August 31, 2023

A Guide to Goal Setting Part 2: Difficult vs. Easy and the SMART approach

Shooting for the moon and landing amongst the stars may sound nice, but what if we can’t even launch ourselves off the ground?

We all make big goals, including ones that can change our lives and optimize our health. However, it’s never as easy as simply wanting something. Human motivation is an overlooked factor in goal setting.

If we don’t understand how to approach goal setting and use difficulty levels of goals to our advantage, we can quickly lose interest and fall back into familiar patterns.

Difficult vs. Easy Goals

Organizational psychology studies have repeatedly shown us that the best results occur from goals that challenge us. When we commit to specific goals that are difficult, we reap greater rewards both from achieving the goal and the path that led us there.

When goals require low effort and minimal performance, they’re referred to as easy goals. That’s not to say there isn’t a place for both types of goals.

The confidence in our ability to achieve a specific goal also influences our goal commitment. Though we can improve our self-efficacy by achieving challenging goals, repeatedly failing them can derail us.

Setting easy goals that are ‘low-hanging fruit’ can help motivate us in continuing to pursue the more challenging goals.

Losing 10-15 lbs can be a daunting task. Micro-goals related to behaviour change around that bigger weight loss goal like adding 1k steps per day each week can make a big difference and improve our confidence in sticking to the plan.

The SMART approach

A well-known set of rules for goal setting are known as the SMART approach or criteria. This stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timed. This is a targeted approach and allows us to set actionable and well-defined goals such as “I will do 25 minutes of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) 4 days per week for the next 3 weeks”. Setting goals that are well defined can help us stay on track and can be motivating. One of the major limitations of the SMART approach is that it doesn’t specify how we will be pursuing the goal. Will the HIIT consist of bike intervals, sprinting, or a weight training circuit? This is where it’s important to have a coach or a health optimization team guide you. They can help us decide on the how based on our preferences, goals, and limitations.


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