This time of year, many people come into my office seeking advice for their nutrition-related New Year’s resolutions. They may want to lose weight, control medical conditions better, or just have a healthier diet.
Part of my job is to help people to take their long term goals and turn them into specific steps to take. One health behavior change strategy is to use the acronym “SMART” when formulating plans. Here, SMART stands for:
I help them create SMART next steps based on their long term goals and current practices. It helps turn vague ideas into concrete actions that help them reach their goals.
So, the woman who wants to control her diabetes better might say, “For the next three weeks, I will eat only 2 tortillas with lunch instead of 5.” The middle aged man who wants to lose weight for his high school reunion in June may say, “I will eat at least one cup of vegetables at the beginning of lunch and dinner at least 5 days per week for the next month.” The college student who wants to eat healthier might decide, “For the rest of the quarter, I will pack a salad from home on the two nights per week that I have late classes. That way, I will avoid vending machine dinners!”
Each of the five parts of making a SMART plan is important:
- The plan must be specific, so that the person knows exactly what to do.
- It must be measurable, both to track progress and to know to what degree the plan must be done.
- It has to be action-oriented, because we have control over our actions, but we don’t always have control over the outcomes. Our plans work better when they focus on the actions that lead to the outcomes we want.
- The plan has to be realistic so that the person doesn’t set himself (or herself) up for failure. Some people don’t see the merit in only making a small change that they are fairly confident they can handle. Most people, however, become paralyzed and discouraged when they make a plan for themselves that is next to impossible for them. They may lose confidence that they are capable of change at all.
- Finally, making the plan time-bound is important. For one, having an endpoint makes the plan less overwhelming. Also, when the time period is over, it provides an opportunity for reflection and modification. Was it harder than anticipated? Did it help the person reach his ultimate goal? Is it time to “kick it up a notch,” so to speak?
Many of us may have spiritual goals instead of (or perhaps, in addition to) health-related goals. Why not use a SMART plan to help us reach our spiritual goals as well?
“I want to read the Bible more” could become “Between now and Lent, I will read at least one chapter of the Bible during the baby’s nap, at least 4 days per week.”
“I want to sin less” could become “In 2019, I will go to Confession at least one Saturday per month.”
SMART plans can serve as road signs to guide us on our spiritual journey. Of course, we can’t earn God’s grace by simply choosing to take different actions. But, as Thomas Merton said, “I believe the desire to please You does in fact please You.” By taking concrete steps to grow spiritually, we show God that we are open to His gifts of grace and greater faith. With our actions, we can demonstrate our willing spirits!
Copyright 2019 Monica Portogallo