Tell me if this sounds familiar: You declare, “I want to eat healthier!,” and one week later you’re back to your old eating habits. Or, you say, “I’ll learn to play guitar!,” and never get around to it. Sometimes it can be hard to take the leap from setting a goal to actually achieving it. If this sounds like you — then SMART goals might be just the tool you need.
Using the SMART framework will help you set goals that are specific and achievable. It’s an approach I take when working with Orchard Cove residents in Canton, MA as part of Vitalize 360,TM our senior wellness program. At Orchard Cove and all our Boston-area senior living communities, we believe that no one is ever too old to set and achieve goals – whether it’s learning a new skill, reconnecting with friends, or starting an exercise program.
SMART is a simple acronym you can use when creating a goal:
S – Specific
Don’t just say, “I want to eat healthier.” Be more specific – for example, “I’ll try one new recipe this week,” or, “I’ll fill half my dinner plate with vegetables.” The more specific you can be, the easier it will be to hold yourself accountable and celebrate a job well done.
M – Measurable
Creating a firm target helps to break down a vague goal into something more tangible. Incorporating some form of measurement also helps you keep an eye on your progress and celebrate your successes. If you’d like to read more, you could say you’ll spend 20 minutes per day reading, or you’ll read one chapter per week.
A – Achievable
One of the biggest mistakes I see with goal-setting is not making it achievable. Why set yourself up to fail? We all have moments of fantasizing about being a different person. Use that as inspiration, but break it down into achievable goals. You might want to walk in that charity 5K, but a more achievable goal initially might be to build the stamina to walk for 10 minutes, then 20 minutes. Then you can set your sights on that 5K.
R – Realistic
Yesterday a resident told me, “I like to think that I’ll get up in the morning and exercise but I know myself and I know I won’t.” She’s accepted the fact that she’s not a morning person. So instead, she called the fitness center and made an afternoon appointment. Know yourself and set goals that are aspirational, but realistic.
T – Time-Bound
Remember back to your days in school when you stayed up all night writing a paper or studying for a test? We all work better with deadlines. If one of your goals is to reconnect with friends, tell yourself, “by the end of this week, I’ll call one friend to set up a coffee date.”
Here are a few more tips about how to set goals that you’ll feel great about accomplishing:
- Break big goals into smaller ones. It won’t feel so daunting, and you’ll be able to celebrate success along the way.
- Reward yourself. If you want to start a walking program, and you love socializing with friends, make a walking date. Positive feedback is a reward in itself – share your accomplishments with loved ones or on social media.
- Check-in regularly to monitor your progress. I have quarterly check-ins with the residents I coach through Vitalize 360. You could ask a friend or family member to help cheer you on and ask how you’re doing.
- Use visual reminders. Keep a photo of a vacation destination on the refrigerator if saving money to travel is your long-term goal. Or make a to-do list that you can cross things off of. Use check marks, smiley faces – whatever it takes to make yourself feel successful!
- Keep your ultimate goal in mind. If you’re trying to make a change with no idea why you’re doing it, chances are you won’t succeed.
I’ve seen the amazing benefits that come when older adults set and achieve goals. At all stages of life, we need to feel purpose and accomplishment – whether it’s being able to walk to the refrigerator without a cane, having an art show with your own artwork, or learning a foreign language, by being SMART, you can create a real plan to put these dreams into action.