Shed U: Goal Setting 101

by Rachel on September 14, 2009

Welcome back to another class at Shed U, students! Today, it’s all about goals.

I love making goals. Like, REALLY LOVE. This is probably one of the most prominent aspects of my personality, right up there with talking too much/too fast and being incapable of keeping a poker face. I make daily goals, weekly goals, monthly goals. Morning goals, afternoon goals, better hair goals, trip-to-Target goals! (Ex: Buy only a Thank You card, not $80 worth of beauty products, gum, salsa, and tank tops.) And of course, guy goals! (Words of wisdom: do not go to the bar with the goal of finding a date to date party! You will end up taking tequila shots and announcing to everyone at the bar that you must leave to go to a nearby fraternity house “so as to get my goal!!” You well then call your gay BF hysterically at 2:00 in the morning, as you try to figure out if you should go to Sig Eps to meet your goal or if you should go home with your sophomore-year love to hook up but possibly meet your goal…and you will do this while your sophomore-year love stands right there. You will not achieve this goal.) Yes, OK, sometimes my goals don’t go according to plan, but the point is, I like making goals and I get enough of them that I will keep doing it!

But while studying client motivation last week, I discovered that while we all know that goals are an important part of diet and exercise, there is an actual method to making and achieving goals. Hm. Well. If I had known that, maybe date party senior year would have gone differently.

Goals usually start out as vague statements. But you can formulate a great goal by using the SMART technique. I am going to use my some of my current goals (“eat more fish,” “stop talking to guys who make me feel like crap,” and “lift weights so I’m a better runner/better looking”) to illustrate this technique.

S– specific. A good goal is very specific. “Eat more fish,” …like, how many more? What kind? The guy goal is decent, but, “Stop talking to Tom, Dick, and especially Harry,” is better. And the last goal is way too vague. “Do a total body strength training routine twice a week” is an upgrade.

M– measurable. There has to be some way to measure your goal to prove you’ve attained it. I like goals you can measure on a calendar with star stickers. Silver star for tuna sandwich! Blue star for weight lifting! Gold star for ignoring a text!! Goals that involve some kind of definite quantity are good. Goals that end with events like “Train for a 5K” are also really good.

A– attainable. You want a goal that is challenging, but that you truly believe you are capable of doing (even if it’s kind of a long shot right now). Easy goals just aren’t motivating; overly-hard goals are just frustrating. This is why my goals do not say, “Eat fish once a year” (too easy) or “Become a bodybuilder and stop dating Republicans” (both not happening).

R– relevant. Your goals should relate to your needs and interests; if they don’t, you won’t care enough to stick with them. My interests include health, weight loss, good self-image, and positive relationships. Therefore, at this point in my life, I am not going to make a goal to learn to speak Chinese.

T– time-bound. You must, must, must give yourself a deadline. Otherwise, what’s the point? It’s OK if it’s near or far; the point is, it should fit the goal. So, now I have, “Eat fish two times a week for a month,” “Do two total-body strength routines twice a week for the duration of half-marathon training,” and “Do not talk to Tom, Dick, or Harry for 30 days, at which point you may actually have realized your life is better without them.”

OK now that you know how to be SMART, here are some more aspects of good goal setting…

  • Express your goals in terms of your actions, not anyone else’s. Take responsibility. “I am going to stop dating assholes,” makes it easy to blame someone else if this doesn’t work out. “I am going to demand that guys are nice to me” forces me to change.
  • You might need to make smaller goals in order to achieve your big goal. This is especially true if you have a weight-loss or exercise goal. “Lose weight,” might become “eat breakfast every day this month” and “stop eating Doritos in front of the TV.”
  • On that note, it’s good to reward yourself for behavioral changes as opposed to physical ones. Like with my “get stronger,” goal, the real goals are the weekly strength training sessions. It’s sort of like that saying, “Life’s a journey, not a destination.”
  • Come up with alternative means of achieving your goals. For example, I could stop falling in love with jerks by becoming a lesbian or joining a convent. You could lose weight by spending an extra 20 minutes in the gym each day.
  • Evaluate your alternatives and decide if you should do them or perhaps a combination of all the options. I cannot become a lesbian or join a convent. You may not have an extra 20 minutes to spend in the gym every day, but maybe you could do it twice a week.
  • Make a plan! Figure out who, what, when, where, how, what materials you need. To make my goals, I need some new recipes and I need to buy more fish on my next grocery trip. You may also have to take into account what you don’t need–I don’t need chicken. I definitely don’t need tequila.
  • Write your plan down. If you can, get it on the calendar (Google calendars are my best friend!); also note the days you’ll evaluate how you’re progressing.
  • While doing this, plan how you’ll tackle challenges. Are you going to be able to get to the gym when you get stressed about your finals? Am I going to go back to MSU in three weeks and see every emotionally unavailable guy I used to like? THINGS TO CONSIDER!
  • Plan your rewards! A goal is way more exciting when you have something big, fabulous, and fun riding on it. Yes, the goal in and of itself will bring awesome things (Health! Beauty! Confidence!), but a material token, even a small one, is sometimes what it takes to get you through the tough days.

Now that you’re clued in to the SMART way to make goals, start making some! Even if it’s small. Even if it’s crazy and barely attainable. Even if you don’t want to tell anyone about it because it’s kind of embarrassing. The first step to achieving a goal is admitting you have a goal!

I love goals, so of course I want to hear yours! What are your goals and what are you doing to achieve them? Please share with the class!

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 loreejo September 14, 2009 at 5:30 pm

don’t have time to put my goals into specifics this minute (time to leave work! HA), but i’m totally putting a “star” on this post (via google reader!) love the post and really enjoy your writing; i like how you included food, exercise and emo-health goals as examples!


2 Rachel September 14, 2009 at 7:23 pm

OK, but when you come back, I want to hear those goals!!


3 Diane September 17, 2009 at 4:09 am

Hi Rachel!
I just wanted to say that I used this goal-setting technique and the positive thinking stuff you wrote about earlier, and it made a big difference in the last couple of days.

One of my main food goals is to only have french fries once a week. This might seem ridiculous to most people, but it’s actually difficult for me with my love for potatoes! I also have classes that run all through the dinner hour (5-9), so it’s hard for me to not binge at the multiple fast food places on my way home. I’m working on eating snacks during class so this doesn’t happen.

Thanks for your posts! And good luck with the crushes. <3


4 Rachel September 17, 2009 at 9:10 am

The french fry goal is NOT RIDICULOUS AT ALL. (I disagree that “there is no thing as a stupid question.” But I have to say, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A STUPID GOAL!) I think fries once a week is actually a goal a lot of people, myself included, have needed to make before. (Me. College. Bell’s french fries.) I, too, love the spud. But I have to say, when you DO get your once a week fries, please get some super seasoned, kinda crispy, totally amazing waffle fries. (Or whatever your fave kind is.) And snack, snack, snack to get you through Drive Thru row unscathed. (Think of it like a video game where you’re dodging value meals.) Keep me posted on how the goal goes!

P.S. glad you started blogging again!!


5 Helen September 24, 2009 at 4:35 pm

I just found your blog and just bookmarked you… After baby #2, I’m back on the weight-loss horse again, and I’m an old pro at setting goals, although I don’t know quite what my early ones will be. I was heavy my whole life (a drama kid, too), lost weight at an unhealthy pace when I moved to NY in 1998 and gained it all back (of course). Finally, when my daughter was 1 1/2 i decided enough was enough (I’m 5’1″ and at my heaviest, over 200 lbs). Lost 50 lbs on weight watchers, and then, of course, got pregnant again! So my son is now 8 weeks old, and I’ve been on WW for 2 weeks now. Back with my trainer, and in mommy-baby yoga until I can get back to the gym regularly (I can use the kids’ club when my baby is 3 months old)…

My goals are hard to decide right now – if i want them to be weight related, or clothing size. Or just behavioral (like, just sticking to plan and working out 3 times a week for the next month) or something like that. I have a trip to Costa Rica in 6 weeks, so I’m hoping that by then I’m down a pants/dress size – mostly so I don’t have to buy any more clothes (I have a closet full of clothes in smaller sizes, or *lovely* pregnancy clothes – but very little that looks good now)…

What do you think? Should I set a short term weight goal? Size goal? Both? Neither?



6 Rachel September 24, 2009 at 8:14 pm

I definitely think a behavioral goal would be great! I was thinking about this last night, and I realized that the behavioral goals are so important to getting your HEAD in the right place; once you are sticking with something, it just makes you feel great, successful, proud, etc. So you feel like you’re achieving something every week, instead of just getting bored because you aren’t THERE yet. Also, a weight/pants goal is tough because I mean, what do you do if one week you’re not on track? I think it can lead to feeling bad….AND it might encourage an unhealthy pace. Maybe you should set a behavioral goal and if you achieve it, then you can buy some new clothes to wear on your trip! And promise yourself if you make the goal, you can get the clothes no matter what size you are. (Because they’ll be better than your pregnancy clothes, I’m sure. And also because I believe no woman should wear clothes she doesn’t love while she waits to hit a goal size/weight.)

Keep me posted on what you decide!!


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