If social media and health “gurus” (I use that term lightly) are to be believed, it seems like all you have to do is want something hard enough and set a SMART goal in order to achieve your dreams. However, the business of helping people achieve success is a huge one. You can hire someone to help motivate you, push you and pull you to success. But are these promises of success really as easy as they sound? Are SMART goals helpful?
Are SMART goals helpful?
One of the oldest bits of advice about changing your habits that remains from the ’90s is the idea that setting a goal is not enough to get it done. It was thought that once you’ve decided on all the specific details (answers to the 5 SMART questions: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) you are more likely to achieve what you set out to accomplish. The problem is our brains and bodies are not that simple. Change is hard for both mental and physical reasons and we don’t talk enough about these challenges! There is a lot of shame in the world of food and exercise habit change. The assumptions that change can be easy or achieved with hard work is erroneous. There is not enough questioning or discussion of the actual goal. It’s as if we’ve decided that anything is possible and the thought of the impossibility of anything is loser talk. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but not all goals are achievable. Yes, I said it. Reaching your unattainable goal is not helped by the fact that the goal is worded “smart”ly.
Physiology and psychology cannot be outsmarted
Of course, thinking through the details of when and how you will take the steps necessary to carry out any goal is likely helpful, but that all depends on the goal itself. What I mean by unrealistic goals are desires that go against the body’s natural instincts to preserve our lives. One prime example of this is weight loss. You may want to change your body or weight (or worse, be told you have to or should change it), BUT there is no proven, long-term solution that won’t lead to some hefty consequences.
In short, these consequences include weight yoyoing which leads to increased inflammation in the body. This has been linked to diseases such as heart disease and diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Restricting certain foods leads to an increased desire for them and thus bingeing. Cutting calories increases appetite, lowers metabolism and even increases our threshold for scents. Could the pushback from weight change and food restriction be the body’s natural safety mechanisms to avoid these consequences? Many researchers believe so. Take those facts with other studies that show weight loss does not improve certain health conditions and the need to lose weight to improve health is even further questioned.
Goals that pack a health punch
You CAN improve your health and management of certain diseases through living a life that includes mindful and intuitive eating, mindful movement and self-care- all without changing your body or weight.
Noticing how you feel with certain eating patterns or foods can be a great first start. Noticing your physical reactions to eating can be a natural and gentle way to find a way of eating that boosts energy and satisfaction and joy. Same goes for movement- noticing when certain habits are helping you feel better whether it be relief from joint pain or a reduction in stress. Noticing the positives of a certain routine can help tremendously with maintaining any change with which you are experimenting.
Waiting for tomorrow to pursue your goals?
If you are waiting “until Monday” or next week to make the changes you desire, maybe the change you want to make is the wrong one. Feeling dread or fear to jump into a change may be your first clue that this goal is not for you (or maybe not for anyone, for that matter). Too often we are bullied or convinced by others that this is what you have to do. Diets are often the go-to change that people want to be “healthier” or lose weight or manage a disease. When up to 95% of diets fail their followers and none have been proven to bring sustainable health or weight change (beyond 2 years), it is not surprising that there is dread and baggage that comes with starting a new diet. This is especially true of people who have experience with diets failing you.
You can’t always be self-improving 110% of the time
We are bombarded by messages that if we aren’t trying to be better, slimmer, healthier, etc we are not worthy in this society. You are more than your perceived flaws and shortcomings. If you are living, eating and moving in a way that brings you joy and vitality, who is to question or judge that? Many of my clients feel the need to do better all the time due to their weight or presence of disease. But everyone deserves self-care and sometimes self-care means taking a break from the food and exercise rules, or better yet, abandoning them all together. Self-care means taking time to do things that bring us joy and reduces stress- like hiking, baking, watching Netflix, yoga, a night with friends. We are not worthy only if we self-improve 110% of the time.
Let’s expand the narrow definitions of beauty and health
You may feel the push from today’s beauty standards to change- who doesn’t? But beating yourself up for not trying hard enough, being dedicated enough or deserving enough is the real thief of health. That’s because when we dislike or hate our body- the very thing that allows us to live our lives- we often treat it less well. We are less likely to move and eat in a way that helps us feel good and be healthy. We are less likely to take care of ourselves with proper sleep and stress management.