Have you ever set a goal and felt really excited and motivated only to have it fall by the wayside? Perhaps you get distracted or too busy; maybe it seems too difficult. As physical therapist and yoga teacher Kristin Williams and I continue our conversation about health and wellness, we explore what we have found to be the best approaches to goal setting and achieving success in the hopes that you will be able to set and achieve goals this year (and next) that can contribute to your overall wellness, and ultimately, happiness. 

Oftentimes, it’s easy to blame ourselves for not achieving our goals or for “slacking off,” without realizing that this is not only a common problem, it’s part of the process. Most of us aren’t taught goal setting in school. It is an acquired skill, and as such, takes practice, perseverance, support, and a healthy dose of compassion (see our last blog post.) 

Here’s what works for us: 

Be realistic. 

Are your goals realistic? If you’re not sure, how can you tell? The other day, Kristin mentioned to me that one of her physical therapy clients reached out to her because she was concerned about her changing body. She’s nearing 60 and felt like she was in an exercise slump. “She was complaining that she used to take dance class four times a week for three hours at a time,” says Kristin. Turns out this was 30 years ago, before she was married and had kids. On top of that, she was currently back in school full time to get her advanced degree. Her goal to be able to do what she did in her 20s was setting her up for failure. 

This story underscored for me the importance of setting realistic goals. “She may not have time to do an hour-long yoga class, but can she do 30 minutes or even 10?” continues Kristin. If the goal is unrealistic, one can feel overwhelmed, and experience decreased self-esteem and a desire to give up. A realistic goal will be something that is attainable and fits into your schedule (which is our next point.) You can always build upon your goal, but I’ve found that starting simple goes a long way. 

Create structure and schedule. 

Kristin worked with her client to create an exercise schedule that worked for her and was realistic. Sometimes, it’s helpful to have an accountability buddy (like Kristin is for me) with whom you can talk about your goals. One of the things that came up for Kristin and me was that we both implemented schedules for our kids. They had bedtimes, times for naps, and meals. Now that they are older, those schedules pay off in the form of healthy habits. My son, who is now a teenager, may want to sleep in on the weekends, but because we had a schedule early on, he still gets up by 8:30. “We do this for our children,” Kristin adds. “Why don’t we do it for ourselves?” 

A schedule doesn’t have to be rigid, either. Just as kids go through growth spurts and need more food or more sleep, we also need that kind of flexibility due to demands on our time and energy from work and family. Being flexible is key to incorporating an exercise schedule into your life. “Sometimes you’re not going to feel like exercising and that’s okay,” says Kristin. “But then you need to reschedule it, and once you start feeling the rewards of regular exercise, such as increased energy and physical health, it becomes much easier to continue.” She points out that scheduling is part of self-care. Leaving it to whimsy is not. 

Maintain sight of the bigger picture. 

I wasn’t one of those kids who regularly did handstands and cartwheels, but one of my goals, especially as a yoga teacher, was to be able to do a handstand. I’d look around at the other students in class jumping into handstands and I really wanted to do it, too. I kept trying and trying until I finally gave up. I was frustrated, and it didn’t feel good. I stayed away from yoga for four months. Doing a handstand was not a realistic goal for me, and I had lost sight of the bigger picture, which was to be healthy and strong. Kristin’s background as a physical therapist gave me perspective. 

“You need to have the foundation of strength, body awareness, and some kind of somatic memory of doing handstands previously to support you.” The sign that I had become too focused on my goal was the dissatisfaction and lack of motivation that I was feeling. This awareness is important. 

What would be a better goal? Turns out I need a more comprehensive plan that includes running, weights, yoga, meditation, and rest to support my bigger picture and leaves me feeling terrific by the end of the week. This is a good sign. It feels great to have an arsenal of activities, and I think the rotation has allowed me to spend less time overall on working out. A good goal that supports your bigger picture should make you feel this way; if it’s not, try asking yourself if there’s another goal that would feel good while also serving your bigger picture. 

Find power in purpose. 

Big-picture goals can be turbocharged (and clarified) by combining them with a meaningful purpose. A real-world example of this was when I wanted to sponsor my younger brother so that he could immigrate from India to the U.S. To do this, my goals were to have a stable job with a secure income and meaningful financial assets. The immigration process took ten years, but the decisions I made and the risks I took as a young person were informed by this overall purpose. It felt good every time I met a goal that served this larger purpose. This can be applied to health and wellness as well. 

“When I ran the Marine Corps marathon, it was to honor my dad. I wanted to wear the T-shirt that said, ‘Proud daughter of a Marine,’” explains Kristin. “If it had been a regular marathon and my knee started to hurt, it would have been so much easier to quit.” 

The best goals have both an internal and external purpose in mind, and they need to be aligned. Your goal to lose weight can be aligned with wanting to be a better parent or having more energy to pursue your career aspirations. Your goals may change (maybe starting with one run a week then adding in a bike ride), but your purpose will most likely remain the same (i.e., being able to play with your grandchildren.) Having these in sync will go a long way in creating the motivation and habits that result in overall health and happiness. 

Can you align a health and wellness goal with a larger purpose that will fuel your motivation? What is your experience with finding realistic goals? Share your thoughts in the comments below!