How To Successfully Set Goals

by Melissa on June 5, 2012

Up until recently, I had no idea that goal setting is a science. I’d pick up a dry-erase marker in my favorite-now color and I’d scribble down the big, bold words.

Lose all my weight by summer.

I would eat my way through all the snacks I knew were in the house that couldn’t be around for when I started tomorrow. I would have a nice, big, fattening dinner, chase it with my favorite dessert, and I’d say to myself, “Tomorrow, I’m going to start my diet.”

Pop quiz! Which of the words in the last sentence are indicative of the fate of my goals?

Tomorrow. Diet. (Oh, and all of the “last meal” shit goes right with it.)

I would wake up the next morning, without a plan in mind, and I’d shuffle my way to the cabinet for breakfast. Fruit Loops. Lucky Charms. Bisquick. Cocoa Puffs. Okay, I’ll skip breakfast, go to the grocery store, and I’ll buy some better breakfast choices. Lunch time!! What the hell do I want for lunch?? I’m so sick of sandwiches!!! Skipped meal #2. I’ll just have a big dinner…and big it is. Nibble, nibble, nibble. Sneak a taste here, sneak a taste there. Heavy cream. Cheese. Pasta. Steak. Two to three heaping helpings of dinner, and I’m stuffed. Uncomfortably stuffed. 15 minutes later, I’m back in the kitchen looking for dessert. Oh, Grandma…thank you so much for helping me discover my Polish roots.

It was the same dangerous cycle over and over and over. I’ll start over tomorrow. As soon as I go to the grocery store first thing in the morning. Shit! I forgot to workout!!!!

Lose all my weight by summer.

That goal resonated in my head year after year from the time I was 11, when I really, truly became aware of my weight problem, to the time I was…oh hell, about 6 months ago. What was I doing wrong???

I wasn’t setting goals. I saw stating something I desired. Everyone I loved knew what I wanted to do. Everyone I loved knew I would start…and I would never finish. No one had the guts to tell me that it was solely my fault – that I wasn’t sticking to my goals – until my husband finally looked at me and said it.


But he was right!!! I wasn’t sticking to my goals, but it wasn’t entirely my fault. I wasn’t educated enough to know that goal setting is a science. There is a right way and a wrong way. You cannot just throw a goal out there, with no plan of attack. You need to visualize your ultimate goal, break it down into smaller goals, and be specific. You need to be able to write them down and track your progress, and you need to see results.

Why do you need to see results?

You need to be able to see the direction in which you’re heading. Are you moving away from your goal or toward your goal?

So how do you set goals?

The S.M.A.R.T. way.

Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Reasonable, & Timely. All five of those components of goal setting are absolutely necessary to successfully reaching your goals. We’re all human, and we all get bored easily. We get overwhelmed, we’re visual beings, and we all get unfocused from time to time – some of us more often than others. It’s natural. So in order for us to focus easier, we need the following (and I’ll use my “goal” as an example):


Wrong: “Lose all my weight by summer.” Why: It’s vague. There’s nothing specific about this goal. How much is “all my weight”? How long is “by summer”? How are you going to do this?

Right: “Lose 30 pounds and/or 10% body fat by June 20, 2012 by eating whole foods and exercising 6 days a week.” Why: BOOM. I’ve got what I’m going to measure. I’ve got how I’m going to get to that goal. I’ve got my deadline, and I know I’ve given myself just the right amount of time to reach my goal.


Wrong: “Lose all my weight by summer.” Why: No part of this goal is measurable. Pounds? Body fat? Inches? What am I going to measure?

Right: “Lose 30 pounds and/or 10% body fat by June 20, 2012.” Why: There are several measurements that can be tracked throughout the period of time I’ve given myself. I can weigh myself and track pounds lost and I can have my body fat measured. Weekly weigh-ins/measurements will help keep goals in check and will help me see that my hard work is paying off. This is key!!!!


Wrong: “Lose all my weight by summer.” Why: “All my weight” sounds awfully hefty (no pun intended) doesn’t it? Is it possible for me to “lose all my weight” by summer?

Right: “Lose 30 pounds by June 20, 2012.” Why: If it were January 1, then that gives me 6 months to lose 30 pounds. That’s 5 pounds a month. That’s roughly a pound a week. That’s doable. That’s healthy. It also gives me room for setbacks, but not too much time to slack. A steady rate of weight loss is what will get me to that goal.


Wrong: “Lose all my weight by summer.” Why: Am I willing to work hard enough to lose “all my weight” by summer? Will I get overwhelmed? If I don’t reach that goal, will I be crushed? (To answer that question, yes, yes you will be. Every. Single. Year.)

Right: “Lose weight by June 20, 2012.” Why: “All my weight” isn’t reasonable, and it sounds like a daunting task if you’re asking me. I’ve learned that it is a daunting task over the years, specifically because “all my weight” means there’s no set number. Leaving it at “weight”, for now, takes away the scariness of such a “large” idea.


Wrong: “Lose all my weight by summer.” Why: Have I given myself enough time to reach this goal? Is it a healthy amount of time? Do I have a date set in my mind and on paper? Can I visualize a finish line?

Right: “Lose all my weight by June 20, 2012.” Why: If it were January 1, then this would definitely work. (If it were today, I’d say get me to the nearest doc as soon as possible.) There’s a finish line. There’s a date that can be written down and seen over and over again.

I started off with the “wrongs” and worked my way back. I’m turned that “Lose all my weight by summer” goal into something I could honestly see happening by writing in the right way of setting that goal. I started with “timely” and worked my way back to come up with that last, specific goal. (You’ll see a method to my madness as you read up from timely to specific.)

The finished product? “Lose 30 pounds and/or 10% body fat by June 20, 2012 by eating whole foods and exercising 6 days a week.”

By having an ultimate goal, I’ve set the stage for next phase: setting mini goals. The ultimate goal can be reached by breaking it down into goals for each month. Each monthly goal will be broken down into weekly goals, and each weekly goal into daily goals. Use the SMART method to create these goals so that the goals continue to be realistic and specific – something to work toward. By doing this, I can approach each day with a fresh, attainable goal that can be crossed off. If I cross it off, I’m one step closer to achieving my weekly goal. If I cross of a weekly goal, I’m one step closer to achieving my monthly goal, and so on. The more I cross off, the happier I am.

We’re visual beings, and seeing success, no matter how small, happening on a daily basis motivates us to keep going. It stops us from abandoning our goals and ultimately our dreams.

For my visual friends:

goals, setting goals, how to set goals chart

How do you set your goals? Do you follow the SMART method?


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