08/08/2019 | ,

Using SMART goals to improve your health

By Dr Louisa Hoey

Much of the work that I do with clients is centred around helping them develop healthy habits using psychological strategies. Some people want help to develop more healthy eating patterns, others want to try to have a more enjoyable relationship with exercise and others want to get better sleep.

A lovely young woman I was working with this week wanted to understand why she wasn’t following through with her self-care, when she knew that she really needed to.

With most psychological issues I believe that there are many factors involved and it isn’t helpful to be looking for the ‘one reason’. Humans are complex and everyone is different; sometimes you need to try a few things and out and see how they help.

For the young lady I helped today, we thought that she would benefit from thinking about how to set a goal in a particular way that would enhance the chances she would follow through with self-nurturing. You see, she came to me almost beating up on herself for being ‘lazy’ and ‘not doing what she should be doing’. All this did of course was to make her feel worse and then, in turn she was less likely to nurture herself!

So this is exactly what we did to turn this around:

First we brainstormed a whole range of activity ideas that she believed would be self-nurturing; things that would, in the words of my 6-year-old daughter, ‘fill her bucket’. She had a range of things she thought she might like to do like drawing, socialising and swimming.

The second step was to pick one as an example and set a SMART goal which basically means to make the goal:

Specific (e.g., swim 10 laps in my local pool as opposed to go swimming)
Measurable (you can count and measure 10 laps so you know when you are done)
Attractive (either because you are internally motivated and doing it will make you feel good, or if not, externally motivated* meaning you need to give yourself another reward such as buy something, watch a favourite TV program etc)
Realistic (you know that you have the time and ability to do it)
Time limited (e.g, I will do this on Monday and Friday).

Research tells us that if you set yourself a SMART goal like this you are far more likely to follow through with it. Give it a go!

A example of being internally motivated versus externally motivated and how to make it work for you:

I love pilates and when I go I feel great afterwards. I am internally motivated and no external reward is necessary -the feeling I get is reward enough. On the other hand, when I needed to register my business for the GST, the process was not really internally motivating at all! So, I made a deal with myself, register and backdate a few quarters and with the GST rebate I could buy myself an appliance for my kitchen I had wanted for ages. Bingo!

About the Author

Dr Louisa Hoey is a health psychologist.  She is the Director of the Health Psychology Centre. Louisa specialises in the psychological aspects of food, the emotional relationships around food and the development of strategies to a happier more fuller life.

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