As I talked about in my New Year’s Resolutions post (check it out if you need a refresher – I know it’s been a few weeks!), setting yourself up for success when trying to make a change in your life is so important!  Here is my go-to list of “Do’s” and “Don’ts” when setting goals and putting them into action.


1)  DO…Make it the Right Time for a Change:  As I’ve said, January 1st is not that day for me! The thing is, it’s different for everyone so don’t feel pressured to make a change when you’re not fully ready. When you’re truly ready for a change, you’ll be much more likely to succeed! Now, that doesn’t mean you should keep putting off the change until, well, forever…just make sure your head is in the right place and that you’re ready to focus on acting on your

2)  DO…Make the Goal Specific and Actionable:  While you may have a more general overall goal (ie. “I want to lose 20 pounds”), it’s important to have smaller, more specific goals that will help you achieve your overall goal. These small goals are the action steps you plan to take to get to the finish line of your overall goal. Examples of smaller action-oriented goals that can help you meet the overall goal of losing 20 pounds might be “take a 20 minute walk 3 times per week for the next month”, “drink at least 8 glasses of water per day”, or “eat a piece of fruit in place of a higher-calorie snack or dessert once per day”.  These goals can be small changes you want to make, or they can be more involved, and remember, you don’t have to put all of them into action at the same time – you might start with one or two of the smaller goals and then add another goal once you’ve gotten comfortable with the first two. Building on your goals can be very effective in helping you reach your ultimate goal!  Get the idea?

3)  DO…Set Yourself Up for Success:  If your goal is to not eat sweets, consider eliminating all the candy, chocolate and dessert from your house and avoid the candy aisle and bakery department when you’re grocery shopping. Taking away the temptations can be pretty effective.  On the other hand, make sure you have some backup “treats” to replace whatever you might be trying to avoid eating. For example, raisins or dried cranberries instead of sugary candy. It’s not the real deal, but it might be just enough to help you kick your craving out the window. Or, if you’re trying to eat more of something, such as vegetables, make sure you’re well-stocked at home to make that happen.  After all, you can’t eat a vegetable that isn’t there.

4)  DO…Reflect on Progress and Make Adjustments:  What’s working?…What isn’t working?…How am I feeling?…Are there tweaks I can make to make achieving my goal more effective?…All of these questions (and more!) are good to ask yourself periodically as you work toward your goal. And, guess what?  It’s OKAY to make changes along the way.  If you’re finding you just can’t keep up with one of your smaller goals, scale it back a bit. Or, on the flip side, if you feel like you can handle more, go for it!  Goals don’t have to be set in stone. Any change for the better is a success!

5)  DO…Keep Yourself Accountable: There’s no “one-size-fits-all” way of keeping yourself accountable. For some people, having a regular workout partner is the way to keep them exercising. For others, hanging notes in key spots around the house will remind them of their goals and help them stay on track (such as a note on the fridge reminding them not to grab a soda). If you’re a person, as I am, who likes to check things off lists, you may have daily or weekly list of your goals (whether small or large) on your phone or tablet to cross off when you’ve completed them. Whether your accountability system is simple or more complex, the bottom line is that keeping yourself accountable will help you recognize your efforts and keep you motivated and on track.

5)  DO…Stick With it for 21 Days:  Research has shown that it typically takes 21 days to change a habit or make a new habit. That’s not to say you’re guaranteed to keep up with something you commit to for 21 days, it just means that a new habit can form in that amount of time, which is a really good start. Other studies have shown that in order for a change (or new habit) to become part of your overall lifestyle, you have to stick with it for 6 months. While 6 months can seem like a long time, it’s really not in the grand scheme of life. In other words, if you can stick with a new habit regularly for 6 months, it will become second nature and you won’t have to think so hard about getting it done. It works for exercising more often, eating more fruits and vegetables, and even not doing something, such as not drinking soda, or avoiding high calorie coffee shop drinks. So, start with 21 days, and once you hit that very important milestone, go for the 6 months, and you’ll be well on your way to a healthier YOU!


6)  Don’t…Go Overboard: Adding too many goals or an overly aggressive goal to your plate can become overwhelming and discouraging very quickly. In other words, you’ll be much more likely to just drop the goal altogether. I know, you’ve probably heard it before, but it’s worth saying again that small changes can really add up! Start with small, attainable mini-goals and then add one or two more goals as you get comfortable with each one. Accomplishing a small goal will make you feel empowered and ready to take on another goal in order to succeed at your overall goal.

7)  Don’t…Make it a Big Deal:  I’m not suggesting that making a change in your life shouldn’t be celebrated, thought about and/or talked about, but sometimes it’s better to just give something a try and see where it leads you, in a more informal way. For example, if there’s something you’ve thought about changing but haven’t gotten the guts to go all in, just try it for a day or three and see how it goes.  Note the feelings you’re having as you put that goal into action for a few days and make tweaks accordingly. After you try something for a few days, you’ll know if you’re ready to fully commit. And if you’re not, keep thinking about it and how it could affect your life or health. Then, when you’re in a better position to go all in, make the full commitment and go after it!

8)  Don’t…Beat Yourself Up Over a Slip-up:  Slip-ups happen…so what?  In reality, it’s not the slip-up that’s the issue. Let me say that again: IT’S NOT THE SLIP-UP THAT’S THE ISSUE”¦(here’s the important part)…it’s what you do after the slip-up that will make or break your ability to reach your goal. For example, if you’re trying to lose weight and have sworn off dessert to help you meet your goal, eating a cookie will not make you gain back any weight you’ve lost, but on the other hand, throwing in the towel for the rest of the day and eating 10 more cookies may undo some of the hard work you’ve done. There’s no reason to think that just because you have a slip-up, you’ve failed, or that you have to start over, or (heaven forbid) that you can just blow the rest of the day because you’ve already given in to temptation. NO! Those types of thoughts are not conducive to meeting goals and should have no place in your mind. Every day is a new day and a new opportunity to meet your goals.

9)  Don’t…Focus Too Much on the “End Point” of the Goal:  This is not to say you shouldn’t regularly focus and reflect on your goal and how you might look and feel once you reach your goal…just don’t focus too much on the goal being completed and done. A goal should never really finish. You might accomplish what you’ve set out to do, but if you’re making goals that will better your life in any way, those actions should never really end. They may change or lessen in complexity or rigidity, but they should be thought of as more long-term. For example, if your goal is to lose 20 pounds, and you’ve put actionable steps in place to achieve that, don’t keep thinking about what it will be like when you lose the 20 pounds and how you might celebrate, which can lead to behaviors that may have caused the excess weight in the first place.  Think more about how fulfilled you’ll feel once you’ve achieved your goal and how you can maintain the action steps that helped you achieve your goal throughout your life. Once you’ve done that, you’ll know you’ve truly succeeded.


10)  JUST KEEP SWIMMING! (okay, sorry for the kids’ reference, but we have this “learn to read” Nemo book that my daughter is REALLY loving right now, and I can’t get this phrase out of my head!). Anyway, the point is, when you’re working toward a big goal, just keep chipping away and eventually you’ll get there!

Here’s to setting goals and reaching new heights in 2015!