, will help you achieve your goals.
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