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S - specific
M - measurable
R - realistic
T - timely
Specific. When people set goals for themselves, they often set a goal like "get in shape" or "eat better." What does that mean? How will you go about it? Your goal needs to be more specific in order for you to actually go about achieving it. In both of those examples, the goal is so vague, and you probably don't really know how to go about reaching it, so you might as well not even bother. For "eat better," let's make it a little more specific, looking at some "W" questions: who will do this; where will this happen; what do I mean by eat better; when will I do this?
We can try to hash it out like this:
Who: me, I will eat better
Where: I'll cook at home in order to eat better because I eat out every night
What do I mean by eat better: I want to eat more fruits and vegetables and less processed foods
When: I will cook more at home (and therefore eat more fruits and vegetables and less processed foods) at least 4 nights a week
Measurable. This means you are going to set a goal that can be tracked. You can track your progress in some way and see where you are successful and where you could use some improvement. Let's look at the "eat better" goal (which is now "I will cook more at home, using fruits and vegetables and less processed foods, at least 4 nights a week). Get a weekly calendar. You can use your calendar app on your phone. Looking at your schedule each week, choose the 4 nights you will be cooking at home. Then either on a daily or weekly basis, write down whether or not you cooked at home (other things like what you cooked, if it was easy to make, if you and your family liked it, etc. are helpful to keep track of as well). This will help keep you accountable as well as help you plan future meals based on how well they are received and how easy they are to make. For accountability, you can also use an app like MyFitnessPal where you log in your meals and others can see what you're making. I also like Fooducate because it rates the healthiness of the foods you're eating.
Yummly app that is user driven. I also love Thug Kitchen (not safe for work language). Personally, I've tried some of the meal planning apps and I always just go back to figuring it out myself. Every Sunday I plan the week's meals. We get vegetables from a CSA (Be Wise Ranch woot, woot) and they post the week's veggies on Sundays. I look up what we're going to get and then look up some recipes. I find the recipes or make them up myself, and then list them by day of the week in my Notes app on my phone. I then add the ingredients to our grocery shopping app (we use GroceryIQ but I know there are others) and that's it! The meals are planned.
Regardless of how you go about planning, know when to ask for help. It can get pretty overwhelming trying to figure everything out on your own. Whether it's trying to run a marathon, eat better, organize your closet, fix your finances or more, you have to ask for help when you are out of your realm of expertise. This is all part of being prepared and doing what you can to reach your goals. Whether you hire a coach, a financial planner or other pro to help you, be sure you tap into your own personal network for help too.
Realistic. This one is a little tricky. It's ok to have lofty goals. If we don't choose goals that are big, we don't grow. It's ok for a non-runner to say they want to run a marathon and qualify for Boston. That's ok. Is it realistic? Yes and no. It's not realistic if that non-runner is expecting it to happen in 3 months. It is realistic if said non-runner sets the time frame at 1 or 2 years and then has smaller, more manageable goals that lead up to the main goal of running a marathon and qualifying for Boston. It's ok to have big, huge goals. I encourage it! But it's also important to be realistic and go about it smartly.
Timely. We've already touched on this in a way. Timely goals have an end point. We want to set an amount of time to reach our goals because if we don't, it's too easy to give up. Someday is really vague and allows you to push things off until tomorrow, the next day, next week, etc. With a time frame, you don't have a lot of wiggle room to push things off. For our "eat better" goal, saying you want to cook at home 4 days a week by the end of January gives you some time to work up to that goal. You don't have to go all out on day one because that's really hard to keep up if you're not used to it. Giving yourself a month, you can build up to 4 nights a week. Maybe the first week you cook at home twice. Hey, that's twice more that what you usually do. That's progress. Next week, let's try for 3. And so on. This way you're taking small steps to reach your larger goal within the time frame you've set. Yay!
A few things to remember: use your tracking devices (food logs, training logs, calendars) to not only track your progress but to see what things may not be working. Revise and try again. Recognizing what's not working is just as important as what is working. Then you can plan for it. Revising your goals doesn't mean you've failed and you won't reach them. It means you are changing things up so you can reach them. Be positive and be good to yourself. That's essential for reaching your goals :)
I know this is a lot of work to go through in order to set a goal. But I think the main reason why many folks don't actually reach their goals is because they didn't take the time to make their goals specific, plan, prepare and revise when necessary. Once you've ironed out all the details, you are ready to move forward and kick some ass.