It’s been a month since we discussed how to set SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time Bound – to help achieve your fitness objectives for 2020. If you’re finding that you have been struggling to stick to the goals that you set, you are not alone! In this issue of Healthy UBC, we go through the reasons behind it and give you some tips to set yourself up for success.
Do you ever wonder why it seems hard to achieve goals that we set for ourselves? It turns out that our brains, as magnificent as they are, are programmed to prefer routine over novelty – even if these routines are not healthy1.
For example, if you routinely come home from work and watch Netflix for an hour, your brain becomes wired to expect this. When you start to pursue your 2020 fitness goals – such as going for a walk after work instead of turning on the TV – your brain has to adapt. It does this by changing the way that the neurons (the cells in the brain) are connected1. By continuing to go for walks, these new connections will be strengthened and eventually the activity will become the new routine favoured by your brain.
A tip for achieving your 2020 goals
You can help teach your brain to understand your goals by setting a series of smaller objectives1. That happens in part thanks to dopamine, a chemical implemented in our brain’s reward circuitry that is released every time we accomplish a goal2.
By setting, and achieving, a number of smaller goals, you will have more frequent dopamine release, strengthening your motivation and teaching your brain that the specific behaviour is rewarding2. For example, if your overall goal is to do 20 consecutive push-ups, you could start with a series of smaller goals like doing three push-ups at a time. When you achieve them, you’ll have more dopamine released into the reward areas of your brain and increase your motivation to continue trying.
Goal setting and mental health
If you needed any more reasons to set effective goals for 2020, research has suggested that effective goal-setting can lead to increased feelings of wellbeing3. Additionally, working towards and achieving your goals can help boost your self-esteem, which can enhance mental health and life satisfaction4.
UBC’s Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) is also available to help you achieve your 2020 fitness goals. EFAP offers LIFT virtual fitness sessions – workout sessions free of charge and personalized to your specific personal information. LIFT sessions are equipment-free and consist of three sessions per week for six weeks.
- MacLeod, A. K., Coates, E., & Hetherton, J. (2008). Increasing well-being through teaching goal-setting and planning skills: Results of a brief intervention. Journal of Happiness Studies, 9(2), 185-196.