How to Set Goals and Stay Motivated

If you have a large number of lifestyle changes you need to make or a large amount of weight you need to lose, setting small, but significant goals may be the most efficient way to make the changes stick long-term. In order to prevent overwhelm, breaking goals down into smaller chunks can help them seem more manageable.

Most experts recommend starting with S.M.A.R.T. goal setting, an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.

1. Goals should be specific & measurable

For instance, simply saying, “I will eat better” is not specific enough and will likely cause you to lose focus and fail at your plan. Instead set a specific and measurable goal, such as “I will eat at least 3 vegetables daily” or “I will choose to drink water instead of soda at dinner”. If a goal is specific and measureable, you will be able to quickly determine whether or not you were successful.

2. Goals should be attainable

Many people have unrealistic expectations of what their ideal weight should be or how quickly the weight should come off. The first step to achieving a healthier weight is to set a realistic and attainable target. Remember losing weight is about being your healthiest self, not just fitting into a dress or trying to look like your favorite celebrity.

A good tool for assessing where you weight should be is called the body mass index (BMI). The BMI is a ratio between your height and weight, calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared. It does not take muscle mass, age, or ethnicity into account, which can influence your weight. A BMI of 24.9 or less is considered a normal weight. If you are overweight or obese, a good realistic goal would be to lose enough to get into the next category, overweight to normal or obese to overweight.

Although quick weight loss schemes may be tempting, it is not recommended that you lose more than one to two pounds per week. People who lose weight slowly tend to be more successful at keeping it off long-term. Slow, steady weight loss will be easier to stick with long-term also because you need to starve yourself in order to drop a lot of weight in a short time. Cutting back on just a few hundred calories per day is a lot easier than trying to eat thousands of calories less than what you need.

3. Goals should be relevant

Goals should also be relevant to your long-term goal. A good place to start is with your personal challenges. Is it exercise? Do you eat too much sugar? Set a goal that will actually make a relevant impact for your own health. Try not to set too many goals at one time, as that can also get overwhelming. Try to focus on the 1-2 things that will have the most impact on your health and where you can see the most results. Make sure to write down your goals too. Writing down your goals makes them more concrete and something to work towards rather just a thought. Post them on the fridge so you can see them regularly. Measuring your progress weekly will give you more motivation and bring you closer to your ultimate goal.

4. Goals should be time-bound

Lastly, give yourself a time frame to achieve the goal. For example, you can say “I will exercise 3 times per week for a month”, as a realistic, time-bound goal. That way, once the month is over, you can re-assess if you want to continue with the three days per week or if you want to increase it to four. Having goals be time-bound makes them seem less overwhelming than saying you will do something forever.

Support is one of the most critical pieces of long-term lifestyle change and a great way to stay on track. Let your friends and loved ones know about your plan so that you can help each other reach your goals. Friends can also have a negative influence on our health, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that a person’s risk of being obese increased by 57% of their friends became obese. This is not to say you should not be friends with people who are overweight, but instead let your lifestyle changes motivate others and be aware of friends who might negatively influence you. Change the types of activities you do together to help you be more active and reach your goals. Accountability is the best way to make permanent changes and prevent relapse.

Create a new healthy community around you. Joining the TAPfit community is a great way to stay accountable. Making new friends to do TAPfit with or share healthy recipes is a great way to stay accountable to your diet and exercise plan.

We are all human and it is important to realize you will make mistakes and relapse at some point. Forgive yourself first. Don’t let a relapse last more than one meal. Get right back on track at the next meal. It also helps to focus on what you have already accomplished instead of how you messed up. Keep in mind the goal of living a healthy lifestyle will be a life-long task full of peaks and valleys. Try to remember the big picture of why you are making these lifestyle changes. Also, if you do relapse, do something right away that signals you are back on track, such as going for a walk or calling a supportive friend. Learn from your relapse and figure out the reasons why it may have happened so you can prevent it next time. Take it one meal at a time, one healthy choice at a time, and your goals will be reached before you know it.

By TAPfit Dietician, Julie Masci.