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It’s A New Year: How to create ACHIEVABLE results with “SMART” and “Micro” Goals


It’s a NEW YEAR and goal setting is often a topic of conversation and something people are focusing on.  There are two popular goal setting terms that are being used and can help you set goals that can be obtained.  Understanding the definitions of “micro-goals” and “S.M.A.R.T goals” can help you make a plan to be successful in your own life this year.

What are micro-goals?

In my practice, I often define “micro-goals” to my clients as the measurable and specific “steps” they will take to reach their overarching and ultimate goals.  The key words to micro-goals are: small, specific, and measurable.

Why have they become so popular and what makes them so effective?

Individuals love micro-goals because they “map” specifically how to obtain the larger goal.  Micro-goals also help an individual prioritize specific actions to help them achieve their overarching goal.  Micro-goals are effective because they give an individual a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day because they can say “yes! I did this.” In addition to being measurable, micro-goals provide the focus and structure to what is needed to accomplish the larger goal.

What are the criteria to keep in mind when setting a micro-goal?

I always reference the pedagogy of S.M.A.R.T goals, not only with end-point goals, BUT especially with micro-goals.  S.M.A.R.T. goals are also used by small and large businesses when strategic planning; but, S.M.A.R.T. goals are also very useful to an individual.  The acronym of S.M.A.R.T. provides the criteria for setting micro-goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound.

What are some examples of “old-school” macro-goals that don’t work (and why they didn’t work), and specific examples of new micro-goals you should swamp them out with (and why they will work)?

Examples of “old-school” macro-goals that we hear all the time include: “To lose weight.” In my experience, many people can lose weight and lose weight all the time; the failure is “not” in losing the weight, but rather in maintaining the weight loss which this goal does not address.  Other “old-school” goals that I hear all the time as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) is “to exercise more,” or “to eat more fruits and vegetables.”  The failure with these goals is they do not incorporate a plan on how to achieve weight loss, how to exercise, or how to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into the diet.  I have seen many, many clients that eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables, a diet with healthy high-quality foods, but have difficulty losing weight.  That is because the goals of “to exercise more,” or “to eat more fruits and vegetables” are not specific.   

Example of micro-goals that help people work towards successful weight loss and sustainable changes include: “To lose 1-2# per week, until goal weight loss of 50# is achieved in ~6-months.”  Typically, an individual might have 2-3 micro-goals they are working on to develop and change habits to achieve the over-arching goal.  We often focus on 1-2 nutrition related goals, and 1-2 fitness goals until they are achieved.  So, to balance the SMART/micro-goal of weight loss out up above, we would probably also add “Go to the gym 4 x a week for a cross-training class that is ~45-minutes long (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday).  Finally, “Eat a minimum of 5-servings of fruits or vegetables daily: Have 1-fruit serving or 1-vegetable serving at each meal and snack during the day (3-meals + 2-snacks is a typical meal pattern).  Remember, the more specific and measurable your micro-goals are, the more successful you will be. 

In conclusion, the take home message is that SMART/micro-goals also provide the structure to help you self-monitor and obtain the feedback needed to maintain motivation, focus, positive-thinking, and forward momentum to achieve your ultimate goal.

Micro-goals are the steps to success.  Micro-goals result in long-term sustainable changes and habits. Micro-goals add up to success.  Small changes add up to have big impact.



Image Credit: Shutterstock (Stock Photo ID #280658234)

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