Many people set vague goals like, “I want to lose weight.” Others set specific goals like, “I will lose 5 pounds over the next month by replacing my evening dessert with a walk around the neighborhood.” New research from McGill University in Montreal, Canada1 shows that people who not only set specific goals, but actually write them down AND visualize how they are going to carry them out have greater success achieving them.
Students at the university (177) were assigned the goal of consuming extra portions of fruit every day for 7 days and randomly assigned to one of four conditions: control, implementation intentions (concrete plan), goal intention mental imagery (visualized goal achievement) or mental imagery targeted to the implementation intentions (visualized how they’d carry out their plan for goal achievement). Among low fruit consumers, fruit consumption at follow-up was higher in the targeted mental imagery group than in the other groups, with lowest fruit consumption in the control group. In fact, students who made a concrete plan, wrote it down, and also visualized how they were going to carry it out (i.e., when, where, and how they would buy, prepare, and eat fruit) increased their fruit consumption twice as much as those who didn’t plan or visualize.
Goals aren’t helpful unless they are SMART:
Specific – clearly defines what you intend to do or achieve
Measurable – includes a way to know whether you’ve achieved your goal or made progress, like numbers on a scale or fruits logged in a food dairy
Action-oriented – sets steps and plans for reaching your goal
Realistic – is challenging, yet achievable
Time-bound – has a start date and an end date
But maybe we need to change the acronym to iSMART for imagery or imaging yourself carrying out a Specific, Measureable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Time-bound goal! Try it yourself or with a client this week and let us know (on our Facebook page) whether taking a few minutes to write down your goal, then visualize yourself doing what’s needed to achieve the goal, was helpful. I’m going to try it this week with this SMART goal::
“In the coming week, I will serve my children at least one fruit and one vegetable at every meal (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) every day as confirmed by recording the fruits and vegetables served on a calendar on my refrigerator.”
If you need a handy guide for setting a SMART goal, click here.