Whether you’re trying to get a head start on your summer body or just realizing that your rainy-day fund has evaporated into a pile of restaurant receipts, setting goals for yourself is a good step toward developing new, healthier habits. Making goals is great, but unless you go about it the right way, you won’t see much success. The experts agree that it doesn’t matter what your goal is, but how you plan to stay accountable. Here’s how you can set yourself up for success again and again.
And for more advice that gets results, don’t miss these 30 Tips from Celebs About Health, Weight Loss, Willpower and More!
Evaluate Your Starting Point
We all have to begin somewhere, and you’ll give yourself a better chance at succeeding if you’re realistic about where that starting point is. “Even before we set goals, I think it’s important to look at where we are now and be realistic about that," says Rachel Goldman Ph.D., psychologist, clinical assistant professor, NYU School of Medicine. "A lot of people are too hard on themselves and compare themselves to years ago." You might have been in better shape and running 3 miles per day with no problem, but that doesn't mean you can start there now.
Make Sure Your Goals Are S.M.A.R.T.
Get honest about what you’re looking to achieve and lay it all out. “Look at your big goals and break them down into what I call S.M.A.R.T. goals, which are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely (or time-bound)," says Goldman. "That's a good way to know if we’re setting good goals — and setting ourselves up for success." For more ways to trim down, don’t miss these 30 Skinny Secrets from the World's Sexiest Women.
Use Your Sundays For More Than Just Meal Prep
Sundays have a reputation for being errand-running days, so you should add goal setting to your list of to-do’s. “On a Sunday night, look at your calendar and plan for the weeks ahead. But also be flexible knowing things can happen," says Goldman. "Reevaluate your goals on a weekly basis because plans can change, and you can — and should — tweak them along the way." at weight loss pick a set number of foods and tend to stick to them. And stock your kitchen with these Essential Foods to Lose Weight!
Check In With Yourself Weekly
You can set as many goals as you’d like, but unless you’re monitoring your progress, you might veer off course without realizing it. “Having a check in with yourself [at least once per week] is really important. This way, you can tweak your goals or behaviors to get back on track before too much time goes by,” says Goldman.
Constantly Tweak Your Goals
Too much flexibility can turn into procrastination, but exercise a little leniency with yourself. “It’s important to follow a routine, but know that things happen,” says Goldman. When plans change last minute or certain roadblocks come into play, being adaptable and tweaking your goals can actually help you reach them more successfully. If your goal is weight loss, this may mean having to skip the gym during the week due to last-minute work projects, but then going twice on the weekend and cutting back on sweets that week. Try these 7 Ways to Make Your Workout 500% More Effective!
Relax Your Thinking
As a culture we tend to gravitate toward extremes when it’s time to get something done. Although the all-or-nothing mentality is no stranger to any of us, it can inhibit us from making smart plans. “Some weeks we may be a little slower to achieve our goal than others. I think it’s important to change our mentality away from good-versus-bad and all-or-nothing, black-and-white thinking,” says Goldman. By altering your mindset, you’ll be able to more clearly plan for the long term and develop sustainable habits.
Drop Failure From Your Vocabulary
While you’re at it, quit saying "failure." “If someone actually sets S.M.A.R.T. goals, they’re never failing," says Goldman. "Maybe you didn’t accomplish your goal of going to the gym five days this week, but that’s not failing, that just means you had a really hard week. Just tweak it and change it for next week." For serious inspiration, check out these 15 Weight-Loss Tips from People Who Lost 50 Pounds or More!
Real change doesn’t happen overnight, and to see that change through requires persistence. “When some people “fail,” it can be because they’re not persistent and give up too easily," says Goldman. "I always tell my clients to keep trying for a good two or three weeks, and if you don’t see change, then it’s time to examine what else is going on. If you’re following the necessary behaviors and are on track, try not to give up so quickly. Sometimes it takes time to see change and to fall into a new routine."
Hand-in-hand with persistence is patience. “It takes around 30 days to create a habit,” says Jim White, owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios in Virginia Beach. Saving money, losing weight and excelling at work all require the adaptation of new behaviors and habits which cannot simply be “turned on”. Have faith in the process, and let time do its thing. Before you know it, you won’t remember how you ever acted in any other way. That's only one of the 50 Best Weight Loss Tips Ever!
Use Your Calendar
Sticking to your goals could be as simple as marking them in your calendar — truly. “I always recommend looking at your calendar at the beginning of the week and putting in the days you’ll go to the gym or do certain tasks ,” says Goldman. She also suggests penciling in your tasks rather than using a pen, because hey, plans change!
Make a To-Do List
There are more ways than one to keep track of your goals and a good old fashioned to-do list has stood the test of time when it comes to lining up priorities. “List what you plan to accomplish this week and when you plan to accomplish it. It feels really good to check or cross it off when you get it done! If by the end of the week there are things you didn’t get to you can roll them over to the next week, so don’t get scared or overwhelmed,” says Goldman. That's just one of hte 30 Ways to Stay Healthy After 40!
Consult a Professional
We may know what we want and probably what it takes to get there, but the experts are the ones who have the formula down pat. “I think depending on the goal, seeking a professional can definitely help. For instance, reaching out to a financial advisor depending on your financial goals. Unfortunately, people don’t seek professional help to any degree until they realize that something’s not working for them,” says Goldman.
Recruit Your Friends
The more people you tell and the more appointments you set, the less likely it is that you’ll fall off the wagon, because other people are holding you accountable. “Most people know what to do, but it’s the following through and the accountability pieces that are the most important when it comes to sticking to your goals,"says Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, registered dietitian and founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition. "Whether it’s working out with a friend or going to see a dietitian — whatever works to keep someone accountable." Check out these 15 Signs You Should See a Nutritionist!
We all can (and do) dream big, but starting small is crucial when it comes to hitting those bigger markers. “Think about what your long-term goal is, and break that down into smaller, more realistic goals," says Goldman. "When it comes to any kind of change that people want to make, they can envision where they want to be but can easily get lost in the picture if the goal is too big. For example, if your goal is to run a marathon, look at what it takes to run a marathon. Break it down to the point of just starting to run, and go from there."
Be Mindful of Your Behaviors
Most things are easier said than done, right? However, what you actually do is what will make the difference here. “You can use the same approach with all types of goals, but the key is to set behavioral goals to help you accomplish that bigger goal," says Goldman. "You need 'process' goals to help you reach the finish line. These are going to be behaviorally based. Look at what’s in your control to help you accomplish the bigger goal." Behaviors like drinking more water or eating more veggies will help. Apply these 8 Easy Ways to Eat Mindfully!
Set an Alarm
If you need to set a daily alarm to remind yourself to stand up, drink water or move some funds into your savings account, do it. "You can use your smartphone alert system or calendar to remind yourself to check in on your progress," says Smith. "Whatever will make you stop and think for a minute, so you do what needs to get done."
Cut Yourself Some Slack
Losing weight, changing your diet, getting promoted at work or building your personal relationships take time and energy, and can often be frustrating. Do yourself a favor and commend your efforts. One salad never gave anyone a six-pack overnight, and one slice of pizza never made anyone jump a jeans sizetl instany. “Doing too much too fast can be frustrating and disappointing," says Goldman. "A lot can change on a weekly basis, so I try to tell people to set weekly goals, evaluate and then look ahead." Try these 10 Ways to Relax So Healthy Eating Works!
Check Out the App Store
We have the technology, so why not use it? “You can use apps like Myfitnesspal or Evernote to [keep track of your progress] and remind yourself to have that mindfulness check in every week,” says Smith. The App Store is full of innovative planners, trackers and motivators — and some give you the opportunity to make a little money, too! “There are a lot of cool apps out there like DietBet, where you put money into a pot, and if you lose a certain amount of weight you can win the pot.” says White.
Don’t Use Food as a Reward
If you’re trying to overhaul your diet, why stomp on your progress with unnecessary treats? “We can’t make our rewards food-based, because that becomes a slippery slope — we have to separate the food and the reward," says Smith. "Think about what motivates you. If your goal is long-term, try to make your rewards realistic in the long term. It could be taking a day off from the gym or having an extra-long walk with your dog." Choose from these 25 Genius Ways to Reward Yourself For Weight Loss!
Cut Corners Where You Can
There’s no need to take the back roads if a perfectly good highway will get you to your destination in half the time. “Allow yourself not to do 150% of the effort," says Smith. "For instance, if you’re trying to eat healthier and there’s a place where you can pick up healthy meals on the go, there’s nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t matter if you pick it up or make it yourself, as long as it happens."
Set a Reasonable Timeline
Slow and steady wins the race, especially when it comes to developing new habits. “We often try to go from zero to 60 in too short a time and set ourselves up for frustration and difficulty," says Smith. "It’s important to take a step back and look at your lifestyle. For instance, if you’re someone who never works out, it would be unrealistic and unfair to expect you to start out doing five days per week of exercise. Set goals that you feel you can easily achieve. Whether that’s going from two days of exercise per week to three or 8,000 steps per day to 10,000." Let Queen B help. These are All the Steps for Successful Weight Loss, Explained By Beyoncé Songs!
Write Them Down
“Studies show that a higher percentage of people accomplish their goals when they actually write them down,” says White. Figure out exactly what you want to do and put in on paper or in a Google Doc. Consult it daily to increase your chances of success.
Make Sure They’re Sustainable in the Long Term
The more extreme the changes you make, the quicker you’ll see results, but chances are those behaviors aren't sustainable. If you want to save money, do it slowly and work it into a budget. If you want to lose 20 pounds, slowly alter your current routine and lifestyle so you give yourself a shot at truly adapting those new habits. “Most people follow strict diets or make big goals – they either accomplish them and can’t hold onto them, or they make them too extreme and can’t reach them in the first place,” says White. Try some of these 32 Simple Ways to Lose More Weight!
Remember You Don’t Have to Give Up Everything
It’s tempting just to dump all the “bad” foods in your life to lose weight, but why deprive yourself of vices if you don’t have to? “I never recommend cutting foods out totally, but some people like to jump-start weight loss that way," says White. "If you choose to cut out certain foods, I would start reintroducing those foods slowly [once you’ve made some progress]."
Enlist a Coach
No need to recruit your old high-school soccer coach here. Find someone who can help keep you accountable and who has a little more knowledge in the department you’re working on. “I think having an accountability partner is key to sticking to your goals. Whether it’s a coach, personal trainer, registered dietitian, or even someone that’s even a little more advanced in the physical-fitness department to help coach you,” says White. And stock your kitchen with the 12 Foods Personal Trainers Swear By!
Make a Vision Board
Many of us are visual creatures. Sometimes looking at a goal is all it takes to kick your butt into gear. “A lot of people create a vision board, which I think can be a helpful tool," says White. "Whether you post a picture of yourself from high school or pictures from a magazine, post what you want to look like. Every morning, look at that picture to keep you motivated."
Use Social Media as a Tool
If you’re already spending every day scrolling through Instagram or sifting through your Facebook feed, use it to your advantage. “Post your goals and progress on social media. That way, you have a lot of people to stay accountable for,” says White. It's also a great way to round up a support system to cheer you on! Get inspired by these 20 Best Viral Weight Loss Stories](https://www.eatthis.com/viral-weight-loss-stories)!
Bounce Back After a Relapse
Although we might not necessarily fail, it’s inevitable that we fall back into old habits now and again. Everyone relapses," says White. "Something unexpected may cause a relapse like a death in the family or a change in job, but you always have to start back. We have to continue reexamining and modifying our goals. And if we didn’t reach them, maybe set them a little lower and try harder the next time around."
Uprooting your current lifestyle for a new, better one doesn’t have to be a drag. If you make the process more fun, you’ll likely see more success. “Going out and buying a few things just to jump-start your plan can be helpful," says White. "Definitely get new gear, whether it’s a new iPhone, playlist or clothes."
Buy a Size Down
Go small with your goals and your clothes when setting a weight-loss plan. “I always say that if the goal is weight loss, buy some outfits that are smaller. The goal is to fit into those clothes. Then when you lose that weight, you can toss your clothes or donate them,” says White.