When it comes to creating lasting healthy lifestyle changes, setting goals is a proven and effective place to start. This process helps to provide clarity and focus on what it is that you want to achieve and allows you to break big goals down into more manageable tasks. That’s why living a healthier lifestyle begins with understanding how to set goals and achieve them.
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Types of Goals
Most of us have had the experience of setting goals only to abandon them three weeks or even three days later. That’s usually because we didn’t follow a fairly simple structure of goal-setting that includes three primary types of goals.
Vision or meta-goal
Your vision or meta-goal is your big picture of what you want to achieve1. It ultimately helps to define the why behind your actions and should always be stated in positive or affirming language. An example could be, “I want to be comfortable and feel good as I live a long and active life.” Compare that to the “I want to lose weight” that many people start with, and it’s fairly easy to see the difference.
Sub-goals are where many of us tend to start when setting goals, but, in fact, they are really mid-level. They’re more tangible and specific and help us to get more focused on how we’re actually going to achieve our overall vision or meta-goal. You’ll probably have at least several sub-goals. Examples could be, “to develop healthy eating habits and routines” and “to add more movement throughout the day.”
These are the consistent habits or actions that will allow you to achieve your sub-goals. In other words, they answer the question of “how” you’re going to achieve your sub-goal. An example for our sub-goal of developing lifelong healthy eating habits could be to eat vegetables at every meal.
How to Determine Your Vision
To determine your vision or meta-goal, think about the why behind what you currently believe is your ultimate goal. Let’s face it, for most of us, saying, “I want to increase the amount of strength training that I do,” isn’t going to get us very far. Why not? Because very few people would actually get out of bed at 6am on a rainy Monday morning because they want to increase the amount of strength training that they do. It doesn’t give us a true reason or motivation for doing the hard stuff.
On the flip side, thinking about wanting to be comfortable and to feel good as you live a long and active life would probably help to get you out of bed to go do your strength-training. In other words, your vision helps to guide the daily decisions and choices that you make.
How to Set Sub-Goals
For some people, determining sub-goals is easy. For others, brainstorming is needed to come up with the goals that will lead to achieving the meta-goal. You can list these out and then prioritize them to decide which one you want to start with. Some goal-setting experts tend to skip over this level of goals, but I’ve found that this structure is easy to understand and seems to be the most straightforward.
How to Set Micro-Goals
When you’re determining micro-goals, you’re thinking about the actions that will help you achieve your sub-goals. Just like with sub-goals, you need to develop a list of these and then determine which you’re going to achieve first.
If you’re in education or in the business world, you may have heard of SMART goals. This means that goals have to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Rewarding, and Time-based. The micro-goal level is where these come into play. If making sure that your goals fit into this framework makes sense to you, then this is what you should use.
Since I come from a journalism background, I tend to relate better to my adaptation of Bauer and Liou’s2 simpler alternative of identifying “what, how, and when.”
The what is your goal. It is what you are saying you want to do or achieve.
My version of “How” has several components to consider.
- Make your goal public. You can do this by announcing it to yourself and others. Many people use social media for this, while others simply announce it to their spouse or family.
- Build in a reward system. This should be something that offers extrinsic motivation. An example could be buying a new yoga top after exercising for five days a week for a month.
- Measurable. This means that you can measure your progress toward your micro-goals in a quantifiable way. Instead of just saying “I’m going to walk every day,” say “I’m going to walk for at least 30 minutes every day.” Another way that you can measure your progress is by using a goal tracker (paid link). They are available in a physical form and can be placed where you spend the most time or you can use an app.
- Adjustable. What is the Plan B if something happens to alter Plan A? If you’re trying to walk for 30 minutes every morning before work and it’s pouring outside one morning, what will you do instead?
- Realistic. You need to make sure that your goal actually makes sense and is achievable. It should also be something that is truly within your control.
The last step for setting micro-goals is to think about by when are they going to be achieved. If your micro-goal is to exercise for 30 minutes every day and you currently aren’t exercising at all, you’ll need to allow time to gradually add it in. Your when could be that you have built up to exercising every day after a month.
Since our overarching goal with all of this is to create lasting, sustainable change, the hope is that your micro-goals will turn into habits that you will continue as part of your healthy lifestyle. As you achieve one, you can add in another until you feel like the sub-goals that you’ve been working toward aren’t goals anymore but are a regular part of your life.
Lean on Your Community
If you have questions about any of this or need support in achieving your healthy lifestyle goals, feel free to message me @peppermintteahealth on Instagram or through Facebook. You can also email me [email protected].
- Goal-Focused Coaching: Theory and Practice. Yossi Ives and Elaine Cox. 2012.
- Nutrition Counseling & Education Skill Development. Kathleen D. Bauer and Doreen Liou. 2012