Be SMART. Know Your Health Goals

Executive Summary

When most knowledge workers hear the term “SMART Goals“, their eyeballs roll so quickly towards the tops of their heads that it causes whiplash.  You see, we know that for work that is transactional, it is easy to come up with goals that are Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic, and Time-Based.  But if we tie our staffs’ performance appraisal to a SMART goal that says, for example, “get your TPS report in every Friday at noon,”  we’ll get a TPS report every Friday at noon.  It may be a crappy TPS report, but the goal will be met.  Meanwhile, Chicago could be burning around them but they miss it.  Preventing that fire wasn’t in their SMART Goals.  And if you knew enough at the time to put it in their SMART goals, then you wouldn’t have put Mrs. O’Leary’s cow so close to the lantern in the first place.  Instead, for the knowledge worker, we need to agree on goals that allow for flexibility, creativity, risk-taking, and growth; not very acronym friendly.

But SMART Goals definitely have a place if you want to attain your vision of ideal health.  This post will discuss some of the most common techniques for Measuring progress when you work with a doctor, nutrition coach, or personal fitness professional.  It helps to know the ins and outs about them before your first meeting so you can steer you partner in health in the right direction.

Exploring the Possibilities

Whether you’re working with a personal fitness professional, nutrition coach, or health coach, he or she should drive you to select a critical few set of health-oriented goals you want to achieve.  Most of your time with this person should be spent working toward those goals.  Some people have a very clear idea of what they want to achieve (X% body fat, lose Y pounds, get my cholesterol in the healthy range).  Other people have a more vague notion (look good in a bathing suit, lose weight, eat healthfully).  Regardless of which category you fall into, your coach is going to want to work with you to identify specific metrics that you can track on an ongoing basis to ensure you’re moving in the right direction.

In the post RTFM, I said that I wanted to learn how to do decent tables in WordPress.  The reason for that was to save you from having to read a verbose and dry list of all of the possible techniques.  That kind of stuff works better in a table that helps you better plan with your coach.  And that’s what I’ve done here.

Click to Enlarge
Click to Enlarge

There is a lot of information in that table.  I think it’ll be most usable around the time you actually start engaging with your coach.  My plan is to use it with my clients to help establish expectations and to let them know that they have a choice in how we measure their progress.  I want them to own these goals.  Otherwise, I’ll just get a crappy TPS report.

The rest of this post will explain what each of the columns mean and provide a few additional pointers.

Column Descriptions

Below is a list that tells you the information each column is intended to impart.

  • Method – Measurement’s name
  • Description – A description of what the measurement is.
  • Convenient? – Is the measurement easy to obtain?  Can it be done anywhere or do you have to go somewhere special?
  • Cheap? – Does the measurement cost a lot of money?
  • Private? – Does it involve another person and if so do you need to expose parts of your body to that person that may cause discomfort?  If this is a concern of yours, ask your partner specific questions about the process.
  • Expertise? – Does it require a trained professional to do the measurement?  Some of these items, like skin fold measurements, require training and lots of experience to do correctly.  Ask your partner specifics about his or her training and experience.  There will be no adverse reactions or real danger if he or she is inexperienced.  The measurement is just more likely to be inaccurate.
  • Consistent? – From day-to-day will you get the same results with this measure?  If not, it is not necessarily a bad thing.  If you are looking for longer term trends than day-to-day, this shouldn’t be an issue.  On the other hand if on one day the measure goes in the wrong direction, you shouldn’t get upset.
  • Accurate? – At the time of measurement, is the value likely to be correct?  This is different from consistency in that it is only concerned with one measurement as opposed to multiple over time.
  • Fudgeable? – Can you fake the results? If yes and you do, you are only hurting yourself.

Closing Remarks

At some point, your partner in health will want to focus you on the right measurement to use to track progress.  A good coach will be open-minded to your needs.  Less skilled coaches may try to push you to something specific because that’s where their comfort zone is.  Your comfort should take precedence here.

On the other hand, some of my assessments in the table are subjective.  Have an open dialogue with your coach and if he or she comes up with compelling reasons to use a specific metric, then I would consider it.

Whatever you decide doesn’t have to be final. In fact, it’s not uncommon to change approaches over time.  As your comfort level with your coach increases, you may want to move to a more accurate but less private measure.  Or, your goals may change over time.  Finally, you may find that you get stuck or move in an unexpected direction.  In these cases, one of the other diagnostics may become more relevant.
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