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Setting Goals for Healthy Living

by Laura Hieronymus, MSEd, APRN, BC-ADM, CDE, Bradley Eilerman, MD, and Leonard Bennett, PharmD

SMART goal setting
Once you decide (ideally with the input of your diabetes care team) which areas of your diabetes care need work, you can set specific goals to work toward. Using the acronym SMART, which stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timing, can help you set goals that you are likely to be able to accomplish. Here’s how SMART goal setting works:

Specific. A specific, clearly defined goal is much more likely to be met than a vague goal. To help define what your goal is, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • How will reaching this goal benefit me?
  • What is my plan for reaching this goal?
  • Who besides me will need to be involved in my plan for reaching this goal?
  • Where will I carry out the steps of my plan?
  • For how long will I carry out this plan?
  • What might get in my way of carrying out my plan?

Measurable. It helps to have a way to measure your progress toward meeting your goal. For example, you might count the number of times per day or week that you perform a particular activity, such as monitoring your blood glucose level or taking a walk. Measuring your progress helps you stay on track and also lets you know when you have met your goal.

Achievable. Is your goal achievable? Often, a goal needs to be broken down into small steps to be reachable. For example, if your goal is to learn to respond to your blood glucose levels and problem-solve out-of-range numbers, you may need to start by monitoring more regularly and keeping a more complete logbook that contains not just numbers but notes, as well. Once you have more numbers and notes, you can start reviewing your logbook at regular intervals and looking for patterns. And from there, you can go to analyzing patterns and looking for possible causes of high or low blood glucose levels. (Be sure to seek help from one of your diabetes care providers if you’re having trouble with any of these steps.)

If the goal you’ve picked seems overwhelming, try listing all of the steps you will need to take to get closer to meeting it. Keep breaking those steps down into smaller and smaller steps until you get to one you can easily do. Getting closer to your goal, even by a tiny bit, can empower you to keep working toward the next step.

Realistic. One way to know if your goal is realistic is to gauge how confident you feel you can reach it. Again, it helps to break the goal down into smaller steps. If taking even the smallest steps necessary to reach the larger goal seems too difficult, your goal probably isn’t realistic. On the other hand, if you’re willing to take the first steps toward meeting your goal, it may well be something you can accomplish.

Timing. A goal should have a time frame. It should be long enough to make the goal attainable, but short enough to create a sense of urgency. If your goal is to learn to count carbohydrates “someday,” you may never get started. But if you set a reasonable date by which to acquire this skill, you’ve set your unconscious mind in motion to begin taking the necessary steps toward meeting the goal.

(Click here for an example of the SMART method in action.)

Pursuing your goal
As you work toward identifying a goal (or goals) and determining a SMART way of working toward it, put your thoughts into writing. When you’re done, you’ll have a written plan to help you get started and follow through. Keep in mind that it is OK to revise a goal as you go along or to set a new one if your circumstances change.

Consistently perfect self care is impossible, so if you are having trouble with one part of your diabetes self care, don’t become discouraged and let it consume you. Focus on what you are doing well, and come back to the problem areas when you are ready. Ask for help if you’re not sure what to do, how to get started, or how to maintain the healthy changes you have made. Setting realistic goals and mapping out clear steps toward reaching them can significantly improve your health without leaving you overwhelmed and frustrated. Take it one step at a time, and you’ll be amazed by what you can accomplish.

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Also in this article:
SMART in Action



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