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Health Break: Goal setting, and how to actually stick with it

Person writes down their goals as part of a goal setting practice

A podcast for UPMC Health Plan members, Health Break is your quick guide to caring for your mental and physical health, prioritizing wellness, and making the most of your health insurance plan.

Episode 21: Take a Health Break with Alex Treanor

Alex takes a Health Break to help us turn our resolutions into goals. Smart goals can show us a path to improving our physical or mental health, relationships, or lifestyle habits. Join us to learn about goal setting and how to follow through.


Episode transcript:

Camille: Welcome to Health Break by UPMC Health Plan, your quick guide to health, wellness, and how to make the most of your health insurance plan. I’m your host, Dr. Camille Clarke-Smith. I help to oversee the quality of the plans and programs we offer at UPMC Health Plan.

Angelo: And I’m your co-host, Angelo Bartic. I’m a health coach who works with our members on making healthy lifestyle habits and setting goals. This is your…Health Break.

Camille: Hey, everyone. Dr. Camille Clarke-Smith here, and today we’re talking with Alex Treanor about how to set goals and give yourself the best chance at following through with them.

Alex, thank you so much for joining us today.

Alex: Thank you so much for having me. I’m looking forward to it.

Camille: We’re a few months into the year and many people, like myself, may be struggling to keep up with the goals or New Year’s resolution that we have set earlier in the year. How can these resolutions turn into true goals?

Alex: That’s such a great question. Resolutions are awesome. They’re often these big vision-based ideas. Ones that I hear frequently would be, “I want to be healthier this year.” That could also include other things, though, like, “I want to be more organized,” or, “I want to stop procrastinating,” which all of these things are great starting points—but they’re not necessarily goals. The first step when turning that resolution into a goal is to really make it your own. I think sometimes we tend to choose a goal, something that we feel obligated to do, something we feel guilty that we’re not doing, or just that there’s this pressure of, “Oh, I should be working on this.” But a good goal is really something that excites you. It aligns with what you value and what’s important to you and something that you’re looking forward to doing.

Once you’ve identified what that resolution is, then you can turn it into a goal by really defining the action steps. So this is where you want to get clear on what does it look like? How will you get there? What is the process involved to be able to achieve that resolution? One way that you could do that is by following the acronym SMART. This is a way that we do goal setting. SMART in this case stands for Specific, Measurable, Appropriate, Realistic, and Timely. By considering those five elements, you can create a really defined goal. So if we’re going to apply an example, let’s say you have the resolution to be healthier, and you want to do that through looking at your nutrition.

To make a specific goal, we have to consider what is important about the nutrition that you want to work on, which could be increasing your vegetable intake. That could also be getting more plant-based protein, [or] maybe increasing your whole grains. Really get clear on what it is that you want to accomplish and what it means to eat healthier for you.

The M from smart is measurable. So to do that, we want to add a number into that goal. This is going to help you know if you’ve achieved it or not and how you can progress from there. Let’s say we want to eat vegetables daily, and we’re going to try for three vegetables every day.

The next step would be the A so that is appropriate. In this case, that goal of eating three vegetables a day really does align with our bigger goal of eating healthier and being healthier.

The R is for realistic. This one is going to be personalized to everybody. So let’s say I am not eating any vegetables at all. If I want to eat three vegetables a day, that’s a big jump [that] may not feel as comfortable for me. Maybe I want to step back and say, let’s start with one or two, but if I’m already feeling like I’m getting some vegetables, then three vegetables a day can be very realistic. Ideally you want to shoot for about 80 percent—that you feel 80 percent confident that you can achieve that goal.

Then the last step is the T, which is for timely. So for this, we’ve already kind of built that in by saying we want to do the vegetable intake each day, but you want to know how often you’re trying to accomplish this goal.

By using that SMART acronym, we’re able to take this big vision goal of being healthier, eating healthier, and break it down into that first step of eating three vegetables every day, which really gives you a place to start with.

Camille: So once we’ve set our goals, how can we stick with them?

Alex: Yeah, that can be the tricky part sometimes, right? And sometimes it’s fun to plan, but putting it into action can be hard. I would say the first step is to build in some accountability with your routine. That would be checking in with yourself in some form. Maybe you do some kind of tracking, maybe some self-monitoring. It’s also important to schedule a time to check in with yourself. This may be a weekly meeting with yourself, or maybe just some time that you set aside to kind of reflect on things. I know some people will do like a weekly meeting, maybe like every Monday morning I set my goals for the week or Friday afternoons I review how things went and kind of plan for the next week. It could also be something that you do daily, like a morning intention or a nightly review, just to give yourself that set time when you’re looking at the goals to see how it’s going.

In that process, it’s really important that you incorporate some self-compassion. There’s going to be a day that you do not achieve your goal and that is totally a part of the process. It’s not something that you need to beat yourself up over or feel upset about. Instead, you want to really have this curiosity mindset when you’re checking in with yourself to say, what went wrong? What could I do differently? Maybe, what are some of the challenges that I didn’t anticipate that I can plan for next time? And even, is this goal still important to me? If it’s something you’re really struggling with, then re-evaluate, is this important? Is there something I want to change?

It can also be important to build in support or accountability with other people. So have a good support team, telling your friends, family, co-workers about the things that you’re working on, or what’s important to you. Maybe they even have similar goals as you, something that you can work on together and can support each other in, that’s always helpful.

If you’re having a hard time finding that support and accountability, you can also work with a health coach. That’s exactly what we’re here for. A health coach isn’t going to tell you what to do, or just expect you to stick with a meal plan, or get hard on you when things don’t go as you anticipate. Our goal is really to help you problem solve those challenges because incorporating and sticking to goals is very challenging in itself. So a health coach may be a good way to help problem-solve or to stick with the goals that you have.

Camille: That accountability and self-compassion and support seems so important to goal setting. What happens once we’ve met our goals?

Alex: I would say the first thing you should do is celebrate! I think that’s such a huge accomplishment and we’re so often ready to push forward into the next thing or look at the to-do list to see where we need to go from here. But it’s really important to staying motivated that you take that time to celebrate the successes and recognize your wins and really reflect on how the things that you’ve accomplished have been benefiting you. Once you’re feeling ready to move on to that next step, go back to that big goal, you wanted to be healthier or to get better nutrition. So what’s the next step? You’re doing great with eating the vegetables. Where do we go from here? I think it’s just important to consider how to keep moving. A lot of health goals, specifically, don’t have a checkbox. It’s not something that you do once and never have to do again. It takes constant revisiting and evolving and seeing what the next steps are so that you don’t get bored with it. And something that keeps it exciting. And so I think just revisiting those bigger goals helps give you direction on where you can go from there and how it can evolve.

Camille: Thank you so much, Alex, for taking a Health Break with us today to talk about goal setting and how we can actually stick with our goals.

Alex: Thank you so much for having me. It was great.

Camille: If you are a UPMC Health Plan member, there are a few ways to get connected to an expert health coach like Alex who can help you set goals and check in on your progress.

Find show notes and more information at Join us as we continue exploring health, wellness, and how to make the most of your health insurance plan in the next episode of Health Break.

This podcast is for informational and educational purposes. It is not medical care or advice. Individuals in need of medical care should consult their personal care provider. Views and opinions expressed by the hosts and guests are solely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of UPMC Health Plan and its employees.

  • Learn about health and wellness services 
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    • To have a virtual visit through UPMC AnywhereCare
      • Log in to or register for an account. 
      • Once you are logged in, select the Health Navigation tile. If a navigator is available, you can choose Visit Now. If a navigator is not available, you can schedule a visit. 
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About Alex Treanor: 

Alex Treanor is a lead health coach at UPMC Health Plan. As a lifestyle health coach, she specializes in helping you lose weight, eat healthy, get more physical activity, be less stressed, and quit tobacco. Alex has a master’s in Kinesiology, Integrative Wellness from Point Loma Nazarene University. She has been coaching since 2014 and is a Nationally Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach and Certified Personal Trainer. Alex is passionate about helping people improve their relationship with food and exercise while creating healthy, sustainable routines filled with enjoyment. Alex enjoys spending time with her husband, walking with her dog, and eating tacos in the sunshine.

About Dr. Camille Clarke-Smith: 

Camille Clarke-Smith, EdD, is a program director in the Quality Improvement, Medicare Stars Department at UPMC Health Plan, where she leads the Medicare Faith and Wellness Program, a 3- to 12-week health and wellness challenge. She is also the founder of the nonprofit Transforming the Health of African American Women (THAW) Inc. She earned a doctorate in health and physical activity education from the University of Pittsburgh in addition to a master’s in exercise science and a bachelor’s in psychology and sociology. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in social work at Carlow University. 

*RxWell is available to UPMC Health Plan members who are 14 years old or older.