In yesterday’s post I asked you to think about what it means to be healthy and what true health means to you. Hopefully you spent time doing the visualization exercise and you now have an image of your healthiest self. Today I want to share how to set goals to work towards becoming healthier and 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, make us feel good about ourselves and boost our self-confidence.
Often we come into the new year with crazy ideas of all of the ways we are going to change and better ourselves, all of the new actions we plan to start and all of the old habits we want to let go of. Have you ever committed sincerely to giving up alcohol completely, exercising for an hour every day and cooking 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? Sometimes we can set so many health goals for ourselves that we become completely overwhelmed and it feels easier to go back to our old ways. If we want to make lasting changes to our health we have to be more realistic and aware of our less than perfect nature and the challenges of living in the world when setting goals for ourselves.
How to set goals to improve your health
So where do you begin with setting goals? Start by going back to your visualization of your healthiest self and think of the overall picture of what you want to achieve in one area of your health. For example:
- I want to eat healthier
- I want to exercise more and become fitter
- I want to reduce my stress levels
- I want to improve my relationships and my social life
- I want to drink less alcohol
- I want to improve my confidence and self-worth
- I want to spend more time outside
These are all great examples of “New Years’ Resolutions” but if you want to make these a reality, you want to set more detailed goals on how you are going to achieve these things. I’m sure some of you are familiar with the idea of SMART goals in business and this can also be useful when setting goals for your health.
Psychology research shows that setting yourself goals which are Specific, Measurable, Attainable/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 goal is the first point above to “I want to eat healthier”.
Specific – 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 and if it is relevant, as well as what also think about how, when and where you are going to do it.
Measurable – 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 or 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.
Achievable – 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? If it seems like too big a step, would it be better to break it into smaller mini-goals? For example, if you want to work towards preparing dinner at home every day but right now you eat ready meals every night, maybe it makes more sense to start cooking 3 times a week and build it up over time.
Relevant – 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. As you are deciding on the goals it’s pretty likely that it will be relevant but its worth a check. If your goal is to let go of diet rules and become free around food, setting yourself the goal of limiting takeaways to once a week is probably not relevant!
Time-based – Lastly think about when you want to achieve your goal by and 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 to work towards and set your goals based on this. You could set goals on a weekly, monthly or even yearly basis but choose a time frame and set a reminder in your phone or diary to review your goals.
Some examples of SMART goals…
I want to eat healthier → For the month of January I will prepare a healthy breakfast at home every day before work
I want to exercise more and become fitter → I will go for a 30 minute walk in the local park at lunch time 3 times this week
I want to reduce my stress levels → I will spend 10 minutes focusing on deep breathing in bed before I go to sleep every night this week
I want to 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
I want to 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
I want to 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
I want to 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.
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:
- I will practice yoga for at least 10 minutes a day whether that is a full practice or 10 minutes of stretching before bed
- I will start every day with a glass of water, juice or herbal tea and avoid caffeine when I am on my period
- I will practice menstrual cycle awareness and write in my journal at least 3 times per week
Over to you…
I hope you enjoyed this article on how to set health goals for the new year. Let me know in the comments what your goals are or whether you find setting goals helpful or not.
- If you want to follow along with this Real Health January blog series, like this post and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
- If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.