Spring 2012
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Setting Goals for Health and Happiness

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By Dr. Stephen Pont

Nobody wants to be unhealthy and nobody wants to have unhealthy children, but when we live very busy lives surrounded by lots of unhealthy choices, we can easily find ourselves less healthy than we'd like.

So, what are we to do?

Many of us have good intentions when we set health and fitness goals. Unfortunately, we may find it easy to make a change for a short while, but then slowly return to where we were before. It's important to recognize that there are strong reasons why we do what we do, and so change can be challenging, but there is hope! With a little planning you can set yourself up for success and continue down the path toward better health for you and your family.

Here are five simple things to consider when setting healthy goals:

1) Start by choosing a bigger, longer-term goal that you want to reach by a certain date. This will help you keep your eye on the prize. E.g., walk or run a 5K, fit into a smaller clothing size, have more energy playing sports, lower your blood pressure or lose a couple of pounds. (Because children are still growing be sure to talk with your health care provider before trying to help your child lose weight).

2) Then start with small, easier goals and build from there. If we start too big, we might become discouraged. But, if we are successful with some of our small goals, then that success will give us momentum and help the healthy changes stick. So set smaller day-to-day goals and slowly work your way to the final larger goal.

3) Set SMART goals. This is a framework used by many folks that can help you better describe your goals, so that you'll set more doable, sensible goals and so that you'll know when you've achieved them.

SMART goals are: Specific Measurable Achievable Relevant Timely

Here's an example of a SMART goal and a not-as-SMART goal.

SMART Goal: I will walk around the neighborhood in the evening with my kids twice during the week and once during the weekend. I will start this week and will track my progress on my calendar.

Not-as-SMART goal: I will walk more.

  • S – Specific
    • I will walk around the neighborhood in the evening.
  • M – Measurable
    • I will walk twice during the week and once on the weekend, and will I will track my progress on the calendar on my refrigerator.
  • A – Achievable
    • Walking will help me de-stress after work and my kids will be home so this will be a good time for us to walk. We could also walk to a nearby park where they could play while I walk. I don't think I can walk every day, so I'll start with 2-3 times a week.
  • R – Relevant
    • Walking is good exercise so will help me reach my goal of fitting into a smaller clothing size, and will be a great time for my children to tell me about their school day.
  • T – Timely
    • I will walk two to three times a week in the evening and will start this week.

4) Track your progress, both short-term (day to day) and long-term (week to week, month to month, etc.). Many people like to record their progress on a calendar.

5) Give healthy rewards to yourself and your child for all successes, both small and large! And a reward can be something as simple as playing a game with your child, going to the park, making a craft project, staying up later or taking time off chores. Why not see how creative your children are; ask them to help brainstorm a free or low-cost reward. Having a reward treasure chest of low-cost stickers and small trinkets or toys can also be a great daily/weekly motivator for kids. These will make you all feel good about your success and help you make the healthy change stick!

Stephen Pont, MD, MPH, FAAP
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics
Medical Director, Texas Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity
Medical Director, Austin Independent School District Student Health Services
UT Southwestern, Austin – Department of Pediatrics
UT Austin – Department of Advertising

Setting Goals
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Good Health for Kids is produced by Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas.