In yesterday’s post I asked you to think about what it means to be healthy. So you now have an idea of what true health means to you. Hopefully you also tried the visualization exercise and you now have an image of your healthiest self. Today I want to share my tips on how to set health goals to work towards making this a reality!
Goal setting is like creating an action plan to get us from point A (where we are now) to point B (where we see ourselves in the future). Setting goals is not for everyone but it can be helpful to give us direction and give our actions meaning. Making progress towards our goals can give us a sense of purpose. It also makes us feel good about ourselves and boosts our self-confidence. But it is important to understand how to set health goals if you want them to be a helpful tool rather than a waste of time.
Why is it important to learn how to set health goals?
Often you come into the new year with crazy ideas of all of the ways you are going to change. You are determined to better yourself. And you have decided on the new actions you plan to start and all of the old habits you want to let go of. Have you ever committed sincerely to giving up alcohol completely after new year? Or planned to exercise for an hour every day and cook all your meals at home? Only to find yourself the next Saturday night having a takeaway and beers with friends and spending the whole of Sunday lying on the sofa watching old episodes of Peep Show??
Oftentimes we can set so many health goals for ourselves that we become completely overwhelmed. It then simply feels easier to go back to our old ways. If you want to make lasting changes to your health you have to be more realistic. You need to be aware of your less than perfect human nature and the challenges of living in the world. You have to learn how to set health goals for yourself that give you direction and act as a positive motivator.
How to set health goals. The vision!
So where do you begin with setting goals? Start by going back to your visualization of your healthiest self. Think of the overall vision of what you want to achieve in one area of your health. For example:
- I want to eat healthier
- I would like to exercise more and become fitter
- I want to reduce my stress levels
- I need to improve my relationships and my social life
- I want to drink less alcohol
- I would really like to improve my confidence and self-worth
- I want to spend more time outside
These are all great examples of “New Years’ Resolutions”. If you want to make these a reality, you need to set more specific health goals. From there you can decide how you are going to achieve these things.
How to set health goals using the SMART technique
I’m sure some of you are familiar with the idea of SMART goals in business. This can also be useful tool for how to set health goals too!
Psychology research shows that setting yourself goals which are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound makes you more likely to achieve what you want. What does this mean in practice? It’s easier to explain with an example. Imagine your overall vision is the first point above to “I want to eat healthier”.
We will look at how to set health goals based on this vision using the SMART acronym:
What do you mean by eat healthier? Do you mean you want to eat more fruits and vegetables or less processed foods? Do you mean you want to stop skipping breakfast and eat more regular meals? Do you want to include more vegetarian or gluten-free meals in your diet? Do you want to aim for a certain calorie or macro-nutrient target? Be as specific as you want. If it is relevant, also think about how, when and where you are going to do it.
How are you going to decide whether you have achieved your goal and how will you measure your progress? Maybe you want to aim for a 5 of portions of fruits and veg a day. Perhaps you want to prepare 3 home cooked meals each week? Do you want to limit takeaways or chocolate to once a per week? Do you want to drink 5 glasses of water a day? You can keep track of your health goals in a journal or in an app like Habit Share.
Are you being realistic with your goal? Think about where are you now vs. where you want to be. How confident do you feel that you can achieve this goal on a scale of 1-10? If it seems like too big a step, would it be better to break it into smaller mini-goals? For example, your vision is to prepare dinner at home every night but right now you eat ready meals daily. Maybe it makes more sense to start cooking 3 times a week and build it up over time.
For this one go back again to your visualization of what health means to you. Reflect on your goal and whether it will help you to move towards this vision. Health is multi-faceted so you don’t want to set goals in one area of health that limit other areas of your wellbeing. As you are deciding on the goals it’s pretty likely that it will be relevant but its worth a check. For example, your you see health as being free of diet rules and being able to enjoy food. Setting yourself the goal of avoiding takeaways or sweets is probably not relevant right now for you!
Lastly think about when you want to achieve your goal by. Also think about whether this is a good time to start? Reflect on your personality and whether you prefer shorter term mini-goals or long term bigger challenges. Then think about how to set health goals for yourself based on this. You could set goals on a weekly, monthly or even yearly basis. Always choose a time frame and set a reminder in your phone or diary to review progress towards your goals.
Some examples of how to set health goals using SMART
Eat healthier → For the month of January I will prepare a healthy breakfast at home every day before work
Exercise more and become fitter → I will go for a 30 minute walk in the local park at lunch time 3 times this week
Reduce my stress levels → I will spend 10 minutes focusing on deep breathing in bed before I go to sleep every night this week
Improve my relationships and my social life → This month I will call an old friend to reconnect at least once a week on a Sunday night
Reduce my alcohol intake → By the end of January I will cut down drinking from 2 bottles of wine a week to 1 by replacing weekday drinks with flavoured water
Improve my confidence and self-worth → Every morning this month I will look in the mirror and say 3 things that I like about the way I look, my personality or my skills and abilities
Spend more time outside → First thing in the morning, at least 3 times a week, I will sit outside for 5 minutes
You can repeat this process with different areas of your health but remember not to overwhelm yourself and think about what is realistic for you. It’s much better to change 1 habit a month for a year than try to change 12 habits at once and give up completely. I think setting 3 goals at a time is probably the maximum if you want to stay focused and on track but only you know what is best for you.
Today’s challenge: Put into practice these tips on how to set health goals!
So your challenge for day 2 is to write down your goals for the month of January. Three goals I am setting for myself this month are:
- Practice yoga for at least 10 minutes a day. Whether that is a full practice or 10 minutes of stretching before bed
- Start every day with a glass of water, juice or herbal tea. I will also avoid caffeine when I am on my period
- Practice menstrual cycle awareness. This includes tracking my cycle and writing in my journal at least 3 times per week
Over to you…
- Comment: share your SMART health goals and commit to your success!
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