It’s a New Year and time for new goals and a fresh start. It’s exciting to think of the good we can accomplish and the changes we can make to be better, healthier versions of ourselves.

As a registered dietitian at the Gainesville VA Medical Center, I find that Veterans’ goals (like everyone else) get off to a running start, but then start to lose steam after a few weeks. That burst of inspiration fades and we fall right back into our old patterns. Most New Year’s resolutions snuff out by February.

We stray from our goals for many reasons such as stress, unexpected situations and inconvenience. Sometimes our goals are not a priority. We rely too much on willpower and we all too often set unrealistic expectations.

The key is to find a way to achieve our goals by working around and accepting roadblocks. The formula for making attainable goals and getting them to stick is to make “smart” goals which focus on replacing bad habits with good habits. When you focus on building a habit, achieving your overall goal happens as a side effect.

Example of a basic goal:  I want to lose weight.

Define your goals, make them S.M.A.R.T.:

“SMART” (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound) goal setting concept presented on blackboard with colorful crumpled sticky notes and white chalk handwriting

S – specific What exactly do you want to achieve?  I want to lose 5 pounds.

M – measurable How will you gauge your progress?   I will lose 1 pound per week.

A – attainable  What will you do every day to achieve this? I will briskly walk for 20 minutes daily. THIS is where you decide what habit to build.

R- realistic/relevant Is this a task I can realistically accomplish every day? Try not to bite off more than you can chew. Make your goal/habit something challenging, but not too lofty. For instance, above, I did not say “run for 20 minutes”; I said “briskly walk for 20 minutes.”

T- time-sensitive/tangible What is deadline for achieving your goal? Anywhere from 4 weeks to 8 weeks is a good time frame.

The great thing about setting S.M.A.R.T. goals is that the plan, or habit, is clearly defined. If you follow the structure of the S.M.A.R.T. goal, you will know what you have to do every day to achieve your goal.

Make a plan to do something EVERY DAY towards your goal, even if it isn’t as much as you planned. Maybe you can’t walk today like you wanted to because it’s raining.  Have a back-up plan; do 10 jumping jacks or sit-ups; pop in a Pilates video for 15 minutes; walk up and down the stairs 10 times. This way the habit will still be formed and before you know it you’ll have reached or surpassed your goals. When you reach your goal, set a new one!  Here is a worksheet on setting S.M.A.R.T. Goals to get you started.

For more insight and ideas on how to make healthy changes and set S.M.A.R.T. goals, ask your primary care provider or Patient Aligned Care Team  for a referral to a dietitian today!


Melanya KushlaMelanya Kushla is a registered dietitian/nutritionist specializing in wellness and outpatient nutrition at the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center in Gainesville, Florida. She manages the Healthy Teaching Kitchen program, provides outpatient nutrition counseling, and is a contributor to the MOVE! weight management program. In her leisure time, Melanya enjoys costuming, cooking, creative and performing arts, weight training and competing in combative sports tournaments.

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Published on Jan. 19, 2017

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