How to break your goals into small steps

March 10, 2022

Welcome to the Healthy Habit Hacks blog series! We’re here to help turn your healthy intentions into habits. Each month we’ll share an article with tips on how to move from wishing to doing. We’ll start with an introductory hack and two sections based on your intentions – one section geared toward building healthy habits and the other focused on breaking bad ones. 

The Healthy Habit Hack for March is: Break your goal into small steps 

So far, we’ve suggested that you: Start where you are and Track your actions to help turn your intentions into habits. This month we’d like to suggest that you break up your goals into small attainable steps on a daily basis. For example, if you want to eat better, think about what’s doable daily, like adding one vegetable to your dinner.  

“A dream without a goal is a wish. A goal without a plan is just a dream.” In other words, you’re much more likely to move from wishing to doing when you put in place a plan that names the specific steps to reach your goal.

Whether you are building a healthy habit or breaking a bad one, start by setting a SMART goal. SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable or Action-oriented, Realistic or Relevant and Timebound. Using this acronym helps make sure that your goal is well thought-out, within reach, and can be measured. For example, I will eat 3 fruits every day, 6 out of 7 days, for the next 4 weeks. 

The next step is creating an action plan. This action plan can consist of smaller process-oriented or mastery goals that will lead you to learn and grow in your path to achieve your primary goal vs. focusing on an outcome. It also specifies where, when and especially how you expect to achieve your goal and includes smaller goals that are shorter in duration.  

Are you building a healthy habit? 

If you’re building a healthy habit, these steps will help you realize your goals.  

First, write a SMART goal using the description above. 

Second, create your action plan. Step by step. For many people, 4 to 12 weeks is a reasonable time frame to reach an outcome-oriented goal like losing weight. Your action plan will include the smaller goals. To make it simple, keep it to weekly steps. Breaking your big goal into weekly goals gives you a chance to try things out, make adjustments, and focus on learning from missteps and successes. Don’t just think of it as a big pass or fail. You’ll want to write out the plan week by week. Here’s a sample of the first three weeks of an action plan: 

  • Goal: I will lose 10 pounds by May 31 by following a Mediterranean diet. 
  • Action plan: Every week, I will track my weight on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I will focus on eating more fruits, vegetables, fish, legumes, and olive oil. 
  • Week 1: I will eat two fruits every day this week by adding a 1/4 cup of frozen berries to my breakfast and ½ cup canned fruit (without added sugar) as a dessert for dinner. I will add frozen berries and canned fruit to my grocery list and buy them.  
  • Week 2: I will add legumes to my meals two times this week by eating hummus and cut vegetables in my packed lunch on Wednesday. I will add beans to the salad I buy on Friday when I eat lunch out. Before the week starts, I will add hummus and vegetables to my grocery list and buy them. 
  • Week 3: I will eat four fruits every day this week. I will eat two fruits every day this week by adding frozen berries and bananas to my breakfast, canned fruit as a dessert for dinner, and fresh fruit for a snack. I’ll keep a bowl of fruit on the table to remind myself of having a fresh fruit snack every day. I will be sure to add all these items to my grocery list and buy them ahead of time. 

Are you breaking a bad habit? 

If you’re trying break a bad habit such as, quitting smoking or cutting back on sugary foods, try to frame the goal in a more positive light. Having a positive approach is associated with more positive emotions, thoughts, and self-evaluation which psychologists say will cause you to be more likely to succeed.  

First, writing a SMART goal using the description above. For example, your SMART goal could be: I will drink healthy beverages in place of soda, 6 out of 7 days a week by the end of March.  

Second, create your action plan. Step by step. For many people, 4 to 12 weeks is a reasonable time frame to reach a goal like cutting back on soda. Your action plan will include the smaller goals. To make it simple, keep it to weekly steps. Breaking your big goal into weekly goals gives you a chance to try things out, make adjustments, and focus on learning from missteps and successes. Don’t just think of it as a big pass or fail. You’ll want to write out the plan week by week. Here’s a sample of the first three weeks of an action plan: 

  • Week 1: I will drink herbal tea for dinner in place of soda every night this week. I will buy a variety of herbal teas to try out which ones I like best. 
  • Week 2: I will buy small cans of soda and only drink one of those (instead of the usual 20-ounce bottle) when I usually drink soda every day this week. I will continue to drink herbal tea at dinner.
  • Week 3: I will drink naturally flavored citrus water and herbal tea in place of all my usual soda on Monday and Wednesday this week, apart from one small can of soda those days. I will need to buy lemon and lime to add to my water.

When you take the time to thoughtfully write down your goals, approach them with a positive framing and break them up into small steps, you’ll find them much more doable and confident in your journey to better health. Now, “go get ‘em!”

Start seeing real results with a program that works.

Talk to us