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Setting Goals and Making Them Stick

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The beginning of a new year is typically a time when people make New Year's Resolutions or set goals for the new year. Setting and reaching those goals is a process, however.

Setting S.M.A.R.T. Goals
There's more than one way to set a goal. For example, you can say, "I want to lose weight this year." Okay, that's a great goal, but a better goal is to say, "I'd like to lose 40 pounds by December 31 this year." What makes the second goal better? It's a S.M.A.R.T. goal, meaning it's:

  • Specific – Instead of saying you want to lose weight, you are specifying how much weight you want to lose.
  • Measurable – You can actually measure your progress with this goal. If you leave it too generic, it means you can achieve your goal by losing just one pound—but is your true goal to lose one pound, or to lose more? Don't let yourself off the hook!
  • Attainable – According to the Centers for Disease Control, if you lose 1-2 lbs. a week, you are more likely to keep the weight off long-term. That equates to 48-96 pounds in a year. Setting a goal of losing 40 pounds is well within this range.
  • Realistic – Losing weight is not easy for most people. Unless medication or a health condition prohibits you from losing the weight, it is realistic to expect to lose 40 pounds by December 31 if you are serious about it. Expecting to lose more than 96 pounds would not be realistic.
  • Timely – Plain and simple, if you don't put a time frame on a goal, you will never achieve it—and you're giving yourself permission not to.

A goal that isn't S.M.A.R.T. isn't really a goal, it's more of a dream. 

Achieving Your Goals
If you are really committed to achieving your goals, you need to have a plan. A good way to stay on track is to begin with the end in mind. In other words, keep your goal in mind when you are tempted to go off track. Have a picture of yourself at your ideal weight? Keep it on your refrigerator door. Saving for a different car? Keep a picture of that car in your wallet.

Another way to stay on track is to write your goals down. Even better, outline what you will do to achieve it. You may even want to implement a timeline of "baby steps" to follow along the way. If it's weight loss and you want to lose 40 pounds, make mini-goals of losing 4 lbs. a month, walking at least 30 minutes a day, three days a week until March 1, then add one more day to that. If your goal is to save $1,000 by December 1 for holiday shopping, make a mini-goal to save $83 a month, only eat out once a month, and take your lunch to work every day.

Finally, share your goals with another person who will support you in your efforts. If that person has a similar goal in mind, even better! This will give you somewhat of a feeling of accountability, which can help you stay on target to achieve that goal.

In the end, achieving your goals is all about how badly you want it. Don't set a goal you aren't committed to just for the sake of setting a goal. Set a goal that will improve your life and that you are serious about achieving and you will be more successful, whether it's a personal goal or a professional one.