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Goal-Setting and Self-Acceptance

I want to take this opportunity to talk about goals. As I’ve said before, I personally don’t prescribe to New Year’s resolutions, only because I would rather not wait for a certain day to make a change. But, that’s not to say that I don’t support New Year’s resolutions, especially since the new year is a common time for people to implement healthy changes. What’s most important to me as that I help my clients make SMART goals.

Maybe you’ve heard of this acronym before (if you went to PT school, you certainly have!). But, it deserves a bit more attention, because goals that aren’t SMART are bound to leave you under-motivated and disappointed.

S: Specific – What are the details of your goal? Vague goals tend to be less motivating. For example, when someone has the goal to “lose weight” they tend to be less successful than if their goal is to “lose 10 lbs.” Better yet, how about a goal of, “losing 10 lbs so that I feel confident wearing a bathing suit” (by the way, pursuing something to improve your confidence is a totally valid reason in my book). Identifying a specific reason for pursuing your goal will help keep you motivated. Furthermore, specificity helps you to identify a plan to achieve your goal. For example, recently I’ve been trying to be better about stress management. Rather than making a vague goal of “controlling my stress,” I’ve made three small goals (take one yoga class per week, read 15 minutes daily and practice diaphragmatic breathing for 3 minutes twice per day), all of which will help me to manage daily stress.

M: Measurable – How will you assess whether or not you achieved your goal? This one is pretty self-explanatory. If you cannot measure your progress, you will be less motivated to make changes. Having measurable check-points along the way will let you assess your progress. If you’re not making headway, what needs to change? Keep in mind that your goal may be too lofty or unattainable, which brings me to my next point…

A: Attainable – Will you be able to achieve your goal? If you choose a goal that you cannot achieve, you’re bound to end up frustrated and giving up. Don’t be afraid to scale your goals to make them more attainable; you can always make a new goal once you achieve your smaller goal.  For example, I’ve wanted to be able to do participate in a workout that calls for 100 pull-ups. But guess what? I can’t even do 1 pull-up. So, a better goal for me is to start with a goal of being able to do 1 pull-up. Case in point: I haven’t focused on working on my pull-ups at all, because my goal felt too lofty. Had my goal been achievable, I am confident that I’d have attained it by now. We are self-limiting by nature; we are conditioned to protect ourselves and do not pursue things unless we know that we can succeed. That being said, set goals that you CAN achieve and you will build your self-efficacy and confidence in order to continue your journey of self-improvement.  

R: Realistic – Do you have the appropriate resources (time, energy, support, etc.) to reach your goal? Is your goal congruent with your other goals and values? In my personal experience, I (unintentionally) self-sabotage by having too many goals. We only have so much time and energy, and if we try to conquer too many things at once we may not be able to give adequate attention to any one goal in order to see a positive change. I recently discussed my goal of wanting to add more muscle to my frame, but, my underlying desire to be lean actually was interfering with my ability to make changes. Take stock of your goals – recognize if some may conflict with one another, and then prioritize them. There is nothing wrong with having a goal that is “on hold.” In fact, I often have my clients physically write out their goals, then identify which is most important to them; this is the goal that they should pursue first. Also, recognize that some goals will have serious challenges. For example, if you’re planning on exercising 4 mornings per week, you will need to make some changes to your schedule. Are you prepared to go to bed earlier? How are you going to overcome the desire to stay in bed when your partner is still sleeping? Part of being realistic is identifying these barriers so that you’re prepared to overcome them.

T: Timely – What is the time frame that you’d like to achieve your goal? I see this mistake all the time when working with clients. You certainly want to give yourself adequate time, because change does make time (there’s an old adage that 21 days to form a habit; some research says it takes over two months to form a habit). But, you also should have a time limit, so that you have something to work toward. Keep in mind that if your goal is to truly make a lifestyle change, you should NOT have the attitude that your goal has an end-date. Rather, formulate your goal to encourage implementation of lasting change by a certain date. For example, if your goal is to remove sugar from your diet, phrase your goal like this, “within 3 months, I will eliminate processed sugar from my diet 90% of the time” rather than this, “I am going to cut sugar out of my diet completely for 6 months.” The latter truly sets you up for a rebound, rather than implementing a long-lasting change.

Finally, I’d like to discuss the importance of self-acceptance, in the case that you do not achieve the goals that you set for yourself. Remember, we are constantly evolving. We have these self-imposed standards of perfection that often betray us. We subconsciously assume that if we can’t do something perfectly, we shouldn’t even bother trying. But, even doing something small to work toward your goal is better than doing nothing at all! Also, don’t lose sight of the fact that the simple fact that you made a goal is a good thing. It takes self-awareness and bravery to acknowledge when we need to change. And change is hard. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something. Some days you will fail. Each day provides a new opportunity for self-improvement. It’s up to you to maintain your discipline and remember your motivation – why did you set this goal for yourself? If your goal was important enough to make in the first place, it’s important enough to see through. And most importantly, don’t lose faith in yourself. You’re stronger than you think you are.

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