As you set your health goals for this coming year, reflect on what’s worked in the past. It’s especially important to know how habits form. Here is some helpful information on the psychology of goal setting.

What is a goal?

A simple definition states that a goal is something you want to achieve. But goal-setting theory takes this much further. They actually drive much of human behavior. They are grounded in individual values and define a minimum acceptable level of performance regarding a specific action.

Our goals have two main components: content and intensity. Content refers to the desired result, while intensity refers to goal commitment and its effects on performance. When something is very meaningful to you, its intensity tends to go up.

How can I plan better?

It starts with choosing things that you are committed to. Don’t set a goal because you think you should. Instead, assess the situation as it currently exists, and then decide what course correction is most valuable to you. For example, you might make getting more exercise your top health desire for the New Year.

Higher-level or more specific goals are more helpful than low-level or abstract ones. So instead of just committing to exercising more, you might plan to play racquetball or another high-energy sport once a week.

You can also set interim milestones, which lay the foundation you need for your higher-level expectation. In this example, it might be taking a 30-minute walk every day and jogging twice a week, which will help get your body in shape and ready for a high-impact sport. Achieving and celebrating these milestones can help keep you on track toward your larger objective.

Note that no law says you can only have one goal at a time. Committing to multiple health-related things can help boost your success by promoting an overall healthier mindset.

What are SMART goals?

SMART goals encapsulate the theory in an easy-to-follow format:

  • Specific. The desired outcome is clearly stated.
  • Measurable. You can track your progress and know when you reach success.
  • Achievable. The goal is within your current capabilities.
  • Relevant. The goal matches your values and priorities.
  • Time-bound. You have an end date for reaching your goal.

Setting SMART goals can help keep you on track. Knowing exactly what you are striving for and how much further you need to go can help with your mindset and commitment level while ensuring that each one is relevant and achievable helps to reduce the chances that you will give up in despair.

How can I stay committed?

Of course, reaching your goals takes work. Even if you have set the best goals for your situation and have turned them into actionable milestones, there will be days when your commitment wavers. On these days, accountability can help.

Tell your loved ones about your goals and ask them to check in with you regularly. When you’re feeling low, call someone you trust and ask them to be your cheerleader. It’s amazing how much motivation you can find when someone else believes in you.

And don’t be too hard on yourself. If you’re feeling under the weather or a lot of stress, you may not have the capacity to complete a task. Be kind to yourself and let it go. When you feel better, make a renewed commitment. Reaching your health goals is a marathon and not a sprint.