Getting SMART About Goal Setting for Seniors

Use these tips to achieve goals at any age.

Author: Susan Flashner-Fineman
Two senior women lift small weights, following the instruction of their class leader.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You declare, “I want to eat healthier!” and one week later you’re back to your old eating habits. Or, you say, “I’ll learn to play guitar!” and never get around to it. Sometimes it can be hard to take the leap from setting a goal to actually achieving it. If this sounds like you—then SMART goals might be just the tool you need.

Why goal-setting is important for seniors

At Orchard Cove in Canton, MA, and all Hebrew SeniorLife’s Boston-area senior living communities, we believe that no one is ever too old to set and achieve goals—whether it’s learning a new skill, reconnecting with friends, or starting an exercise program. We see that older adults who live with purpose and intentionality feel happier, more vital, and more connected to their communities. This is the approach I take when working with Orchard Cove residents as part of Vitalize 360, our senior wellness program.

Research shows that having a purpose in life—goals, a sense of direction, and a feeling that there’s meaning to each and every day—is critical to healthy aging. Having a purpose in life as we age is associated with a whole host of positive health outcomes, including:

  • Fewer chronic conditions
  • Less disability
  • Improved mental health
  • Reduced mortality
  • Lower health care spending
  • Higher quality of life

So, we encourage all older people to think about what matters to them in life, and to set realistic goals to make sure they’re living in line with their hopes, dreams, and values. Using the SMART framework will help you set goals that are specific and achievable.

What does the SMART goals acronym stand for?

SMART is a simple acronym to help you remember the steps to take when setting a realistic goal:

S – Specific

Don’t just say, “I want to eat healthier.” Be more specific—for example, “I’ll try one new recipe this week,” or, “I’ll fill half my dinner plate with vegetables.” The more specific you can be, the easier it will be to hold yourself accountable and celebrate a job well done.

M – Measurable

Creating a firm target helps to break down a vague goal into something more tangible. Incorporating some form of measurement also helps you keep an eye on your progress and celebrate your successes. If you’d like to read more, you could say you’ll spend 20 minutes per day reading, or you’ll read one chapter per week.

A – Achievable

One of the biggest mistakes I see with goal-setting is not making it achievable. Why set yourself up to fail? We all have moments of fantasizing about being a different person. Use that as inspiration, but break it down into achievable goals. You might want to walk in that charity 5K, but a more achievable goal initially might be to build the stamina to walk for 10 minutes, then 20 minutes. Then you can set your sights on that 5K.

R – Realistic

Yesterday a resident told me, “I like to think that I’ll get up in the morning and exercise but I know myself and I know I won’t.” She’s accepted the fact that she’s not a morning person. So instead, she called the fitness center and made an afternoon appointment. Know yourself and set goals that are aspirational, but realistic.

T – Time-Bound

Remember back to your days in school when you stayed up all night writing a paper or studying for a test? We all work better with deadlines. If one of your goals is to reconnect with friends, tell yourself, “By the end of this week, I’ll call one friend to set up a coffee date.”

More tips on setting realistic goals

Here are a few more tips about how to set goals that you’ll feel great about accomplishing:

  • Break big goals into smaller ones. They won’t feel so daunting, and you’ll be able to celebrate success along the way.
  • Reward yourself. If you want to start a walking program, and you love socializing with friends, make a walking date. Positive feedback is a reward in itself—share your accomplishments with loved ones or on social media.
  • Check in regularly to monitor your progress. I have quarterly check-ins with the residents I coach through Vitalize 360. You could ask a friend or family member to help cheer you on and ask how you’re doing.
  • Use visual reminders. Keep a photo of a vacation destination on the refrigerator if saving money to travel is your long-term goal. Or make a to-do list that you can cross things off of. Use check marks, smiley faces—whatever it takes to make yourself feel successful!
  • Keep your ultimate goal in mind. If you’re trying to make a change with no idea why you’re doing it, chances are you won’t succeed.

I’ve seen the amazing benefits that come when older adults set and achieve goals. At all stages of life, we need to feel purpose and accomplishment—whether it’s being able to walk to the refrigerator without a cane, having an art show with your own artwork, or learning a foreign language. By being SMART, you can create a real plan to put these dreams into action.

Communities that support your goals

If you’re ready to live in a community that supports your entire well-being—physical, mental, social, and spiritual—Hebrew SeniorLife offers choices for every budget and lifestyle. Each Hebrew SeniorLife community, including Orchard Cove in Canton, MA and NewBridge on the Charles in Dedham, MA, offers residents access to our award-winning Vitalize 360 wellness program. Our coaches will meet with you one-on-one to hear what matters most to you, then help you come up with a plan to meet your goals. Ready to learn more about living in a Hebrew SeniorLife community? Contact us today

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Wellness Coaching

We empower seniors to meet their wellness goals using Vitalize 360, an innovative health and wellness platform that combines one-on-one coaching with research-based tools.

Susan Flashner-Fineman

About Susan Flashner-Fineman

Vitality 360 Coach

Susan Flashner-Fineman is Orchard Cove’s Vitality 360 Coach. She had been the Fitness Director at Orchard Cove for the past ten years. "As the Vitality 360 coach, my mission is to guide and inspire each and every resident to live...

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