Even though January is dreary for many, it's a great time to set fresh health goals for the year (yes, we look for the positive in everything). Establishing the right goals is an important part of self-managing your health and living a fuller life. Based on our own experience, and the advice of experts, we outline four simple tips.
1. Examine the evidence
Determining what goals to pursue can stump people at the first hurdle. There is so much advice out there. John Downey, Lecturer in Health and Exercise at St Mary’s University, makes the point that "conflicting information on health can diminish our motivation." It's hard to strive for a goal if you are constantly doubting it's efficacy. Downey recommends a focus on the activities best proven to help with your particularly health condition. In the case of arthritis, this could mean light exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding inflammatory foods (such as processed sugar and vegetable oils).
2. Think S.M.A.R.T.
Once you have a broad area of focus, create individual goals. The National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS) recommend following the SMART goal setting method, a technique commonly used in business and personal development.
Make sure the goal is SPECIFIC. Merely aiming to 'do more exercise' is not clear enough. Better to say, start walking to the shops.
Ensure the goal is MEASURABLE, by thinking 'how often', 'how many', 'how quickly', 'how many more than the week before'. Using our example, perhaps aim to walk to the shops, four times a week.
Aim for goals with a little challenge, but which are ultimately ACHIEVABLE. Nothing demotivates more than unrealistic, unreachable goals. Start with small, micro-goals, then reach higher. For example, replace sugary soft drinks with sparkling water and a squeeze of lemon.
Look for goals that are RELEVANT to your lifestyle. If you can integrate them into your daily tasks - like cycling to work, instead of driving - they are more likely to be achieved.
Create goals that are TIME-BASED, so you have a sense of whether they've been reached or not. For example, set the end of March as a deadline - you can then review and set new goals for the next three months.
3. Share with friends and family
A great way to succeed in achieving goals is to share them with someone else, then check in at regular intervals. Lauren Gordon, Behavioural Insights Adviser at Bupa, says "the best commitment is one that is shared with others and is voluntarily made". Another person can keep you honest, plus offer support and advice. If you have a family member or close friend with their own health goals, why not help each other?
4. Be kind to yourself
You won't reach every goal, every time. If you do, you've made them too easy! Missing a goal is not a reason to feel down, it's an opportunity to reflect on what happened and how to adjust your behaviour or mindset for next time. It might even mean tweaking the goal a little. Remember, Roger Federer won a lot of games of tennis. But not every one!
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