By Dr. Mark Wiley

If you want to feel healthier, more energetic and in control, there’s an effective, simple way to go about the task: Use the goal-setting concept known as SMART. When you make a health-boosting plan that’s Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely, you’ll be amazed at what a difference it can make in your life.

Making Improvements

Reaching your fitness, health or wellness goals is no easy task. For many people, there are a number of things they wish to improve upon. Tackling such tasks, let alone setting goals to do so, can be daunting. Often, the perceived effort it takes to undertake the activities to achieve the goals, not to mention the time involved, seems too difficult. Thus, many people fall short of achieving their wellness goals or end up doing nothing to achieve them.

That can all change, however, with a simple tool to help you develop and stay on track. Each of the five components in the SMART wellness goal-setting scheme is essential to both creating and achieving your wellness goals.

Make a Structured Plan

SPECIFIC. The more specific you can make your goals, the better chance you have of succeeding. Specificity allows for understanding how to measure success in the other four areas of SMART. Without specificity, you do more aimless floating on the ocean than sailing on the seas. Driving in circles is never as fun or satisfying as directly reaching your destination. The more specific the details of the trip, the sooner you can reach the destination. And there can be more than one — a series of mini destinations — on the way to reaching the big destination over time.

When working toward specificity, it is a good idea to begin by considering the five Ws: why, what, who, where and when.

Why: Understanding your for changing your state of health is the most important step because it fuels your desire and sets your level of commitment to the program. Without knowing why, it is easy to do nothing.

What: Focusing on what you want to accomplish is the next decision. Do you want to lose 20 pounds or run a faster mile?

Who: Wellness programs work best with a support structure in place. Who will you involve in the achievement of your goals? How about a workout partner, massage therapist, a healthcare provider or a loved one who can provide moral support?

Where: Determine where you will get treatment or exercise. Do you require visits to an acupuncturist’s office or just a track to run around? What about the local yoga class or your living room?

When: You need to set schedules and stay on track for all this to come into play. People do better and reach their goals faster when they are in a routine. Establish a time frame for activities before you begin. Being specific is essential to know what goals you want to achieve and how to get there.

MEASURABLE. Having measurable goals and a reliable metrics system are essential for achieving wellness goals. After all, without measuring progress how will you know whether you have reached your goal or made mini-stops along the way? There are two parts to this component: the measured goal and the criteria for measuring it.

Let’s say your goal is to lose 20 pounds in six months. Standing on a scale once per week offers the metric. Making a chart of progress at the end of each month and measuring that against your hoped-for mini-monthly goals gives you the criteria for measurement. Other scales are also available, such as 1-10 subjective scales for things like pain, hour scales for time (important for endurance measurements), blood pressure readings and so on.

Create a list of what you want to measure and then decide how it can be measured. How much weight do you want to lose? How many miles do you want to run? How much weight do you want to lift? How much of a decrease in pain do you want to feel each week or each month? Being specific about these measurements helps you decide what is attainable.

ATTAINABLE. If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. But the objective is more likely to be attainable if the goals and vision are realistic enough to actually be reached. Therefore, you must set an objective that you feel is obtainable and for which you are willing to put forth the effort. You can desire a far-off goal, but setting markers of achievement along the way makes it more accessible.

Many people quit their wellness routines or drop their wellness lifestyles when they do not attain their desired goals in an immediate time frame and don’t recognize progress toward their goals. Listing small goals that lead to larger goals is not only a successful way of attaining measurable results, but of building your self-confidence, self-belief and self-image.

REALISTIC. In order for wellness goals to be attainable and measurable, they must be realistic for you. That is, they need to be something that you are physically, mentally and financially able to achieve. What identifies as realistic is a matter of personal relevance; you are the only one who can determine this.

Returning to an earlier example, if it is your goal to lose 20 pounds, this must be realistic for you. Are you carrying so much weight that losing 20 pounds makes healthy sense? If you’re not that heavy, losing this much weight may be unrealistic and unhealthy. Other important questions: Do you have the time and dedication to work toward achieving that goal? Do you have the financial and structural support necessary to allow it to happen? Moreover, being realistic means giving yourself several months to lose the weight and not just a few weeks. Setting realistic time frames goes a long way to keeping you on track.

TIMELY. Being timely is an important part of goal setting, especially when it comes to wellness. In what time frame are you trying to achieve your goals? How much time per day, week and month are you planning on dedicating to the attainment of those goals? What time of day are you able to do this? Can you fit your planned activities into your overall life schedule?

Being specific about time is crucial. Just saying that you are “working on getting healthy” or on “the path of weight loss” can lead to failure. Time frames are important for goals to be measured in a meaningful way. Remember: Be specific!

Make a Written Plan

Once you have spent some time considering all of this and listing the specifics of each of the five components, it’s time to write out your SMART action statement.

An example of a written plan that incorporates the SMART structure goes something like this:

“I want to feel better and experience less pain because it makes me feel good. When I feel good, I enjoy my life. Therefore, I want to lose 20 pounds and decrease my pain by 50 percent. To do this, I need the support of my family, a dietician and a personal trainer who is available on Wednesdays and Sundays. I will use a weight scale and a pain index to chart my progress over the next six months, with mini-goals set at the end of each month. I believe I can attain my goal because the time frame is realistic, I have a support system, I know what I need to do, and I believe in myself and am dedicated to changing my own life for the better.”

This statement is generic, but speaks to each of the five components of the SMART wellness goal-setting scheme. Give it a try and see what a difference it can make in reaching your personal fitness, health and wellness goals!

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