Goals: The Building Blocks of your Health
Katelyn Sander

Goals: The Building Blocks of your Health

Living Well

Written by: Marvin Nixon, Personal Trainer & Health Coach, Toronto Athletic Club

Before sitting down to write this, I connected with one of my neighbours who was out for a walk. Most mornings I see her walking her energetic Labradoodle. Today, she was out walking without the pup, who was not interested in going out in the slushy snow. Why? In her words: “I never used to go on a morning walk but I got in the habit with the dog. Now I just have to walk or my day just doesn’t feel right.” The goal of walking the new puppy daily became a habit for the owner who now goes on the walk even without her puppy.

The path towards creating the most healthy and high performing version of yourself starts with a clearly articulated vision of What Your Best Health Means To You. The next step in the process is setting goals that make that health vision a reality.

How you set goals to build habits

In a healthy lifestyle pyramid, actionable goals form your foundation. The results from those goals are the corresponding resulting habits.

When asked about their goals and why they exercise at the Toronto Athletic Club, I have found that most people have desires that fit in to three main areas:

  • Lose Weight
  • Gain Strength and/or Muscle
  • Improve Sport Performance

What’s interesting is none of these are goals - they are Outcomes. They’ll be realized when tied to well-designed Goals. On their own, they aren’t actionable and may lead to feelings of disappointment when they are not met.

To create attainable Goals, they need to leverage the popular acronym S.M.A.R.T. You’ve likely heard of S.M.A.R.T. before. Organizations preach S.M.A.R.T. Many self-help books out there say that to reach a goal it needs to fit this vaguely described acronym.

Here is the version that I use with my clients. If you have studied the S.M.A.R.T. acronym before, you’ll see this version uses a less common “A” that is the key to success: 

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Actionable
  • Realistic
  • Time bound.
How do we turn the Desired Outcome into Actionable Goals?

Is your goal Specific and Measurable? If it is specific enough, it can be measured. Instead of ‘I want to lose weight’, consider making it specific and measurable by altering it to ‘I want to lose 5 pounds over the next month’. You can write it down and check off when you completed. But it’s still not a fully formed actionable Goal.

Actionable means the goal is completely within your control. ‘I want to lose x pounds over x amount of time’ isn’t actionable. That stated desire to lose weight is an important part of your vision but what could be actionable?

A goal that is actionable fits the litmus test of: “Today I am going to X”.

For example, an actionable goal could be:

Five nights a week for the next three weeks I will get in bed at 10pm and turn out the lights by 10:15pm so that by the time my alarm goes off at 6:30am, I have had the opportunity for 8 hours of sleep.

Other Examples:

  1. Appropriate nutrition
    • eating more healthful stuff or less unhealthful stuff
  2. Adequate activity
    • 150 minutes of moderate to intense activity a week

Sleeping for 7 to 9 hours is realistic if the barriers are removed. Sometimes the barriers are not completely within our control. For the parent of a newborn, setting a goal of more sleep won’t fit your circumstances until the child is sleeping throughout the night. Adding extra sleep may not be realistic. In these situations, you pivot to another Goal in an area that still gives you a Healthful Habit leading to your desired outcome. Once circumstance change, you’ll have built a Healthful Habit in one area and can then pivot to adding 7-9 hours of sleep.

In some situations, it might be best to look at an action that is adding a Healthful Habit to your life rather than taking something away. Adding 7-9 hours of sleep may be more relevant for you right now than cutting out a favorite food.

To help keep the goal Realistic and Time-Bound, consider an appropriate calendar-based boundary. A goal that you know you only have to try for two weeks will seem less arduous than a goal that has no end. If you are successful at an action for a few weeks, it is more likely to become a habit that is part of your healthful lifestyle.

This fits the SMART framework. It is specific and measurable with a time to go to bed and wake. It can be checked off on the calendar if it is completed five times a week. It meets the litmus test of, “Today I will get in bed at 10pm.” It is realistic for this individual with allowing for a later bed time two nights a week that fits their present lifestyle. The goal is relevant since more sleep supports their stated vision of weighing less by their wedding. With a three-week time boundary, the goal does not feel overwhelming and allows for plenty of time to see if more sleep helps gives them more energy and improves one’s metabolism & glucose control which leads to weight loss.

If you have outcomes you’d like to achieve, our Health Coach at the Toronto Athletic Club can answer more of your questions and work with you to get on track to your ultimate health and well-being. Email Marvin Nixon here.

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