Many of us have career goals, financial goals, lifestyle goals. We seek education to rev up our work, and perhaps change jobs or even professions. We plan to buy a house or a condo, get out of debt, increase our savings. We plan for vacations or trips, make arrangements to be with family (or not), take our children places, or learn to bellydance – all wonderful goals.
But when I ask clients about their health goals, most people are vague and fuzzy.
“I want to feel better.”
Maybe I’ll lose weight this year.”
“I need to make sure I get a check up.”
That’s about as clear as most of us are – even when we live with a chronic illness. Our pain, and all the problems that go with our physical well-being are treated as crises, or interruptions to our “regular” life. We react to health issues, or put them on the “to-do” list, but rarely do we make goals.
Sometimes that’s because planning feels so unrealistic. If I plan how to feel better, what if I have a flare? Can’t follow through on my goal to get to the gym or yoga class? Don’t feel well enough for a massage?
We may even have a secret belief that planning sets us up for failure, so it’s better just to go with the flow of what comes.
But the reality is if we don’t set intentions, and goals, most of us just drift. We hope we’ll feel better, but we spend our time reacting to what comes along, more than we do deciding and then acting on how we want to support our bodies and our health.
In the world of management and organizations, the talk about goals usually includes the description of SMART goals: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound.
What I like about that acronym, is the way it helps break down a big meta goal, like “feeling better” into smaller more achievable steps.
First we ask – what does it mean to me to “feel better”?
Less pain? More energy? More days I go out than stay in? You begin to get specific about what the goal is.
Suppose for you, feeling better right now means, getting eight hours of sleep.
OK – that is specific.
It is also measureable – you know that you are looking for eight hours a night.
The “a” that stands for “attainable” can also be “actionable”.
You have your specific measureable goal – now what do you need to do to attain it? What actions will move you towards it? For one person it may be establishing that regular bedtime routine and rhythm. Another person knows they need to turn off electronics by a certain time each night. Someone else may look at making sure they get their medication early enough. Whatever the actions are, put them on a list or somewhere you can see and remember.
The fourth part of your goal setting is “realistic.” If you have never been able to manage eight hours, but regularly get about five, perhaps six or six and a half hours is a more realistic goal. You want to make these health goals something you can accomplish with some intention, effort and practice. The aim here is to help you make your global wishes more bite sized and within your grasp.
Finally, the fifth step is time-bound. Most of us will put off our goals forever if we don’t put them in a frame. Lose five pounds by the reunion, be able towalk three miles in time for that trip, finish the paper so I can graduate. We need those end points.
So, in the matter of getting more sleep, by when? In a month? Two months? Give your self a deadline, or a finish by line.
Your health challenge may not be sleep – it may be better eating, or going to one exercise class a week . The point is to create goals, and to have them be SMART.
Try it and see if this helps you take action. Our actions can help us feel better in a sustained way.