Create Smart Goals for Changing Health Habit

One of the most common mistakes people make when changing health habits is setting only a weight goal. There are several reasons why goal weights can be self- defeating:
  • Numbers never tell the entire story. You know those annoying height and weight charts, or the newer body mass index tables? Talk about feeling like a lost cause! Some of you may never fit neatly into the charts and tables. Does that mean you can’t be healthy? Not necessarily! Most research shows that it’s better to be “overweight” and active than at your “ideal weight” (if such a thing exists) and inactive. Another caveat of using the scale to measure success is that body weight doesn’t correlate well with body composition. In other words, you can be a slender person who carries a lot of body fat, or a heavy person who carries a lot of muscle tissue. That’s why we emphasized having your body composition measured in Chapter 1, “Are You Ready?”
  • Body weight fluctuates on a daily basis. Changes in body weight over the course of a day or two reflect nothing more than water balance. If you’ve eaten a salty meal or snack (remember the pretzels you had yesterday after- noon and the tasty little grains of salt you licked from the bottom of the bag?), you might be retaining fluid and weigh a couple pounds heavier than normal. If, on the other hand, you decide to hop on the scale after a brisk walk or jog in hot, humid weather, you’re likely to be dehydrated and weigh a pound or two less than normal. Does this mean you burned two pounds of fat in the last hour? Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. You’ve lost some water through sweat and evaporation, and it’s time to drink up! More specifically, you’ll need to drink 16 ounces of fluid (about .5 liters) for every pound of body weight lost during exercise (this guideline is accurate only if weighing “conditions” are similar before and after exercise—in the buff is best!) Women also experience fluctuations in body weight throughout the menstrual cycle, mostly due to fluid retention.
  • Weighing can be very emotionally charged. If you weigh yourself on a regular basis without feeling guilty or righteous after seeing the number on the scale, more power to you. For most of us, that’s probably not the case. If you’ve ever starved yourself before going to the doctor’s office (or any other “official” weigh in), or feasted afterward, it’s probably best if you weigh yourself as little as possible. It’s too easy to let a number sabotage your best efforts. The fit of your clothes or even your undergarments can serve the very same purpose without carrying the same emotional “weight” as the number on the scale.
  • If weight loss is your only motivation, what happens when you reach your goal? Many “successful” dieters can’t stay motivated when they aren’t experiencing the excitement of weight loss—the compliments, the new clothes, or the drama of seeing an old friend in their new body. Don’t become a dieting casualty. You are in this for the long haul, and chances are good that your weight is going to fluctuate given your life circumstances. Focus on the things that matter, such as feeding yourself well, walking whenever you can, and balancing your physical health with other priorities!
Have I convinced you not to make body weight per se a goal? I hope so! But the question remains: How do you formulate positive, effective, action-oriented personal goals? In general, you’ll want to follow the simple progression illustrated in picture below :

Develop smart goals with a logical progression.

Begin by listing some of the reasons for changing your habits in Figure 2.4. List as many as you can. Try for more than 25! In general, the most powerful personal motivations will emerge at end of your list. You may begin by listing “fit into my clothes better” or “have more energy” and work your way down to “improve my relationship with my spouse/children/grandchildren” or “get the confidence I need to change careers.” Now you’re talking! These internal motivations for change will provide the foundation you need to set concrete long- and short-term goals and begin to take action on a daily basis.

After you identify your key internal motivations, honestly evaluate what it will take to get you there. This process will allow you to develop simple, effective long- and short-term goals, as well as pinpoint the action steps necessary to meet those goals. Let’s take a look at how this process might play out:
Cindy was getting ready to retire. She and her husband had raised three children and were looking forward to traveling, relaxing, and spending more time with their family. In taking care of her family’s needs before her own, Cindy had reached a point where she didn’t like how she looked, felt, or moved. After spending a little time brainstorming all the potential reasons for changing her habits, she deter- mined that her deepest desire and greatest motivation was to improve her confidence level. She had been active throughout her childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood and knew how much better she felt at those times in her life; therefore, one of her long-term goals was to become a regular exerciser. It had been at least 20 years since she had been regularly active, so she knew she needed to start modestly. Her first short-term goal was to walk for 15 minutes before work on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Cindy decided on the following action steps, each to be done in the evenings: Lay out walking clothes and shoes, pack a lunch for the fol- lowing day, and then set the alarm clock 20 minutes earlier than usual.

FIGURE 2.4   
Reasons to change my habits. (We’ll get you started.)
Examples :
  • Gain control diabetes
  • Feel better physically
  • Live longer
Now it’s your turn! Look over your reasons for change and identify common values and themes. These are your internal motivations—the deep-seated beliefs and desires that will form the foundation of your plan to change.

What are your personal motivations?
..................................................................................................................................................................
What will it take to get you there?
..................................................................................................................................................................

Identify your top two long-term goals that reflect your internal motivations.
1............................................
2............................................
Now break them down into more manageable steps. These are your short-term goals.1............      
a.       
b.       
2.      
a.       
b.       
c.       

Finally, choose one or more short-term goals on which to focus and list the action steps you can take this week to meet those goals.

This week, I will................................................

Write down your goals and keep them visible. Post them on the bathroom mirror, the refrigerator, or your computer’s monitor. By focusing on positive steps, you can begin to develop a mindset that will ensure success. Remember the acronym BE SMART when formulating your personal goals, especially in the short term:
Behavior-oriented
Expectations, be realistic
Specific details
Measurable objectives
Attainability
Rewards put into place
Time frame identified
Identifying the behavior you want to change and habits that feed the desired behav- ior is essential in goal setting. Be realistic with your expectations. If it took 10 years to gain 20 pounds, don’t expect to lose the excess weight in a few months. Allow your- self to succeed at small steps by identifying specific, measurable, and attainable objec- tives. (For example, “I will drink water instead of soda for lunch at least three days this week” instead of “I will drink more water.”) Give yourself an incremental reward system for achieving your goals. A night at the movies, a new exercise video, a relax- ing bath, or a golf outing for short-term goals; plan a vacation, buy a new suit, throw a celebration, for example, as rewards for achieving long-term goals.

Remember to set a specific time frame for a goal, such as two weeks or a month, so that you will have some basis for rewarding your achievements. If you haven’t met your goal by the specified time, simply reevaluate the situation. Do you need to approach it from a different angle with new action steps? Perhaps you want to change the nature of the goal altogether. Either way, by setting the time frame, you will make progress consistently rather than erratically.

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