“A goal properly set is halfway reached.” – Zig Ziglar
Losing weight is often challenging. While there are many diets and strategies you can apply, there’s a general framework that helps many to succeed: goal setting. This helps us to not only plot a course, but to prepare for it in advance, and to adjust along the way accordingly.
One of the most common ways to set and achieve goals is by setting what are called SMART goals. These are goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Some of those letters stand for slightly different things depending on who you ask, so you may find variations in some. SMART goals help us to clearly define our expected outcomes and increase accountability. However, they happen to leave out a big piece of the puzzle. Before we find that missing puzzle piece, let’s first review what a SMART goal is…
The S in SMART stands for specific. It means that your goal isn’t at all vague. Otherwise, your goal is like jumping in your car without direction versus having a specific destination in mind. For instance, you can express the desire to lose weight, which is a great start! But, what’s missing is that it doesn’t tell us how much weight you plan on losing. Saying that you want to lose 20 lbs makes it specific. And a plan to lose 10 lbs will look different compared to one aimed at losing 50 lbs.
M stands for measurable. How measurable is your weight loss goal? Even if you didn’t have access to a scale (or if you prefer to not use one), how would you know how you’re doing? What metrics could you use? Ask yourself: what are the signs that you’re progressing towards your goal? What are the signs that you’ve veered off course? The key is to not only keep the end goal in mind, but to be able to measure your progress (or lack thereof) along the way. This feedback will prove invaluable on your weight loss journey.
For instance, if you were to drive from New York to California, an indicator of progress might be being greeted with a sign that says “Welcome to Ohio” as opposed to “Welcome to Massachusetts.” That tells you that you’re headed in the right direction, even though you still have most of the country left to traverse. But if you were to end up in Massachusetts, then that would help you to realize you’re going the wrong way well before you ended up in Maine!
A stands for attainable. This refers to your ability to achieve your goals. Ideally, your goals should be a little bit of a stretch, but not be a leap. Otherwise, you set yourself up for failure instead of setting yourself up for success. An attainable goal will push you a little bit outside of your comfort zone. But, without some stretching, there can’t be growth. At the same time, your goals shouldn’t be so overwhelming that even small steps along the way feel intimidating and overwhelming.
R stands for relevant, although many use realistic instead. To me, realistic is covered under attainable. Making sure your goal is relevant means that it makes sense to what you’re trying to achieve in the first place. For example, coming back to our cross country drive, making a point to visit a baseball stadium in every state you pass through would be irrelevant to losing weight. It would not only make your drive significantly longer, but it would also take your focus off your goal. Given the foods they typically serve at sporting events, it probably wouldn’t align well with a weight loss goal either!
The last letter, T, stands for time-bound. That is, what is the time frame you’ve decided on for achieving your goal? The time frame of your goal will dictate everything else you’re doing. Coming back to our cross country journey, it would vary quite a bit if the drive was to be completed in 4 days versus a month. In the case of the latter, you could make more stops so long as the stops didn’t detract from your ultimate goal.
Deciding on an appropriate time-frame is important. How quickly would you like to achieve your weight loss goal? Consider what’s realistic when reflecting on this as losing 20 lbs in month may be possible, but it’s not a healthy rate of weight loss and certainly may not be sustainable. In general, losing 1-2 lbs per week is ideal.
Now that you’re familiar with what SMART goals are, can you see what’s missing? Here’s a hint: think about the motivation for the goal. Why is your particular goal important to you? Hence, SMART goals needed to be SMARTER so I added the ER which stands for: evocative reasons.
It doesn’t matter if your why feels superficial (e.g. to look good at the beach), but that it’s important to you. The more whys you can accumulate, the stronger your motivation will be. These are important reasons to keep in mind to help you stay the course when the going gets tough.
If you’re having a hard time coming up with your big whys, then think about this. If you were to trace your life into the future and you didn’t lose weight, what would that life look like? Get as specific as you can and try to imagine future events. Next, reflect on what would happen if you did achieve your goals. Trace that life into the future and think about what it would look like. How might it differ if you lost weight and kept it off for good?
Don’t beat yourself up
One common pitfall with losing weight is losing perspective. This often happens when we veer off course and find that the scale moves in the opposite direction, for instance. The key is to not let it discourage you. Instead, do your best to learn from it. I know this might sound easier said than done, especially if it’s blown you off course before. But when this happens, I encourage you to dig deeper about why this recurs. You may also consider adjusting your goal so it’s less of a stretch. In the end, it’s better to achieve a small goal rather than to fail at a larger one.
So, what does SMARTER weight loss look like for you?