support from othersEvery good personal trainer is skilled at helping their clients set goals. We’re taught to interpret goals like “tone up” and “get fit” as “Lose x percent body fat” or “Increase lean muscle mass.” We’re taught to help people voice what they really want from an exercise program, and then it’s our job to show them how to get from Point A to Point B.
We’re taught to set goals that are SMART:
Specific: Specific goals to help you keep focused and define what you want to change (e.g., “lose 10 lbs of body fat” vs. “slim down”).
Measurable: Find a way to track your progress (e.g., instead of trying to “tone up,” perhaps you take monthly progress pictures or measure circumference around certain body parts).
Attainable: Know where you are starting and make sure that the outcome you desire is a realistic one for YOU.
Relevant: Make sure that the goal is suitable to your life situation and is one that find worthwhile to pursue.
Time specific: Have a deadline for achieving your goal to keep you focused, accountable, and on track.
This framework for goal setting is effective for physical changes in body composition, especially when a client is brand new to healthy living and just needs a bit of structure and knowledge to start seeing results.
However, if this is not your first attempt to lose weight or get healthy, and your emotional eating habits get the best of you every single time you start a new diet, it may be time to rethink the usefulness of the SMART framework.
The problem with your timeline
I am all for SMAR goals; each of the first four qualities are essential when creating out a plan to establish new behaviors. However, for overcoming emotional issues, it’s time to drop that pesky little “T.”
Having a “T,” a time frame or deadline for meeting your goals, is something that you need to let go of. For so long, I desperately clung to deadline after deadline. I will weigh x lbs by my wedding. I will lose 10 lbs in two weeks. I will follow this diet program for 30 days. I will stick to this meal plan until my birthday party, etc.
For a long time, I could force myself to do what I had committed to until the end date. But eventually, my willpower ran out and even the thought of trying to lose x amount of weight before a specific date on the calendar would stress me out enough to start rifling around for a snack to relieve the anxiety.
There are 3 main issues with setting a deadline while struggling with emotional eating issues:
You are setting yourself up to rebound. The harder and stricter the diet you employ, and the “better” you are at adhering to the diet, the more you will feel the need to reward yourself when it’s over.
Having a deadline means that once the deadline is past, you can just return to your old habits….the ones that put you in this position in the first place.
If you are too focused on a deadline that is days or weeks or months away, you lose sight of what you can do today. I still tend to struggle with anxiety about the future and the desire to zone out and disengage in order to “relax,” but redirecting my energy towards things I can actually DO right now really helps fight those tendencies.
How to set SMARB goals
Just like with the SMART framework, you should continue to set goals that will keep you focused on making progress. However, rather than setting a deadline for a desired outcome, be sure to set goals for your behaviors. For example, rather than setting a goal to lose x pounds this week (which is an outcome), set a daily goal of being mindful at meals (a behavior). Make sure these goals are still specific, measurable, attainable and relevant.
Specific: What does mindful mean EXACTLY? For me, it’s striving to put my fork down between bites, tasting each bite of food before I chew and swallow it, eating without distraction, and checking in with my body frequently to see if I’m still enjoying the food or if I’m still hungry.
Measurable: On your fridge or a corkboard that you see every day, list your goal with seven boxes (one for each day) next to it. Record and monitor your daily progress. Did you eat mindfully at dinner tonight? Great, check that box for today. Alternatively, draw big stars or exclamation points or smiley faces in your food journal for every meal that meets your mindfulness goal.
Attainable: Know your starting point. If your dining room table hasn’t been used for dining in years, it’s unlikely you are going to get your family to sit and eat there every single night from now on. Hectic schedules and stress will throw you right back into your old routines, so give yourself a chance to succeed by shooting for a mindful, undistracted meal with your family 3 nights per week, or whatever amount feels reasonable and doable to you.
Relevant: Mindful eating habits are extremely relevant and useful skills for improving your emotional eating habits by reducing emotional reactivity, increasing your enjoyment of the foods you do eat, deepening emotional connections to your family members.
Behavior: Behaviors are actions that you can take every day. Actions are what drive results. They can be physical, but they can also reflect your efforts to change mental and emotional patterns, such as meditating, focusing attention, thought stopping, reciting a mantra, etc.
Just because your goals aren’t being measured in calories, grams, or pounds, it doesn’t mean you can’t measure and track them! Monitor your behaviors and start seeing progress! Just remember:
There is no finish line. All you have is the journey: a path towards being better than you once were.
Always here to help,
PS. Let me know if you set a SMARB goal for this next week over on the Facebook page! Does having a deadline motivate you or stress you out?