How to set goals when life feels uncertain
Family Medicine and Sports Medicine Physician
To say 2020 didn’t go according to plan would be an understatement. As we begin a new year, many of us are considering what goals we’d like to set for 2021. But how do you set goals when life feels so uncertain?
Why it’s important to set goals
While it may feel strange to set goals when so much of life feels up in the air, there’s truly never been a better time. Setting goals can give you a sense of purpose and accomplishment when the world feels so uncertain. Goals can help you feel motivated to get out of bed each day and provide you with something to look forward to in a time when you may not be able to travel, entertain or gather with loved ones.
How to make progress on goals
Set SMART goals. Many goal experts suggest setting SMART goals. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based. While there is hope on the horizon with COVID-19 vaccines, it is difficult to know when life will get back to “normal.” With that in mind, consider specific, realistic goals you can work on in this season.
Ask for help. Seek out expert resources to help you meet your goals. If you have any health-related goals – such as losing weight, starting a new exercise routine or quitting smoking – your first stop should be your primary care provider. They can review your health history, make personalized recommendations and refer you to other providers (such as a dietitian) or programs (like smoking cessation) to help you reach your goals. I like to give my patients an “exercise prescription” that fits into their lives.
Make a plan. Decide when and where you’ll work on your goals. For example, if you want to meditate or read each day, what time will you do so? It can be helpful to pair a new habit with an already established one. Perhaps you’ll meditate after you finish getting ready for the day or you’ll read for 20 minutes after dinner.
Prevent burnout. Taking on too much too soon can lead to burnout. Consider setting a “maximum” limit to keep your goals sustainable. For example, when building a new walking habit, you may decide to walk for 10 minutes per day, but no more than 30. Then as you become more comfortable with walking, 30 minutes of exercise will not feel so unattainable.
Create a supportive environment. Your surroundings can help or hinder good habits. If you want to spend less time on your phone, don’t charge it on your bedside table, where you’ll be tempted to check it first thing in the morning. If you want to eat healthier, don’t buy junk food and keep it in the house. Likewise, if you want to stretch before bed, keep your yoga mat in your bedroom.
Seek accountability. Ask a friend or family member to serve as your accountability partner on your goals. This person doesn’t have to live in the same city as you; they just need to be willing to check in regularly and hold you accountable.
Track your progress. Monitoring your progress can help you stay motivated. It can feel great to check off that you exercised three times this week, saved $100 this month or read 15 pages a day. Try marking your progress in a notebook or using a habit-tracking app.
Be kind to yourself. It’s never too late to make progress on your goals and you don’t need a new year to get started. You can start fresh anytime. If you slip up or don’t meet your goal one day, week or month, get back on track the next day. No one is perfect. What matters is consistency. You may look back this time next year and see how far you’ve come.
To find a primary provider near you, visit www.pardeehospital.org.
Dr. Judkins is a board-certified family medicine and sports medicine physician at Pardee Family and Sports Medicine.