Getting “Smart” About Goal-Setting

The holidays are behind us and the resolutions we made on New Year’s Day have either taken root—or died on the vine. Most of us begin the New Year with high hopes and the best of intentions. According to a 2014 University of Scranton survey published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, “lose weight” is the number one New Year’s resolution. The study also revealed that only eight percent of people who make resolutions are successful in achieving them.

Why is that? I think it has a lot to do with specificity. Speci-what? There’s a big difference between wanting something and wanting something enough to develop a specific, measurable plan of action that, when consistently followed, will lead to achieving what we say we want.

Have you ever heard of the SMART method? It was first introduced more than 60 years ago by Peter Drucker in his book, The Practice of Management. It’s a way of checking to make sure an goal or objective is valid. Or, to put it another way, a goal that has a more than eight percent chance of being successful.

The acronym SMART highlights five important questions to ask yourself when setting goals or making resolutions:

S: Is your goal Specific? If one person says she’d “like to lose some weight sometime this year” while her friend says she “is committed to losing 25 pounds by Easter Sunday,” which one do you think has a head-start before she has even begun? Whatever your goal, be specific in declaring what you want and why you want it.

M: Is your goal Measurable? Will you know you’ve arrived when you get there? Weight loss is definitely measurable. So if you state a specific amount—even if it’s a range of weight—you’re well on your way to a smart goal. If you want to “be healthier”, how would you measure your progress? Be specific about what “being healthier” will look and feel like for you. Does it mean consistently sleeping eight hours a night? Having lower cholesterol numbers? Seeing your blood pressure decrease into a healthy range?

A:  Is your goal Achievable? It’s important to set a goal that’s big enough to challenge you, but not so big that it’s intimidating or overwhelming. Years ago, a patient named Diana Rosenfeld lost 440 pounds on our program. When asked how she managed to not get discouraged during her long weight loss journey, she said that believing her goal was achievable gave her the motivation and determination to actually achieve it.

R:  Is your goal Relevant? Will achieving your weight loss goal improve your life? If so, how? Is your goal really important and meaningful? Rather than just focusing on losing X pounds, think about how much healthier you’ll look and feel when you achieve your goal. For some, that may mean being able to run a marathon or climb a mountain. For others, it may mean keeping up with their kids or grandkids during an afternoon at the park. How relevant or important a goal is to you will determine how motivated you will be to do whatever is necessary to achieve it.

T:  Is your goal Time-Based? Motivational author Napoleon Hill once said that “A goal is a dream with a deadline.” You’re much more likely to stay motivated if you’re working toward a specific goal with a specific deadline. That’s actually one of the reasons our Lean for Life 10-week program has been so successful for so many people over the past 45 years. It is time-based and specific… ten percent weight loss in ten weeks!

Even when we desire change, achieving it can be challenging. But by taking a “SMART” approach to weight loss or any other goal, we can greatly increase our odds of success!