6 Characteristics of Effective Goal Setting

Once you've created your vision statement for weight-loss, you probably know the general direction you want to move. The next step is to work out the particular short- and intermediate-term goals that will get you moving in that direction, followed by concrete action steps you can take right now to get going.


The 6 Characteristics of Effective Goals

 
  1. Challenging: Your goals should be realistic and suited to your present capabilities. You can’t go from habitual couch potato to world-class athlete overnight, or recover the "look" you had in your 20's if you’re pushing 60 right now. Small, progressive steps toward reasonable, long-term goals are crucial to success. But your goals should also push you to extend yourself beyond where you already are. Otherwise you will get bored and quit the game.

    Example: It's great to work on drinking those eight cups of water everyday, but people do not lose weight from water drinking alone. Get thee off thy butt and go do something that makes you sweat. Then you'll need the water and it won't be so hard to drink.
     
  2. Attainable: Don't take the challenging characteristic (above) too far. Make sure you can actually achieve what you're setting out to do. Otherwise, you will get frustrated and quit the game.

    Example: Sixty minutes of aerobic exercise may be better than 30 minutes, but two hours may not be—especially if you're so worn out afterward that you have to stop exercising completely for a while. You can always build up the time and intensity of your workouts as your fitness level improves over time.
     
  3. Specific: Trying to "do your best" or "do better" is like trying to eat the hole in a donut. There's nothing there to chew on or digest. You need to define some very specific, concrete, and measurable action-steps that tell you what your goal looks like in real-life terms. Include how you will measure your results so you can tell whether you are getting anywhere.

    Example: If you want to get a handle on emotional eating and you've decided that keeping a journal may help, set aside scheduled time to do your writing each day; set up some specific changes in your behavior that you want this work to produce (like not eating after your last scheduled snack); and create a time interval and/or method to figure out whether your journaling is helping you reach that goal or not.
     
  4. Time-limited: Goals need to come with deadlines, due dates, and payoff schedules. Otherwise, they'll fade into the background with your daily hubbub, and you'll quit playing the game. If your long-term goal is going to take a while to reach, create some intermediate- and short-term goals. These will make your larger goal seem less daunting and keep you focused on what you can do here and now to help yourself get there.

    Example: If your overall goal is to have the weight off in one year, make sure you set up some intermediate weight goals to serve as check points along the way. Otherwise, those small things you need to do every day, and the small successes you achieve, can seem so insignificant compared to how much further you still have to go that you may lose interest.
     
  5. Positive: Goals should always be framed in positive terms. Humans are not designed to white-knuckle their way through life, always trying to not do things or to avoid certain thoughts, feelings, actions or circumstances. We are much better at approaching what we DO want than avoiding what we don't want.

    Example: If you want to reduce the amount of "junk" food you eat, frame that goal in positive words like increasing the amount of calories you eat from healthy foods, and identifying which healthy foods you want to eat more. Instead of trying to eliminate chocolate treats, for example, plan a low-fat yogurt with fruit for your sweet snack. If you do this for a few weeks, your brain will disconnect the habitual association between treat and chocolate and make a new one with the yogurt and fruit. And you’ll be just as happy with this new treat!
     
  6. Flexible: Good strategies and goals are always flexible, because nothing in this world stays the same for very long, and staying alive and on course means being able to adapt to changing circumstances.

    Example: You are always going to run into circumstances that make it difficult to stick to your diet or exercise plan—special occasions, unexpected schedule conflicts, even just a really hard day where you need a break from the routine for your mental health. Your goals should include some contingency plans for dealing with these problems so that you don’t fall into that all-or-nothing thinking that lets one difficult situation become an excuse for ditching your whole plan.

    And remember, meeting your goals is 90% attitude. No one is perfect, and you’re going to have days where you just don’t do what you set out to. Make sure you build up some good stress management habits and tools to help you deal with those days without losing sight of your long-term goals, or losing your motivation.
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Member Comments

It is good to hear these steps again...now I've saved it and can refer back to it when I need to remind myself. I have goals but don't keep them in mind daily as I need to! Report
Thank you for this excellent article. Report
Terrific article Report
Practice these at work also, effective goal setting rules! Report
Good ideas. I am updating and making small changes in my plan starting today. Report
KATERYAN3
Over the years I've tried many methods recommended by both my friends and family but none of them seemed to work out for me until I chanced upon this holy grail where I've lost almost 33 pounds in just 1 month trying it out! I can now fit in dresses two sizes down and receive many compliments from not only my lovely husband, but colleagues and girlfriends about how great I look right now! I'm here to share with you guys because I am really thankful and hope someone who also needs this can experience similar results as me! Here is the link to my holy grail method! bit.ly/3gUfzF9 Report
One more than the SMART system. Report
Thank You.............. Report
Great Info as I am in my 60s too! Report
My goals are changing a bit as I get older. I still want to keep the exercise going as it is now habit. I plan to add more fruits and vegetables to my diet and hopefully lose some weight which isn't as easy as it used to be.. Report
Flexibility is key. Report
thanks Report
Sorry but to me all goals in life should be unattainable and the bar kept raised for motivation and improvement. Report
ONLYME33
Sounds easy enough-Now, implement them.. Report
Thank you for sharing Report

About The Author

Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.