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A Caregiver’s Guide to Setting Goals

Does this sound familiar? Something happens—a milestone birthday, a financial emergency, or the calendar changes to a new year—and you resolve to get into shape, to save money, or to be a better person. But time passes and life gets in the way, and the goals you set get forgotten until you step on the scale or have another unexpected expense that puts you in a bind. Over time, guilt and feelings of failure can build up.

Often, how successful you are at meeting goals isn’t a matter of willpower or dedication. Whether you meet the goals you set may have more to do with how you phrase them. You may be setting yourself up for failure without even realizing it! Next time you decide to do something, remember these three points when setting goals.

1. Goals need to be realistic.

As you think about what you want to achieve, make sure it’s something that fits into your life. You might decide to save $10,000. If your goal is to do that in one year, you’ll need to put away $192 every week. If you can only afford to save $40 a week, you might want to make $10,000 a five-year goal.

2. Goals need to be specific.

State your goals using concrete, specific words with measurable steps to achieve them. If your mom has dementia, you may get impatient when she asks the same questions repeatedly and think, “I need to be nicer. She can’t help it.” Being “nicer” is a hard thing to measure—what exactly does it mean? Instead, you might come up with three things you can do that will help you react more patiently. “I’ll get a better night’s sleep so I won’t be so tired and crabby. I’ll listen to upbeat music instead of depressing news during my commute. And I’ll count to 10 (and maybe think, ‘patience,’) before I react to Mom.”

3. Goals need to stated as a positive action.

All too often, we state goals by saying what we won’t do—we’ll quit drinking soda, for example, or cut out junk food—without saying what we will do. If your goal is to eat better, you’ll want to be specific about what “better” means, and then come up with a plan. If you need to cut out fat, for example, you might decide, “Three days a week, I’ll have soup and vegetables for lunch instead of a deli sandwich with cheese and mayo. The other two days, I’ll have a sandwich, but I’ll have grapes or baby carrots instead of chips.”

Staying on Track

If you’ve fallen short on meeting resolutions, skip the guilt trip and take another look at your goals.

  • Were they unrealistic?
  • Where did you struggle?
  • What were you able to accomplish?

Focus on the goals that are most important to you and make a plan that includes specific steps to help you meet them.

Try to keep the changes fairly small and easy to work into your existing routine. When you minimize the all-or-nothing mentality, you’ll find that you’re more likely to stay with the new habits—and see a boost in your well-being.

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