Learn more about goals

Why is goal setting important?

Goal setting is effective because it helps people to focus their attention on making changes. Studies have shown that goal setting can help people succeed in achieving or maintaining a healthy weight. Goal setting is particularly helpful when you set up clear and specific goals for healthy eating and physical activity. Goals can help to motivate you to make changes if they are:

  • personally meaningful to you
  • challenging but still realistic (neither too easy nor too hard)
  • specific so you have a clear idea of what you need to do
  • tied to action plans to help you stay on track

Effective goals are often described by the acronym SMART.

What are SMART goals?

A goal is the ultimate destination you are hoping to reach. Some goals may take several months (or even years) to achieve, and these are referred to as long-term goals. Other goals may be achievable within shorter periods of time, and be referred to as medium- or short-term goals. For example, your medium-term goal may be “eat more fruits and vegetables” while your short-term goal to support it may be “today I will eat a serving of fruit at breakfast and as my afternoon snack, and two servings of vegetables with lunch and dinner.”

Whatever the time period, the most effective type of goal is a SMART goal. SMART is a short form referring to the key characteristics of effective goals:

    Attainable and Realistic

Vague goals produce vague results.  Setting a goal such as “being more active” doesn’t give you guidance as to what you should do, or a means of measuring when you are achieving your goal.  Your goal should specify
what you want to do (e.g., if your goal is to be more active, are you going to achieve this by walking, biking or doing something else?)
when you are going to do it (e.g., three times a week or every day)
how you are going to do it (e.g., by walking the dog)

If a goal is measurable, you can tell when you are succeeding.  A goal of “walking 20 minutes three times a week” gives you a goal that you can clearly measure.
A measurable goal that can be tracked gives you valuable feedback on how you are doing. Feedback is a key to achieving goals and making effective behaviour change.  To find out more, check out the article on Tracking and Monitoring.

Attainable and Realistic
A goal should challenge you to stretch a little.  A goal that is too easy is unlikely to lead to change.  Moreover, a goal that is too easy will not reward you with a sense of satisfaction and pride when you achieve it.
At the same time, a goal that’s extreme or unreasonable is setting you up for failure.  Avoid unreasonable, unrealistic or impractical goals.  For example, trying to look like a professional body builder or runway model may not be realistic given your build, age, family commitments or occupations.  But eating healthier and being active so you feel and look better is both realistic and good for you.
When developing your goals, take into account your abilities and circumstances, as well as personal factors such as other commitments.

Your goal should have a time frame.  A long- or medium-term goal may specify the number of weeks or months needed to achieve your goal.  A short-term goal may specify that you will do something for a specific period of time or a specific number of times. 

Building and Maintaining Your Motivation: 

1.  Social Support
Different people can help you in different ways in achieving your goals.  Some of the most common ways in which family members, friends or colleagues can support you include: 

  • tangible support such as watching the kids for you so you can go walking
  • emotional support
  • companionship, such as joining you for walks
  • giving you information to help you in making healthier choices (e.g., information or coaching from a personal trainer or dietitian)

It’s also important to be able to identify and learn how to deal with people who may be consciously or unconsciously sabotaging your efforts. 
When creating your goals, it’s helpful to identify individuals who can help and support you.  There’s a place to enter their names in the My Goals section (look for the box “with help from”).  To learn more about the importance of social support, click here.

2.  Celebrating Your Success
Knowing that you are making progress in achieving your goals will give you a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.  It’s important to periodically celebrate your successes.  If you want, you can give yourself healthy rewards to celebrate your successes.  A healthy reward may be something like:

  • time to do something you find enjoyable and relaxing, such as playing a round of golf with friends, relaxing in a bubble bath, or going for a massage
  • a tangible sign of your progress, such as a book, a new tool or new clothes
  • a celebration with the members of your social support network (with healthier foods of course!)


SMART Goal Summary

  • To summarize, to optimize your success you need to:
  • clearly identify what you want to change and what behaviours are needed to make that change possible
  • develop SMART goals to guide your behaviour
  • Specific, Measurable, Realistic and Attainable, and Time-Based
  • Having specific, measurable goals will enable you to:
  • monitor your progress
  • know when you are succeeding
  • identify one-time or recurrent activities that could help make your goal behaviours more convenient or easier
  • identify family, friends or colleagues who can support you and help you in achieving your goals
  • celebrate your successes
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