Goal setting sounds like an “effortless” task! After all, we’ve all set goals and made resolutions; whether it was last New Year’s Eve, at the start of the new season, the beginning of a new relationship or after a personal crisis. You may have set goals which you have later abandoned, and this can leave an unpleasant memory of how you ‘failed’ in the past, making you less likely to try again.
It can help to set your goals with a true understanding of your past experiences, values, character, strengths and limitations. This can mean whilst the task of setting the goal is not simple; the goal itself is meaningful and achievable. You also need to change your idea of “success and failure” and identify possible barriers to your goals and plans of action for dealing with these when they crop up.
Action Plan for goal setting for a healthy life
1) Finding Inspiration
1. Identify what aspect of your life you feel you want to improve; this is your long term goal. This can be quite a general statement. E.g. I want to lose weight, I want to improve my fitness, I want to have a healthy diet
2. Consider why it is that you want to improve this aspect of your life. What is your motivation and where does this come from? How will changing this aspect of your life benefit you and what are the costs of making the desired change? See if you can really personalise this section. Try not to only consider what you’ve been told by your healthcare team, or by other people, but think about how it will impact your daily activities, your emotional wellbeing, relationships and the social aspects of your life.
2) Benefits and Costs
List out the benefits and costs of making changes.
· e.g. If I exercise then I will have less lower back pain
· e.g. If I lose weight I will feel more confident at work events such as the Christmas parties, work lunches and client meetings
· e.g. If I eat healthy food I will have more energy to take my kids to do weekend activities
· eg I won’t have the time to watch my favourite shows in the evening
· eg I won’t be able to attend the weekly coffee and cake morning tea that I have with my friends
· eg I will have to do the food shopping more often and I don’t have the time
Look at the costs that you have listed; these are some of the barriers that you will need to overcome if you want to succeed in making your desired change. Once you’ve established what is holding you back, consider how you may be able to overcome these barriers and what you are willing to give up to achieve your longterm goal.
Costs – What can I do to overcome these?
· e.g. I won’t have the time to watch my favourite shows in the evening
· e.g. I won’t be able to attend the weekly coffee and cake morning tea that I have with my friends
· e.g. I will have to do the food shopping more often
Ways to overcome these
· I can rent a stationary bike to have at home, which I can ride while I watch the shows I like
· I can attend the coffee and cake morning tea on the weekend as a treat and cut down on the sweets I eat during the week instead
· I can get my fruit and vegetables delivered weekly over the internet and do shopping for pantry items, frozen foods, and cleaning goods once a month.
3) Exploring your current habits
Now that you have thought about what it is that you want to achieve and have decided to take action, it is a good idea to take a look at your current habits.For example if your goal relates to changing your eating habits you may like to keep a food diary, or if it relates to watching to much television or social media, take note of how many hours a day you are doing this, keep a diary and be honest, use a timer or an app on your phone when you start watching or surfing facebook, and see honestly how much time you spend doing that. To change a habit you need to understand how it is affecting your life.
4) Setting Goals
Set yourself between 1 and 4 short term goals which will help you achieve your long term goal. These are the actions that you are going to take on a day to day basis, so they need to be both realistic and achievable. Consider your current schedule, your lifestyle and what you are actually willing and able to change before you set the goal.
How Long? How often? What action? When?
E.g. For the next month, on 3 days each week , I will take a 20min walk, I will eat two pieces of fruit a day after dinner, at breakfast and afternoon tea.
For each of the goals you have listed consider which steps you are going to take to make this a possibility. Consider what support, what changes in environment and what information you require to stick to your goal. Also think about what you have done in the past that has worked for you.
What do I need to make this possible?
For the example above:
· Speak to my diabetes educator about how to adjust my insulin at dinner prior to exercise
· Find my old walking shoes
· Ask my husband or my neighbour Jenny to come walking with me. If they won’t, I will enquire about joining the local walking club
· Download music that I enjoy to take with me
· Make sure that I buy enough fruit at my weekly shopping to eat 2 pieces per day
· Pack my fruit into a lunch box the night before work and leave it at the doorway so I don’t forget it
· Suggest that my workplace gets a fruit bowl to replace the lolly jar that they have in the lunch room
· Ask my family which fruit they like so that they can also have 2 pieces of fruit a day
· Travel to the cheap fruit market on Saturday morning and see whether going here will save money on my fruit and veg shopping
Consider now whether the benefits of making the change outweigh the costs and ask yourself honestly whether you’re ready and willing to make changes?
If you decide that you’re not ready that’s ok too, the important thing is that you’re taking the time to think about it. Consider what it would take for you to feel ready; perhaps you want to read more about the topic first or speak to a health professional who specialises in the area. Maybe you want to seek support from your family or a counselor, or make a couple of changes in your workplace first. Now that you have identified what is holding you back, you can make progress towards changing it.
For each of the goals you have listed consider possible obstacles that may get in your way. Here try to consider what has stopped you from achieving your goal before and what events, circumstances and moods make it more difficult for you to adhere to your plan.
For the example above:
a. I put off doing my 3 walks until the end of the week and then something always comes up
b. If I have a stressful day at work I have a glass of wine when I get home and then don’t go because my resolution has decreased
c. I only have one sports bra and so if it’s not clean I don’t go walking
d. If I’m busy on the weekend I skip my fruit and veg shopping and then I have no fresh food for the week
e. If I forget to bring fruit to work then I have to buy lunch out. Buying fruit at the food court is expensive so I don’t do it
f. If I go to bed late then I skip breakfast in the morning for a sleep in
What actions will you take to address these obstacles or what backup plan can you make to prevent these circumstances from derailing you?
Think about both the practical and psychological solutions-what thoughts could help you in this time? How can you prepare in advance for these events?
How I can overcome this?
· I will go walking on mon, tues and thurs. I can miss only one day and if I do, then I have to go on Sunday evening to make up for it and skip my Sunday night movie.
· When something comes up that interferes with my walking, I will consider whether it is more important to me than my Sunday night movie (not the walking)
· I will wear a bracelet which reminds me of my agreement
· I will move the wine into the cellar from the dining room so that I can’t see it when I walk in the house
· I will have a shower to relax as soon as I get home and replace my wine with a glass of sparkling mineral water with fresh lemon
· I am making an agreement to only drink alcohol on the weekend and one other day in the week (this could also become a goal).
If you follow this process with whatever goals or changes you want to make in your life you will have more chances of achieving the outcomes you want. Remember they are YOUR goals, and you will either do them, or you won’t. There is no wrong or right, and no judgement. If it does not work, maybe you are not ready, or maybe you need to work on identifying the costs more and how you can make these into benefits for your life.
Do you have trouble sticking to goals, or even setting them? Or have any great tips to share?