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Setting future health goals should start with a look back

Before finalizing your list of health goals for 2020, it may be helpful to look back at what you’ve already accomplished.

The first month of 2020 is already in the rearview mirror … and many of us are facing yet another list of health-related New Year’s resolutions we may not even have started working on yet.

But before tackling those 2020 goals, there is real value in looking back on your 2019 accomplishments – and failures – and moving forward from there, according to public health expert Dr. Graham Colditz of Siteman Cancer Center and Washington University School of Medicine.  

Colditz advises actually writing down the healthy behaviors, both large and small, you worked on over the past year before aiming for new ones. Include the big things, like diet, physical activity, sleep and mental health … along with even the tiniest steps you took to improve your well-being or your family’s. 

For example, did you try some new healthy vegetarian meals, or cut down on red meat or alcohol? Did you get enough sleep on most nights? Did you pack healthy snacks in your kids’ lunches, or try to take them to the playground more often?

Consider that even failure to make a desired change can be considered a step toward your goal, because each sincere attempt represents a lesson learned. Did your 20-pound weight loss not pan out? If so, think about setting a less ambitious, but still positive, objective for this year. If getting 30 consecutive minutes of exercise never seems to work on busy days, break that down by aiming for three 10-minute walks, which will produce just as much benefit over the long term.

Above all, perfection should never be the goal when it comes to your well-being, health researchers have repeatedly found. Set your sights on finishing that 5K – not on running the entire race. Any step taken towards a health-related goal is better than none; and building on the positive foundation you’ve already constructed is a great way to start.  

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