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How To Set SMART Spring FreshStart Goals: Think This Weekend, Sign Up Monday!

Dr. Beth Frates

Please see yesterday's post about our spring get-healthier campaign here. Today, our wellness coach, Dr. Beth Frates, talks about how to set smart goals for this spring — and the rest of our lives. In fact, goals should not just be smart, they should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic and Time-Sensitive.

Allow me first to crib from my Harvard bible on healthy change, "Simple Changes, Big Rewards" (And remember, our first 25 members on Monday can win a free copy):

S: Set a very specific goal. I will add one fruit serving — that's half a cup, chopped-- to my current daily diet.

M: Find a way to measure progress. I will log my efforts each day on my calendar.

A: Make sure it's achievable. Be sure you're physically capable of safely accomplishing your goal. If not, aim for a smaller goal.

R: Make sure it's realistic. It may seem counterintuitive, but choosing the change you most need to make — let's say, quitting smoking or losing weight — isn't as successful as choosing the change you're most confident you'll be able to make. Focus on sure bets: If you picture a 10-point scale of confidence in achieving your goal, where 1 equals no confidence and 10 equals 100% certainty, you should land in the 7-to-10 zone. An additional fruit serving a day is a small, manageable step toward better health.

T: Set time commitments. Pick a date and time to start -- Wednesday at breakfast, I'll add frozen blueberries to cereal — and regular check-in dates: I'll check my log every week and decide if I should make any changes to succeed. When setting commitments, outside deadlines can be really helpful. Signing up for a charity run or sprint triathlon on a certain date prods you to get a training program under way.

Now a pep talk and some additional guidance from Beth. Please note: Though she is an M.D., her work on FreshStart is not intended as personal medical advice. Please consult your own doctor.

Spring is a great time for a fresh start! Here in New England, often people come out from a winter's hibernation right about now. You start seeing neighbors on the sidewalks that you haven't seen in months. You start feeling the warmth of the sun, and you even start noticing the newly blossomed daffodils
in front yards. The days are brighter and the mood is lighter. The time is ripe for new beginnings. So, let's get started.

One of the best gifts you can give yourself is the gift of "self-care." Give yourself permission to spend time on your health. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "The first wealth is health." Lifestyle plays a significant part in your overall health. Being physically active each day and fueling your body with nutrient-dense food are two of the best ways to nourish your bodies and souls. But we all know that exercising and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is healthy. So, what's stopping us from doing it? Ah....that is the million-dollar answer and only you can answer that for YOU. Thus, the first step on your journey to optimal wellness will be to do some serious.....reflecting. Let's ponder on some key questions.

What is most important to you? What do you hold dear in life? How does this relate to your health, fitness and nutrition?

1) What is your vision for what you want to achieve in terms of fitness, weight and overall health in the next three months?

2) Why do you want to do this? In your experience, what works best to motivate you?

3) In your experience, what are the main obstacles that tend to throw you off track?

4) What is your plan? What tools are you going to use? What strategies?

5) Who among your family, friends and acquaintances might want to participate as well? Please spread word of FreshStart to them!

6) What are your own personal strengths that you can call upon to help you reach your goals?

A key part of your journey will be to identify powerful intrinsic motivators and constantly remind yourself about these motivators. Obstacles will present themselves, but you will work to brainstorm strategies around them. Using your own unique strengths and the power of your support system in addition to this blog, you can make this spring be your time — your time to take the journey to lasting behavior change. Setting weekly goals and being accountable for them are proven techniques to help you realize your goals — also known as "dreams with deadlines."

As noted above, when making goals, make them SMART-- specific, measurable, action oriented, realistic and time sensitive. That is to say, "I am going to exercise more this week," is a good goal but a SMART goal would be "I am going to exercise three times this week; once on Wednesday before work--walk for 1/2
hour; a second time on Friday---ride my bike after work for 1/2 hour; and a third time on Sunday--hike with my family for 1 hour."

Be as specific as possible and have contingency plans — if it rains on Sunday, I will use the treadmill in my room (after removing all the laundry from it). Remember the most basic principle to getting started on an exercise routine: some is better than none. Walking for ten minutes one day this week might be the most realistic goal for some people.

Make sure you are at least 80% confident that you will meet the goals that you set. We are aiming for small steps, and we are hoping for success. Lifestyle change is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time and there is no simple solution. However, the payback is terrific. By making lifestyle changes one step at a time, I have seen people lose weight, get fit, stop consuming sugar, and start eating fresh fruits and vegetables. It can be done. The healthy you is in there just waiting to be revealed. Slow and steady wins the race!

Hmmm. I'd figured I'd just set myself a fitness goal, a weight-loss goal and a stress-reduction goal and get going, but I see I need to do a lot of planning, and one thing I've realized about myself at this very late date is that planning is not my strong suit. So my weekend's work is cut out for me.

When we post the official sign-up invitation on Monday at about noon, you'll be asked to submit your own SMART goals as a comment under the post, and to send in an email if you'd like a prize (reminder: "Simple Changes" books, WBUR water bottles and sport sacs.) Here's one of my plans: Be too busy stuffing envelopes with prizes to eat cookies...


This program aired on April 15, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth blog.

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