Setting Realistic Goals



by Nicki Anderson

Do you look at New Yearís resolutions as goals? Well, thatís exactly what they are. Every year millions of people make resolutions that never make it past March 1 because they are goals that sound great at the time but are completely unrealistic. For example, resolving to lose thirty pounds in the next year has no basis in reality. In fact, itís something that youíve wanted to do for the last ten years, and every year, after a month or so, you cast the goal aside because itís totally incongruent with your lifestyle and fitness level.

My resolution every year was to take up dance again. Every January I would tell myself that I was going to sign up for a dance class that met three times a week. I never seemed to factor in my full-time job, four kids, my writing, and so on. Why did I think my life could suddenly accommodate a three-day-a-week dance class? It just was not a realistic goal for me. Even though three days a week would be ideal, it wasnít practical, and I had other things at the top of my priority list. I obviously needed to figure out (if I truly wanted to do it) how to fit dance in. So I decided to try once a week, which was much more doable for me, and it worked. I did attend dance class faithfully every week until I was able to add more time. You see, thereís much we may want, but weíve got to put these desires in perspective and decide what will work for where we are right now. Take it in steps. Most important, set a goal that is for you and only you. Dancing three times a week might have been my desire, but it wasnít right for me. But a class once a week still gave me the great pleasure of dancing, and it fit my life.

As Iíve said before, I often tell my clients, ďIf youíre starting an exercise or nutrition program, you need to ask yourself if itís something you can do for the rest of your life. If the answer is no, stop right now, reassess, and start over.Ē

Start Small

Goal setting was rarely discussed in my family, especially since my father didnít believe that women could succeed. It wasnít until I began working for a health club and was living on my own and destitute that I discovered setting goals. At that time I was (or so I was told) a phenomenal sales associate. After just six months with the company, I had the largest sales volume, and I was only seventeen. My boss was the first person who encouraged me to set goals so that I could generate more income. It was a revolutionary concept: to state your desire, set a plan, see if it fits your philosophy, and, voilŗ, success!

Every goal that I set at work, I reached. But at first, it was a challenge. Some goals sound stupid or impossible. But like anything new, the more you do it the easier it becomes. I remember when I first started setting goals I showed them to my boss and asked him, ďAre these right?Ē He responded, ďIf theyíre right for you, then theyíre just right.Ē His attitude had a lot to do with my success at the health club. Itís been stated that those who set goals tend to be more successful in all areas of their lives. Goals help keep our direction clear and our motivation high.

Setting goals is the best way to get excited about possibilities, that is, if the goals reflect your true desires. Many of us know we want to lose weight, but that isnít a specific goal, itís too general. By getting in touch with what your true needs are you will be less likely to become involved with a program that is short-term, ineffectual, and ultimately dangerous. A rigid diet is not something you can do forever, so why even begin? Begin slowly by selecting a small goal. Stick with that for a while and see how it goes, then think about setting another goal. Being realistic as you set your goals encourages permanent lifestyle changes. When setting goals, ask yourself if they are conducive to your life and focused on your health. If the answer is ďyes,Ē then youíre on the right track.

The First Step: Discovering What You Want

Since we are focusing on creating a healthier lifestyle for you, our emphasis will be on healthy lifestyle goals. Before you get started, we must uncover what your true goals are. How do you know if they reflect your true desires? It helps to ask yourself if youíre willing to make some changes in order to reach your stated goal. Now is the time to think about what you really want. Think about what makes you smile, what makes you feel passionate, what propels you forward even when youíre stressed. Donít ask someone else! Donít let your goals be your motherís, husbandís, or friendís. Make sure your goal or goals are right for you, and go for it.

Next, understand that you can only achieve a goal if your intention turns into action. Nothing can happen without actual implementation; that is why it is so important to set practical goals. The action will never take place if your goals are too overwhelming. So be practical. Your goal may simply be to become more active by taking relaxed walks with the dog. Thatís a great starting point and an attainable goal ó one that will point you in the right direction. Think long and hard about what direction you want to take to gain health and balanced fitness. Without question, it will involve commitment, time, and persistence. However, once youíve zeroed in on your specific goals, it will empower you to begin taking active steps in the right direction.

Journal to Commitment

By now, you can see the need for realistic, personal goal setting and for taking action to ensure your long-term success. What comes next is commitment. You can set all the goals you want, but if youíre not willing to commit yourself to the process, it wonít work. But if you are committed to seeing your desires become reality, you will succeed.

My most successful clients are the ones who make every effort to improve the quality of their lives with a step-by-step plan I offer: the S.U.R.E system. This system helps you to create clear goals and actions, which sets you up for long-term success. By using this system and journaling every step of the way, you will be able to set your path and make adjustments as needed. So take out your journal and write at the top of a new page ďMy Goals for Success.Ē Beneath that heading, list the system as follows:

S: Is your goal specific?

U: Do you understand the work involved in your goal?

R: Is your goal realistic?

E: Are you enthusiastic about your program?

Now comes a challenging part, applying this system to your goals. It may be tough at first to figure out your true desires, and thatís fine. Think about it for a day, even a week, and when youíre ready, begin listing your goals. They may consist of reducing the risk of disease or being healthy enough to play ball with your grandchildren. You may only have one right now, and thatís also fine. List others as you think of them. After a week or two, look at your list and prioritize them. Be realistic. Preventing diabetes needs to be more of a priority than fitting into a pair of pants; if itís not, it should be. Rome wasnít built in a day, so start with your first goal and focus only on that. If you start with too much youíll

be overwhelmed and become paralyzed. Now youíre ready to apply the S.U.R.E. system to see if your goal is appropriate for you right now. As you go along, feel free to keep adjusting, elaborating, or reevaluating your goal.

The first step is S: be specific. The more specific you are about your goals, the more youíll be able to weed out anything that isnít about your goal. Then set a date for reaching it, which will help to prevent procrastination and encourage you to look at the practicality of your goal. If you state that you want to lose ten pounds in four months to be healthy and energetic for a trip overseas, that will be an easier goal to follow than just wanting to lose weight. Youíll be less motivated if your goal is too general.

If your goal seems too general to you, expand it into a subset of goals, or mini-goals. I like using a pyramid to prioritize my goals. First I draw a pyramid, then I divide it into six separate parts and begin listing my general goals at the bottom. Then I move some goals into the next segment and the next until Iíve come to the top, where I put my most important goal. Itís always interesting to see what goal ends up at the top; you may be surprised. Most likely it will be a goal that you feel the most passionate about. And the more passionate you feel about your goal, the more likely you will be to carry it through. Last year, when I went through the S.U.R.E. steps, I would put running a marathon at the top. I had wanted to run a marathon for a long time, and I felt quite passionate about turning this dream into a reality. When I turned it into a true goal, I was ready to take action and commit to seeing it through. It was a bit overwhelming, but I did it, and it turned out to be a wonderful experience.

Now you are ready to move to the next step, U: understand. Do you understand the time commitment and possible financial, mental, and physical commitment that youíll need to reach this goal? If your specific goal is to improve your health for your trip in June, are you giving yourself adequate time? Or are you putting unnecessary stress on yourself to do something that isnít right for you? If youíre planning to walk every day for six weeks have you taken your current health status into consideration? Do you understand the physical demands that the goal youíve set requires? If the answer is no, go back to your goal and adjust it so that it works for you. Rather than saying youíll walk every day for six weeks, ask a health professional for advice about whatís safe and reasonable for you.

Exercise programs strictly for weight loss often begin with only the end in mind. Investigating the steps necessary to getting there is rarely a consideration but is vital to the success or failure of your goal. It could be compared to getting into your car with the desire to go to Europe. You may not realize itís unreasonable until you reach the coast! So be sure you understand all that is involved in reaching your goals. Iíve seen too many people let their good intentions fall by the wayside because they didnít realize all that was involved with the goals they chose.

The next step, R, is similar: be realistic. Setting unrealistic goals is the number-one reason why crash diet and exercise programs fail. One example might be  working out to achieve a perfectly flat tummy. If gravity has set in or youíve had children, there is little chance you will ever have a perfectly flat stomach. And if you are realistic in your goal-setting step, you will save yourself a lot of aggravation. Why not shoot for stronger legs or lowering your blood pressure? Or eating more fruit and drinking more water? Those sound far more realistic, donít they? And they involve a lot less hassle both mentally and physically.

Now youíre at the final step, E: enthusiasm. As you look over your goals, are you enthusiastic about the possibilities? Do you look forward to the steps youíll take in order to make them happen? Or do you look at your goals and immediately feel defeated or overwhelmed? If itís the latter, then itís time to go back to step one and reevaluate your goal. Is it specific? Is it realistic? Does it fit in with your lifestyle? Is it what you really want? If you donít necessarily feel defeated but your goal doesnít do much for you, you may have set your goal too low. Goals need to be challenging enough to even warrant being defined as goals. Whereís the motivation if thereís no challenge? Remember what I mentioned earlier about passion? Youíve got to be passionate to carry something through. So make sure the goal or goals youíve set forth spark excitement and confidence.

Keeping on Track

At this point youíve listed your goal or goals. Maybe youíve created your own pyramid so you can home in on the goal you feel most passionate about. Youíve carefully looked over your goals and have analyzed the kinds of commitment that will be involved in reaching them. If youíve done all of the above, now itís time to look over your stated goals with sheer determination and hope.

Look at your journal every day. Make sure your listed goals or goal keep you excited. If not, go back to the beginning of this chapter and reread it. With this process, whether it involves exercise, nutrition, a job, or a vacation, youíre on a continuous journey that offers you the opportunity to learn what is just right for you.

If youíve gone through your S.U.R.E steps, you know youíve set a goal that is appropriate for you. You are ready to flourish rather than be defeated by some unrealistic program with distorted expectations. One of the great things about becoming a goal setter is that your goals continue to change as you progress. If for some reason your stated goal is becoming too difficult to attain, just fall back on your S.U.R.E system. Maybe the time or expense became too much. But instead of walking away feeling like a failure, just readjust your goal until itís right for you. And that is what itís all about: what is right for you. Your goals are uniquely yours; they will direct your life according to your dreams, desires, and passions. Generic programs donít work because you are not generic. You are one of a kind, an exceptional individual who deserves the right to participate fully in the direction you give your life. With appropriate goal setting you will see that the desires of your heart can become the reality of your future.

From Reality Fitness, inspiration for your health and well-being, by Nicki Anderson. Copyright © 2000 Nicki Anderson. Excerpted by arrangement with New World Library. $12.95. Available in local bookstores or call 800-972-6657, ext. 52 or click here.