Commentary by Brian Galinato
Clinical Dietitian, Nutrition Care Division, Evans Army Community Hospital
FORT CARSON, Colo. —The holiday season is over and many people have New Year’s resolutions in mind. Some people are planning to use the same resolutions from the past three years and others may have already given up on them altogether. Whatever the situation, I want to encourage you to instead try something new for a positive lifestyle change. Those who fall in the category of reusing the same resolution should try specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound (SMART) goals instead.
SMART goals are techniques aimed at breaking down a large goal into smaller ones needed to reach your destination. Broad spectrum resolutions are not specific and do not focus on the different factors that keep a person from reaching it. If weight loss is your resolution, how are you going to achieve it?
You may need to eat less food or work out more.
However, even those smaller goals are too broad. Eat less food: depending on the person a more specific goal may be needed to achieve that goal such as, “limiting dinner to one plate” or “keep the daily calorie count to less than 1800.”
A measurable goal gives a person quantifiable data on the specific goal to see the progress. If your resolution is to travel or do more fun things this year, how can you measure it? The goal could be to travel to one new place each month this year. For example, if you’ve only traveled to four new places by the end of June, then you’ve met your goal only 66 percent of the time.
Is your goal attainable or realistic with your current situation? Maybe your resolution or goal is to be debt free this year. If you have a lot of debt and can realistically only pay off half this year, your goal is not SMART.
Similarly, if the goal is to lose enough weight to be at a normal body mass index by the end of the year and you have 100 pounds to lose, you must first calculate the recommended weight loss, which is a half to two pounds per week in order to see what is attainable. With that calculation, the recommended weight-loss range would be 26-104 pounds. For a person to lose two pounds a week, that would need to be in a deficit of 1,000 calories per day. That would equate to about 75 minutes of jogging or cutting back your food intake in the amount of a big burger and medium fries (1040 kcals total). Putting things in perspective, losing an amount closer to the 26-pound range versus the 104-pound range is more realistic, less drastic and more likely maintainable.
Next you must ask yourself if the goal you’re making is relevant and important to you. Is it going to help you achieve your bigger overarching goal? If the broad resolution is to be healthier; many smaller goals can be formed, such as pursuing healthier eating, activity, sleep, mental and many more.
If the goal you are choosing is the one you continuously fail at, then it might not be the most important and beneficial item to choose first. By choosing a SMART goal that has value and importance, you are going to be more likely to accomplish it.
Lastly, a SMART goal needs to be time-bound. Again, resolutions tend to be broad and in turn, they are too difficult to maintain. Some people believe it takes 21-30 days to form a new habit, however, research shows it’s mostly a myth, mainly because behavior change is a constant cycle of action, maintenance and relapse.
From a small study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it took participants 18-245 days to make a new habit, with the average being 66 days. By making a goal time-bound, you can analyze how you are doing with meeting the goal. Is it working or can you improve? Can you maintain the behavior? If so it may be time to focus on a different SMART goal or adjust your current goals.
Setting the duration of a SMART goal depends on what works best for you, whether it’s one week or three months.
Now it is time to make a SMART goal. Use the list below as an example to get started:
- I will work out three times a week for the next month
- I will eat two servings of vegetables at dinner every night this week
- I will read 100 pages a week for the next 10 weeks
- I will save 10 percent of every pay check for the next three months
One last tip to reaching your goals is to build a support system to keep you accountable. If you need more specialized support with making healthy behavior changes or creating SMART goals, visit with a registered dietitian at Evans Army Community Hospital or any other specialized health care provider.