A Woman's Guide To Setting "SMART" Goals

Ambitious goals are a dime a dozen this time of year. Is your approach to yours setting you up to fail? Three successful women and athletes give you their hard-learned lessons!

We live in a world where acronyms are as plentiful as smart phones, especially right now, when everyone is talking about their goals for the upcoming year. You've no doubt seen this one in recent weeks:

S.M.A.R.T.: Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely

Easy enough, right? If it were, we'd all be we'd all be beautiful, successful, and philanthropic billionaires. In actuality, even this seemingly perfect formula can leave you another disappointed statistic.

Let these three top NLA for Her athletes show you the inside track to achieving your goals this year. This is the approach that took them to the top of their industry and earned them millions of combined social media followers!

Step 1 Look at the big picture before you set your goals

In a perfect world you'd have plenty of time to train, you'd have a personal chef to prepare all your healthy meals, and you'd have an awesome support system to buoy you. But reality-land is too often dominated by work, sick kids, a busted car, and a fridge full of nothing but condiments. Add to that an unrealistic fitness goal, and you're asking for calamity.


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"Your work, school, and family all play a big role in setting and reaching goals. It would be crazy to pretend they don't!" says pro fitness model Lais DeLeon. "You can change your life, but you can't change your life into someone else's. This is why it's important to consider your existing schedule and the influence of those around you in your goal-making process."

So how do you quantify something that large and important? Go old school. Get a paper calendar or a poster board, and physically mark off any days when you've got obligations; have your family pencil in the same. Then step back and have a look. Having it laid out in black and white often gives you a new perspective and will better help you create a timeline to set and reach your goal.

Step 2 Set concrete, behavior-based goals

Once you've got the big picture in your head, it's time to choose a goal. But rather than asking for the world, sharpen your focus.

"Setting too big of a goal—one that requires a dramatic change—is the number one reason people fail," says IFBB figure pro Jessie Hilgenberg. "For instance, if your goal is losing 20 pounds, but you haven't changed your eating habits or started a well-designed fitness program yet, there's a good chance you'll become overwhelmed and give up."

Once you've got the big picture in your head, it's time to choose a goal. But rather than asking for the world, sharpen your focus.

So what are examples of specific, reasonable goals? "You could start with 'train everything at least once a week and a weaker body part twice a week' instead of 'gain muscle' or 'prep meals every Sunday' instead of 'eat healthy,'" suggests DeLeon. "Notice how the quantifiable goal can be tracked from day to day or week to week. The other is a wish with no plan."

Now is the time to brainstorm goals. Open up the mental faucet and put a lot of ideas on the page, then evaluate them more carefully. Which ones are specific enough to plot a course of action? If you like a goal but can't see the action, how can you rewrite it to make it work?

Step 3 Get Real

So you've got a goal. Now comes the hard part, which is matching it up to Step 1 and your actual life. You can do that with three simple questions.

Can I follow this plan indefinitely? "The most important thing to ask yourself about any plan or goal is 'is this sustainable?'" says Hilgenberg. "If you can't do it forever, or if you can't teach your children to do it as well, it isn't sustainable. You need a plan that gets you to your goal via a realistic path. Otherwise, it will not work."

"Everyone has different body types and personal goals, so don't compare yourself to others," says NPC bikini competitor Theresa Miller. "Stay focused on what you want to achieve for yourself, and put on blinders when it comes to other people."

Does this goal match up with my abilities? "The key to setting realistic goals is to be ambitious while taking into consideration your actual abilities," says DeLeon. "For example, if my goal was to go from 20 percent body fat to 12, but I was able to only drop to 17 percent at the end of my timeline, my goal probably wasn't realistic." When this happens, take the lesson to heart and set your goals accordingly next time!

Is this my goal or someone else's? This sad truth is that while the girl on the bench next to you might make what appears to be significant progress in a matter of weeks, it might take you months to achieve the same—or vice versa. "Everyone has different body types and personal goals, so don't compare yourself to others," says NPC bikini competitor Theresa Miller. "Stay focused on what you want to achieve for yourself, and put on blinders when it comes to other people."

Does your goal pass those three tests? If not, tinker with it until it does.

Step 4 Set a Timeline and Mini Goals

For many people, the simple addition of a deadline means the difference between action and stagnation. If there's no end point, the start point is also invisible.

"If you don't have a deadline, it's easy to keep pushing it back," says Hilgenberg. "Mark your goal deadline on your calendar, tell a friend, or post it on your Facebook page. Declaring it publicly will hold you accountable!"

Along with your end point, set a procession of mini goals along the way to generate momentum. For example, if your aim is to lose 15 pounds and get into your skinny jeans by summer, then you could set:

  • a goal each month for body fat or weight loss
  • a goal each week for healthy eating and training
  • a goal each day for meal planning, training, and hydration

All three are equally important. Each time you reach a mini-goal, you've made progress on the front end, which will encourage you and propel you toward your end point!


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Step 5 Throw It out to the Universe

Writing down a goal is a great way of solidifying it in your mind; sharing it with friends and family solidifies it in your life. Build enough accountability around you, and failure will quickly cease to be an option!


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"Setting the goal is just the start. Being reminded of your goal frequently makes you much more likely to be successful in achieving it," says DeLeon.

Enlist your friends and family to remind you about your goal regularly. After all, they're the people in your life who want you to succeed most! If it helps, use social media or online groups to connect with others who are also making goals similar to yours.

This may be the most productive thing you use social media for all year!

Step 6 Create a sister goal

Physical goals like fat-loss goals are probably the most tempting for many of us to set, since everyone has something they'd like to better about their physical self. But as millions can attest, getting serious about training and nutrition can encourage many other positive life changes. So why not embrace this opportunity?




"I am a 'yes' girl and always put everyone else's needs before my own," says Hilgenberg. "Now that I have a daughter, it has become more important than ever to say 'no' to unnecessary work, favors, or events so that I can just simply sit on the living-room floor with her and play. I recommend this goal highly! It leads to so many other things: more time with your children, more time for yourself, and all sorts of good stuff."

Your sister goal can accompany anything physical you've already decided upon. Examples include making time for yourself daily, growing your career, building relationships, or even meditating for 10 minutes a day. Make it matter to you!

Step 7 Reward yourself along the way

There's a good reason that the gym in March looks so different than it does in January. Keeping up this lifestyle is hard work! And you definitely deserve major props if you're able to keep it up—particularly if it hasn't been the norm for you. So don't be afraid to pat yourself on the back.

"Taking the time to reward yourself and acknowledge your accomplishments will build better self-confidence and encourage future goal setting," says DeLeon. "When deciding on a reward, ask yourself what motivates you. What do you want most, and what will help you surpass your goals?"


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Scale your reward to the goal achieved. A few ideas include having a date night to your favorite restaurant for a cheat meal after losing 5 pounds, or a new pair of running shoes after four consistent weeks of training. For the larger goals reached, consider a photo shoot!

"I know it's daunting, but few people regret it afterward," says DeLeon. "It gives you something to look forward to as well as something to look back on and remember why you worked so hard."

Step 8 Perform damage control

Missed workouts, questionable meals, crazy weeks—these things happen! That's not going to change. Build this expectation into your plan, and give yourself a little cushion of time—not to mention compassion—when life tries to derail your plans.

"It's easy to get discouraged when your expectations aren't met as quickly as you want them to be," says Miller. "The key is to keep it from creating doubt about whether you reach your goal. As long as you can learn to put out the big fires, you'll still get there—no matter how long it takes!"

You started this plan with the big picture, so let's go back there. A few days or weeks of unexpected delay is really nothing when you consider a lifetime of health and happiness. It's just a speedbump.

"We all make bad choices and have bad things happen. Be gentle and forgiving with yourself," says Hilgenberg. "When you fall, get up, dust yourself off, and keep going!"


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