Healthy Beginnings

Why you should set small, incremental goals this new year

Be smart with the goals you set for 2019 — and beyond. Photo: Shutterstock

When the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 31, people around the world celebrate a fresh start and a sense of renewed hope for the year ahead.

“I’m going to lose weight.”

“I’m going to run a marathon.”

“I’m going to live a healthier life.”

These are the types of well-meaning, but usually unreachable goals set for the year ahead.

Roughly 55 percent of New Year’s resolutions are health related, according to a 2016 study in Personality and Social Science Bulletin, but between 80 percent and 90 percent are likely to fail within six weeks, depending on what survey you look at.

While setting goals for self-improvement is admirable, pitfalls come into play when the goals are overly ambitious and set without a plan of attack.

“Setting SMART goals is really important,” says Reno-based health coach Jan Overbay. “Specific, Measurable, Relevant and Time-bound.”

Overbay advises her clients to look at the root issues that might be keeping them from achieving their goal — whether that’s losing weight or being less stressed — and then setting a series of smaller goals to reach the larger achievement.

Elizabeth Grimm, a functional medicine health coach in Reno, takes a similar approach with her clients when it comes to achieving their health goals.

“Health isn’t a destination, but it is a transformation, and what works best is slow transformation over time,” says Grimm. “Someone who wants to incorporate more movement and fitness into their life, that first step might be buying shoes, but no one is going to make their New Year’s resolution to buy shoes.

“They are going to say they want to finish a marathon without taking into account all of the small pieces in between.”

Grimm coaches her clients on setting and working toward smaller goals that can be achieved in a two-week period.

She says a big factor in a client’s success is figuring out his or her character strengths and incorporating that into the plan to achieve the goal.

If a client has “an appreciation of beauty” and wants to get active, she recommends he or she work out outdoors. For someone who has a love of learning, Grimm urges the client to continually try out new exercise classes.

“If you have too big of a goal, it can feel overwhelming and you’re more likely to give it up,” adds Overlay.

For Overlay, personally, the new year is a chance not necessarily to set a new goal, but to take stock of the year prior and perhaps let go of something that is no longer a positive force in her life.

“I think we need to honestly look at what isn’t working and what we need to let go of and where we want to step from there. If we keep taking into the next year everything we’ve been doing, it’s like a backpack on our back that’s getting heavier and heavier because we aren’t taking anything out. It’s burdensome,” says Overlay. “Instead we can unload the beliefs, the habits, and the way we’ve done things that hasn’t been working and bring light to that and find a different way to do it.”

Whether you’re stepping into the new year with added health goals or looking to kick a habit or belief, the advice is the same: Start small — and stick with it.

Claire Cudahy is a Reno-based freelance writer and contributor to Healthy Beginnings magazine.