I am a health promotion and policy specialist. Goal setting is our bread and butter within this industry.
When we think about health promotion, what we are thinking about is how we can make sure people have the tools they need to make sure their goals can become reality.
Often we are told to pick a SMART goal.
Something specific- it doesn’t have it be too big. Kind of like making a wish/prayer- if it’s too big, the wish might not come true or the message may go sideways (watch what you wish for is a really good reminder when you think about your specific goal). So be specific. I will fold my clothing within one day of taking it out of the dryer. I will have some type of fruit/veg at every meal.
Be able to measure your progress- sure. Sometimes that works. I’m a big fan of sticker charts for completing tasks. Yes. I’m an adult. I’m not ashamed of the fact that I can bribe myself with stickers.
But then sometimes it can be really hard to measure what success is or what change is. First, that feels like a lot of work to do when there are a million things coming at you, second, not all goals can easily be measured. For example, if my goal is to try to remember to breath more- to try to measure this while possible then means it isn’t necessarily going to be a habit that I just do while sitting at my desk.
Make sure your goals are achievable and relevant – that’s you’re A and R in SMART. It would be great to have the goal of reading 2 novels a week, however this might not be achievable and if you only read 4 books last year, this probably is not relevant to your lifestyle or what your interests are – maybe aim for something smaller like reading for 10 minutes a day or listening to more audiobooks or stopping after episode 2 in whatever the latest binge-worthy show is that you’re watching and spend the length of time for episode 3 reading since you might be sitting around on the couch anyway. Make the goal achievable and relevant to your life and spend time thinking about what that is and looks like.
Finally, time-based. Give yourself a deadline for when you will re-evaluate and see if this goal is still working for you.
So this is a great place to start, but even with doing this sometimes it’s hard to see the resolutions become reality. Often even the smartest goals fail.
This is why we need to combine this with another approach! I suggest the COM-B model.
This is where the COM-B model comes in. The COM has to be there in order for the goal to be achieved (or B for behaviour changed).
Make sure that you have capability (as in C for COM-B) to do your goal. You wanted to run a marathon this year, but you don’t even go for walks around the block? Figure out what you need to be able to run that marathon. What equipment do you need? What training do you need? What time commitment do you need? How will you measure your progress?
Make sure there is the opportunity (as in O for COM-B). I live in the middle of a place that has snow half the year and forest fires the other half the year, or so it seems, so exercising outside isn’t always reasonable. How will you train for the marathon? And is there a marathon you can get to?
Make sure that you really are motivated (as in M for COM-B). I LOVE the idea of a marathon. But I HATE the idea of running. I like swimming though and I like hiking. So maybe instead of running a marathon, I can figure out what it is about that idea that I like, is it the physical activity, is it the group element, is it the idea of concerning a goal? What is my motivation and does that fit with the capacity and opportunities I have to meet the goal.
Only after all three of these items are in place, combined with – remember combined is the key word here- a goal setting technique like SMART or PACT (purposeful, actionable, continuous, trackable) goals be something you not only stick with but enjoy and achieve.
Happy 2024 everyone!