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An Evidence-based Approach to Set Your Health & Fitness Goals 

Rajiv is extremely SMART. His coworkers worship his ability to set specific goals at work and achieve them without fail. SMART Rajiv gives his team members precise figures they need to achieve in every quarter. And his team tastes success every time. Recently, Rajiv made a new year resolution to be more conscious of his health and follow a fitness regime strictly. Rajiv being extremely SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound), set a goal – ‘lose 10 kg in the next 3 months’. The entire office held their breath to see the outcome that was guaranteed. Only this time, not only did he not lose 10 kg, he also appeared more exhausted than ever.


Rajiv’s SMART framework was highly effective at work. So, he equated professional goals to health behaviors and habits, which by nature do not conform to rules and rigidity. The latter requires a much more nuanced approach that leaves room for change. Your health goals need to have a hierarchy.


Lay a superordinate foundation that provides the overall motivation. On top of this comes intermediate goals, which have to be a little clearer. The sub-ordinary goals, which form the top-most layer, specify the steps we have to take.


While the superordinate and intermediate goals stay unchanged, sub-ordinary goals are flexible. When it’s not effective you can change them for new ones that still help you achieve the first two categories of goals.



Many of us may know Rajiv. Maybe he’s us. We make endless schedules, to-do-lists and plans for weight loss but usually lose track and end up nowhere. Effective goals are not mere statements. They are multifaceted. Here are 3 things to pay attention to while setting your health goals.


Approach vs Avoidance:

We need to decide how we are going to approach our goals and what are the things we are going to avoid. Ask yourself these questions – ‘What am I adding to life? What am I cutting down in life?’ For instance, a good approach can be to eat more veggies, drink water more frequently, etc. Avoidance can be to eat dessert less frequently, consume less sugar, reduce screen time, etc.

A new approach is going to be challenging and difficult. Therefore, we should be careful to frame goals associated with emotions.

Performance vs mastery goals. 

More than the goal itself, what matters is your attitude towards the goal. Are you going to behave like a bridled horse and focus on the outcome (viewed as performance goals), or enjoy the journey (viewed as mastery goals)?

Performance goals involve judging and evaluating one’s ability, such as improving running speed from running 1 km in 12 minutes to covering the same distance in 10 minutes; whereas mastery goals focus on improving existing abilities and learning new skills, such as lowering cholesterol levels, reducing stress, and improving sleep.

Performance goals can be interpreted as a failure, where as mastery goals are viewed as part of the learning process.

Flexible vs rigid: 

A good (sub-ordinate) goal is always flexible. Our environment and schedules are constantly changing and we need to be able to adapt while not compromising our superordinate goals. Set an implementation intention. When situation X arises, I will perform Y or I will [behavior] at [time] in [location].

Suppose your gym timings are 6-7 pm but you are still stuck in a meeting at 5.55 pm. In this situation it is easy to think that you are late anyway and break the habit. But you can plan to get a quick 30-minute workout as soon as you get home.


Another situation could look like this. You are traveling for work and you are not sure you’ll get food that goes with your diet plan. You can take some healthy snacks with you and try to consume the healthiest options available.

Oftentimes what we lack is clarity not motivation. Planning a couple of alternatives for possible scenarios would sustain our habits. An extension of this approach is habit stacking. After [Current Habit], I will [New Habit]. For example, ‘After a month of playing badminton, I will switch to swimming.’ This will eliminate monotony.


The philosopher’s stone in weight loss 

What ties all the above approaches together is your environment. Habits are easily formed in stable environments where everything has a place and a purpose. If you want to become a disciplined person, create a more disciplined environment. One of the most practical ways to eliminate a bad habit is to reduce the exposure to the cue that triggers it. Let’s say you usually hangout with friends at a restaurant and end up eating a lot of junk food. Try switching the hangout place or plan an activity instead that you all could do together.



We’ll let you in on an insight – The most respected virtue of self-control is not a very effective mechanism even among the most disciplined of men and women. Successful people focus on reducing their exposure to bad environment and increasing exposure to environment that promotes good habits.




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