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Do Micro Goals Work? One Doctor’s Experience

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Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH - Blogs
By Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPHBoard-certified internistMay 29, 2018

Trying to be healthy can feel overwhelming. Whether I’m advising patients or thinking about my own life, I’m constantly reminded that there’s more I could be doing for my health.

One strategy I’ve used in the past is to break the big, lofty goals into manageable goals, but lately I’ve been trying to take it a step further and focus on “micro goals.” These are bite-sized goals that I can achieve today. Micro-goals keep me focused on small successes, not big picture plans.

I’ve faced this the last few months as I’m trying to exercise more. Here are some tips from what I’ve learned recently:

1. Make specific, doable goals

I used to work out for long sessions doing resistance training on weight machines, and then cardio on the elliptical, but the last few years it’s become difficult to make it to the gym for such an extended period. I don’t have that kind of time, and waiting for that amount of free time to open up was derailing my efforts. So, I decided to let go of my old, time intensive plan and focus instead on doing shorter workouts, but more often. I now set a new, doable goal for exercise every day – “My goal today is [fill in the blank]” – it could be weights, the bike, or a walk outside – whatever I have time and energy for. It all counts as regular exercise, and the variety is good.

2. Prep for success

I’ve known for a while that I need to be taking advantage of the gym in my office building, but often I forgot to pack my workout clothes the night before. To remove that barrier, I took advice from my coworker and started keeping a bag of workout clothes at the office so I can hit the gym during lunch. I also keep a visor, sunglasses, and sunscreen at my desk for walks outside. This has helped so much, because now when I want to exercise I can’t say I don’t have everything with me.

3. Just Go

Getting started has always been the hardest step for me (and I’m still a work in progress in this area), but setting micro-goals makes it a little easier. By making goals that are small and achievable (and that allow for how I’m feeling and what my schedule is like that particular day), it’s easier to motivate myself to get up and go – I remind myself, “it’s not much, it’s doable” – and then if I can do more beyond the goal I usually will.

Even a 10-minutes walk counts. Often I use the time to think through whatever it is that’s keeping me so busy, and I’m able to problem solve during the walk and I’m more efficient when I get back to my desk. I dictated this blog on my phone while on a long walk!

4. Celebrate the Process

Rather than focusing on my goal weight, I’m choosing to be proud that I got out and exercised today. I’ll eventually hit those bigger goals as a result of these small choices I’m making today, and in the meantime, getting regular exercise helps my mental and physical health in many ways.

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About the Author
Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH

Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH is a board-certified internal medicine doctor and a WebMD Medical Editor. She is on the team that makes sure all WebMD content is medically correct, current and understandable. She sees patients at the Women’s Wellness Clinic at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

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