Habit Change: SMART Goals

This is the 4th installment in my 4-part Habit Change series:

  1. An Introduction
  2. The Stages of Change 
  3. The Habit Loop
  4. SMART Goals (this post)

“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”—Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

Why so much talk about habit change? Because no matter how you go about the process of healing and/or adopting a new approach to your life and health, we want you to be successful.

Success breeds success. This means we have a better chance of accomplishing our next goal if we’ve had positive results with previous goals. The likelihood of maintaining brain health, keeping our memory intact, or reversing memory loss is increased with certain behaviors. This goes for all chronic illness. To reverse alopecia, Hashimoto’s, cognitive decline, etc., we can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing and expect different results.

And since knowledge is power, our goal is to provide you with tools and information to heal.

If you’ve been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease or you’ve noticed your memory slipping, fear may be a part of your motivation for change. Indeed, fear can be a strong motivator. If fear got you started, but you found the change wasn’t sustainable, you might find it helpful to establish a different motivation.

While education can be a large part of what coaches do, helping clients determine what’s holding them back from change is immensely rewarding and my favorite part of coaching.

Michael Arloski, PhD, PCC, CWP, author of Wellness Coaching for Lasting Lifestyle Change, says, “Running away from the ‘grim reaper’ is a fear that diminishes as we continue to get by in life. Instead of looking over our shoulder in fear, what if we looked ahead and felt drawn towards what we truly want?”

As discussed in Part 2 of this series, the question becomes, “What are you running toward that pulls you forward?”

As you think about setting goals, some questions you might ask yourself are listed below. Again, as Pema Chodron says, “The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.” 

Examining your goals and why implementing them hasn’t “stuck” is an exercise that could set you on the path to success.

Consider the following:

  • How will my goal change my life?
  • Are there any detriments to my life if I don’t change?
  • What are the benefits of my goal?
  • Have I tried this goal in the past?
  • How was I successful or why wasn’t I successful?
  • What will I have to give up if I move forward with this goal?
  • What am I gaining from my present behavior?
  • Will I find joy in the new behavior/goal?
  • What have I accomplished in the past?
  • Do I have a support system?
  • Is there someone or something holding me back from success?
  • What is getting in the way of moving forward?

SMART goals may sound familiar. It’s a technique that’s been around since the 1980s. It stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Setting SMART goals also requires more investigation. Remember, the goal is to have sustainable success and examination of our goal will make us more prepared.

Let’s look at each step:

Specific
What do I want to accomplish? Why is this goal important? How will it change my life?
Example: I want to eat more vegetables so my brain will have the nutrients it needs to make more neuron connections, which will lead to less brain fog.

Measurable
How much? How many? How will I know when it is accomplished?
Example: I will measure my vegetable intake using a checklist of the vegetables I eat at every meal. My goal is to eat from every color group of vegetables every day. If all of the colors are checked off I will know I have accomplished my goal.

Achievable
Is the goal realistic? Do I have the ability to accomplish this goal? Can I afford this goal?
Example: Yes, this goal is achievable. There’s nothing holding me back from accomplishing this.

Relevant
Does this seem worthwhile? Is it the right time to start this goal? Will it change my life? Do I feel positive about this goal?
Example: After learning how nutrients from plants play an important role in brain health, I’m certain this is a worthwhile goal. I believe it will change my life. I feel positive about it because I enjoy vegetables and am excited to know the daily task of eating can provide information to my body and brain, not just provide calories/fuel.

Time-bound
When can I start? Is there a reason to put off this goal? How long will I practice this goal?
Example: I can start this weekend. I plan to make this a lifelong habit.

What if it didn’t stick?
Careful consideration and curiosity don’t stop after we set our goal.

It’s specific and simply stated. I want to eat more vegetables.

It’s measurable. Yep. All I have to do is look at my color checklist.

It’s achievable. Yep. This is realistic.

It’s relevant. Nutrients provide information to our brains and bodies.

It’s timebound. With the stated goal of “lifelong,” but this is general, not very specific.

Tweak the goal if you haven’t been successful
The goal is to be successful—and the above example could be restated in a hundred different ways.

I will eat vegetables of all color groups at some point this week. It is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

I will eat vegetables of all color groups during three dinners this week.

I will eat red and orange vegetables on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and green, blue, and white on Tuesday and Thursday. 

You get the picture. Tailor it to set yourself up for success.

Specific vs. general goals
Specificity will help you succeed. How many of us have said, “I gotta eat better?” Okay, but what does that look like specifically?

General goal: I want to get more sleep.
Specific SMART goal: To feel more rested, I will go to bed by 10:00pm 4 nights this week.

General goal: I want to try a gluten-free diet.
Specific SMART goal: I will eat 3 gluten-free dinners at home this week.

General goal: I want to reduce the amount of toxins in my life.
Specific SMART goal: I will reduce toxins by investing in a countertop water filter.

      Putting it all together
      Where are you with your New Year’s resolutions?

      If you’re not where you want to be or you’ve given up completely, maybe it’s time to put more thought into what you’re trying to accomplish. Are there things standing in the way of accomplishing your goal? Maybe you wanted to exercise more, but your joints ache from inflammation. Could you swim instead of walk? Or maybe you need to start somewhere else.

      If your gut is compromised due to inflammatory foods, staying motivated may be difficult due to the lack of enough “feel good” chemicals in your brain. Starting with your food plan may bring you more success at sticking with an exercise plan once your gut begins to heal.

      Don’t get me wrong, I know that change can be challenging. But beating ourselves up over not sticking with a goal can set us back further.

      I encourage you to be curious, question every detail of your goal, and have courage and respect for yourself because you deserve to be well. You can be well.

      As Glennon Doyle likes to say, “We can do hard things.” We can, we have, and we will again.

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