New (School) Year’s Resolutions?

It’s Labor Day weekend, and we’ve made another circle around the sun: as hard as it is to believe, I have two sophomores now: one in high school, one in college.

And the new school year still feels like the start of a new year with new clothes, new school supplies, new haircuts … and often new goals.

Many working mothers I know greet September with a joy that’s on a par with the despair they feel during the merry month of May(hem)—after a summer of dealing with wonky schedules and attempts to ensure the kids get-off-technology-and-go-outside-already, the predictability of the daily routine during the school year is a relief despite the fact that it might be overscheduled.


Tempted to set a bunch of new (school) year’s resolutions?

Is this the year you finally [fill in the blank] once the kids are settled?

As a health coach, I know that goal setting is a tricky business—goal achieving even more so—and so this week, I offer a few observations on the topic.

when-then goals

It’s easy to fall into “when-then” goal setting:

  • When the kids are back in school, then I’ll start working out again.
  • When this project at work is done, then I’ll get back to cooking on the weekdays.
  • When the weekend comes, then I’ll have time to do some meal prep.
  • When Monday/the first of the month/the first of the year comes, I’ll start watching what I eat.

2018How likely are these goals to be met? Honestly, not very.

There’s always another vacation, another project, another weekend, another Monday coming up, so if you don’t do it this time, you can postpone. And in the meantime you let yourself off the hook, the workouts don’t happen, you get takeout or delivery, you make poor food choices….

As the saying (and the song) goes, “today is the first day of the rest of your life:” start today because tomorrow never comes, and you don’t want to constantly relive Groundhog Day like Bill Murray did, right?

the squishiness quotient

Another reason many goals go unmet is what I call the squishiness quotient, also known as the squish factor.

None of the goals above could be considered SMART goals: they’re not specific, measurable, achievable, reasonable, and time-bound.

Instead, they’re vague, not measurable, open-ended: in other words, squishy. And in their squishiness, they can feel huge and scary.

Want to set a SMART goal? Here’s what the first one from the list above might look like: I want to improve my fitness so that I can [play with my kids/run a 5K/fill in your larger goal here], so for one month, I will work out at home for 30 minutes 5 days a week after I put the kids on the bus, alternating between cardio, strength training, and balance/flexibility programs using [this fitness app/this DVD series/this YouTube channel].

  • Specific: who, what, when, where, why, and how are accounted for.
  • Measurable: 1 month, 30 minutes, 5 days a week can all be measured—done or not done?
  • Achievable: I have the resources I need—app, workout clothes, mat, handweights, etc.
  • Reasonable: I’m not a total couch potato, so starting with 30 minutes, 5 days a week is not out of the question (if it is, start with 10 minutes a day? 5?).
  • Time-bound: At the end of the month, you can assess your progress and adjust your goal for the next month.

plannerDo you know yourself, and do you think that goal setting is not for you, no matter how well it’s done?

For you, I offer two alternatives: process thinking and if-then micro goals. It may help to consider what your ultimate goal is: you don’t need to get as specific as setting a SMART goal, but you still want to understand what needs to happen to achieve it: what’s the smallest step you can take toward it—let’s call it a micro goal—and/or what is a process by which you can get where you want to be?

process thinking

James Clear writes that systems and processes are more user-friendly to the human brain than goals.

The idea is to identify the system or process that will, at some point, get you to a larger goal.

  • Want to write a book? Your process is to write every day—eventually, you’ll have enough material to cut, paste, edit into a book.
  • Want to run a 10K? Your system is your training schedule.
  • Want to play an instrument? Your system is your schedule of classes and practice.

Commit to the process and forget about the larger goal—one day you’ll look, and you’re there!

if-then micro goals

Say you’ve identified three smaller goals you know are “good for you:” drink 8 glasses of water a day, eat more leafy greens, get to bed by a certain hour.

Frame your micro goals in a way that treats your brain as if it were a computer:

  • If the alarm on my phone goes off, then I will drink a glass of water (and remember to set the alarm at certain intervals!)
  • If it’s lunchtime, then I will start with a salad (and there may or may not be more to the meal).
  • If the clock says 10pm, then I have 15 minutes to get into bed.

For some of us, this is unnecessarily regimented; for others, it removes the opportunity for non-compliance.

You can read more about if-then thinking in Psychology Today.


Integrative Nutrition® is based on the premise that we’re all bio-individual—unique in what our bodies, minds, and spirits require to thrive. We’re all unicorns! (YOUnicorns?)

We are similar, however, in the way that our bodies, minds, and spirits naturally tend toward health: when we identify what to add in and what to take out of our food and lifestyle choices, when we get out of our own way, we can to a large degree heal many chronic “dis-eases.”

Discovering your own relationship with goal-setting—what works for you, and what doesn’t—can switch on that light bulb and move you more quickly toward better health.

Drop me a comment and let me know, what’s your relationship with goal setting like?


  1. Marine Yanikian-Sutton

    I really like the “If/Then” goal setting pattern. It intrigues my “younicornishness.”

    1. Elizabeth Baker

      Yeah, this one was relatively new to me. In a way, it’s the opposite of mindfulness—switch off your brain so that the response to a trigger is automatic. Let me know what you think if you try it! (And PS: trigger = vacation; response = fly to Scotland?)

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