Setting Realistic Goals

Greetings, Healthy Boilers!

As you are likely well aware, the beginning of the year is a very popular time for goal setting. Millions of people make all kinds of different resolutions at this time. The birth of a new year brings with it a perceived fresh start, making it an ideal time to reflect and set goals for improvement.  

According to, the 10 most popular New Year’s resolutions are:

  1. Lose weight
  2. Improve finances
  3. Exercise
  4. Get a new job
  5. Eat healthier
  6. Manage stress
  7. Quit smoking
  8. Improve a relationship
  9. Stop procrastinating
  10. Set aside some time for yourself

Do any of those sound familiar to you? Chances are, you have set at least one of these very same goals at one time or another. Perhaps you’ve even set one as a current goal for 2020. Notice how each of the goal examples relates to one or more of the five Healthy Boiler pillars – behavioral health, financial wellness, physical health, social wellness and work-life integration.

HB pillar icon _BehavioralHealthHB pillar icon _FinancialWellnessHB pillar icon _ PhysicalHealthHB pillar icon _ SocialWellnessHB pillar icon _ WorkLifeIntegration

As we kick off the new year, let’s bring the HOW into the conversation of goals. How are you going to be successful in achieving your goal(s) this year? One helpful tool is provided by Fidelity – Purdue’s official provider of education, guidance and assistance related to retirement plan investments and decisions. The “31 days to better well-being” can still be implemented. Start today with day one and go from there! 

Additionally, after reading this post, hopefully you will see that the answer actually lies in the goal itself.   

Setting a goal seems like the easy part. There is a gap between what we have and what we would like to have, thus the setting of the goal. Done, goal is set!

Or is it truly that simple?

I will argue that the actual setting of the goal requires more attention and mindfulness on our part than any other part of the process. Before you blindly decide on a goal, it would be a good idea first to really think about all aspects of that goal, and decide if it’s the right one for you.  

General goal setting

We often use the SMART analogy when discussing goal setting. These are five components of a goal that, when thought through, help make the goal achievable. In case you are not familiar, SMART acronym stands for:

S – specific

M – measurable

A – achievable

R – realistic

T – time-bound

Let’s dig a little deeper:

S – Is it specific?

A goal to “lose weight” is quite broad. A more specific goal would be to “Lose 10 pounds.” Or maybe it’s even deeper than that. Here, it would be beneficial to ask yourself, “Why do I want to lose weight?” Your answer to that question is likely a more specific goal. For example, your motivation for losing weight may be that you want to get better control over your blood sugar levels. So, your more specific goal would be something like, “reduce my A1C below 7 percent.”

M – Is it measurable?

You should be able to measure progress toward meeting a goal you set. Something like a lab value reduction can be easily measured with a lab draw. Similarly, a weight loss related goal can be measured on the scale (if your goal is to lose a specific number of pounds) or with measuring tape (if goal is to lose inches) or perhaps you judge by if/how your clothes fit. A strength-related goal can be measured by pounds you are able to press, squat, etc. This is where it is helpful to have a specific goal, as it is difficult to measure progress of a very broad goal.

The Center for Healthy Living (CHL) on Purdue’s West Lafayette campus can help you measure your progress. The tier 1 (most cost-effective on all Purdue health plans) lab located within in the CHL is open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

  • Side bar

While we are on the topic of measurement, let’s pause for a moment and talk about the scale. Many people get so caught up in the numbers on scale that they lose touch with how their body actually feels. As a general rule of thumb, if that number on the scale has the power to make or break your day, then your relationship with the scale is not a healthy one and it’s use should be extremely limited or excluded. People ask all the time, “How often should I weigh myself?” The answer completely depends on the person, and there is no right one. Some individuals successfully use daily weight tracking to modify behaviors with no other mental implications, and others do much better when they abstain from scale use entirely. The most important thing is that you stay mindful and in-tune with how you feel instead of letting a number dictate that.

However, there is another option though that could suite both types of individuals, and it’s located at the CHL. If you want to hop on a scale and not have to focus solely on the traditional number scales reflect, I recommend the InBody scale at the CHL. An InBody assessment before, during and after – or however often you’d like – will help you see and understand your body and weight in a different way. Using patented Bioelectrical Impedance technology, InBody measures the entire body in five different segments: right arm, left arm, torso, right leg and left leg. Segmental measures like these allow you to see the distribution of fat, muscle and water in your body. Results are immediately read and explained to you by a CHL health coach. Call 765-494-0111 for more information.

Okay, back to looking (at) SMART!

A – Is it achievable?

A goal is achievable if you have the skills needed to accomplish it. These skills will vary widely depending on both the person and the goal. If you do not currently possess the skills necessary to achieve the goal, ask yourself if it is it realistic to obtain them. A broad goal is likely achievable to some degree, but maybe not the degree to which you have set out to meet. There are many factors that are specific to you that play a role in determining whether or not your goal is attainable. Things like your starting point, physical capabilities, nutrition knowledge, life stressors, motivation, mental health and so on all have an impact. This is where setting a realistic goal comes in – if you have put thought into your goal and considered all factors before setting it, you are much more likely to achieve it.  

R – Is it realistic?

This is the million-dollar question, right?! This is where it is so important to really know yourself and take careful inventory of your specific situation. “Realistic” is a relative term. Say it with me now – “Realistic is a relative term.” It has a different meaning for every person. What’s realistic for you may not be realistic for your neighbor. Comparing yourself to others has no place in determining what is realistic for you. Even comparing yourself to a former version of yourself would be doing yourself a disservice. Our situations and abilities are constantly evolving. We do not permanently stay in any one phase of life, so it is unrealistic to expect that our bodies or abilities would do that either. Don’t compare yourself to any past version of yourself. So much about your current situation is different than it was, for instance, when you were in college or 10 years younger. Therefore, try to let go of the expectation that your body can do the same things it could then. Be real with yourself!

T – Is it time-bound?

 A good goal will have an expiration date. Set a timeframe for your goal – one that is realistic (am I sounding like a broken record yet?) Losing 15 pounds in one month is likely unrealistic. If the timeframe on a goal is too aggressive, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment, which could potentially lead you to give up your goal altogether. What might happen if you set the timeframe for losing 15 pounds at four or six months instead of one month? You are much more likely to succeed. Be graceful but real with yourself.

If you’d like an organized way to work through all of these aspects of your personal goals, you can use the “S.M.A.R.T. Goals” worksheet available online from One to One Health and the CHL.

Bite-sized goals

A final (and very important) thought I like to include in the goal setting conversation is to make them bite-sized. This plays even more into the realistic part. Maybe your goal is to declutter your house this year. This is a likely a huge project and can sound like a major undertaking. Such a daunting one that you run the risk of not starting it at all.

However, if you break it up into small pieces, you are more likely to take it on and be successful. Maybe you start with a medicine cabinet in the bathroom. Or you tell yourself that you will set a timer for 10 minutes and do as much as you can in one room for 10 minutes at a time. Over time, 10-minute bite-sized increments daily or weekly will add up to a lot of productive hours over the year!

The same goes with something new you want to try. If you don’t usually walk for exercise, but want to start, maybe you set a bite-sized starting target of five-minute walks, and slowly build up from there. If a goal is too lofty from the outset (like walking 30 minutes a day when you usually don’t walk at all), it is unlikely to happen. Five minutes of walking is infinitely better than not walking.

Health coaching as a tool

The registered nurse health coaches at the CHL (Cheryl Laszynksi and Whitney Soto) are great partners to work with on setting goals and staying motivated and engaged to be successful. Health coaching is available at no charge to benefits-eligible Purdue employees and family members covered on a Purdue health plan. You can meet with a health coach in-person or telephonically, allowing employees on the regional campuses an opportunity to utilize the health coaches. To learn more about health coaching, take a look at the “Questions and Answers about Health Coaching” web page. If you’re interested in scheduling an appointment, call the CHL at 765-494-0111 or schedule online via the portal.

Here’s hoping that 2020 is the year of the realistic goal – the one you actually achieve because you know yourself and your limitations, and you put a lot of thought into the goal itself. Cheers to goal success in a new decade!

Be Kind. Be Well. Boiler Up!

Author: Madison Templeton, RD, LDN | Health Coach with One to One Health



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