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  • Writer's pictureLindsay Nelson, RD, LD

How to Set Realistic Goals

It’s that time of year again when people are thinking about their goals for the New Year. It’s naturally an easy time of the year to start thinking about new goals as we reflect on the previous year and think about what change we would like to see in our lives in the New Year. However, 50-80% of people don’t meet their New Year resolutions. Many people don’t even remember the resolutions they set by the end of the year! Behavior experts believe it’s because we choose too many goals and we choose goals that are not realistic, like “I’m going to lose 50 pounds, travel to 3 countries and run a marathon.”

To make goals stick for the New Year and any time of the year, choose one thing at a time, and start small. Change starts with small, intentional behavior changes that eventually become habits. You want to lose weight? Great! What’s the first step you can take? Some goals for weight loss could be meal planning, eating at home more, getting a step tracker, etc. When I meet with clients for weight loss, I always ask them to set 1-2 goals per session. Usually they say “eat better and lose weight”. That’s when I start probing them and help them brainstorm HOW exactly they want to eat better and lose weight and we turn these vague goals into measurable, realistic goals using the SMART goal method.






A great smart goal would be “I’m going to start walking 3 times a week for 30 minutes over my lunch break starting next week.”

Having accountability and telling someone else about your goals can make a big impact. People trying to change their health who meet with a dietitian, health coach, personal trainer or support group tend to have better success at sticking with their goals. Or if your goal isn’t health-related, find a professional or group that will help to bring you closer to your goal. If your goal is to have more joy, maybe you sign up to volunteer at an organization that you admire and you meet others who value the same things you do while making a difference in the world.

SMART goals are great to make all year long and can change throughout the course of the year depending on your life circumstances. Once you achieve one goal, you can choose another to work on next. I personally like to choose a word of intention for the year instead of a resolution, and I make small goals to work on throughout the year to bring this word of intention to fruition. The year I had my first child I was feeling very overwhelmed trying to figure out how to be a mom and balance work, house chores, cooking, etc. My word for the next year was SIMPLIFY. That year I learned about minimalism and focused on how to get rid of things (possessions and time-suckers) that drained me and only keep things in my life that brought me value and served a purpose. Some of my small goals that led to this intention included “this week I will purge and organize my closet to get rid of items that I don’t use and add clutter” and “this week I will choose healthy meals that are very simple to make”. The habits I learned that year have stuck with me ever since and has kept my life less cluttered and meaningful.

What word best sums up your intention for 2019? What SMART goals can you make to work towards the life you want to live?

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