Goal setting and making changes

Key points about making changes and setting goals

  • Making changes can be hard. Is there an area of your life that you would like to change?
  • Ever tried to break an unhealthy habit such as smoking? Or attempted to start a new and healthy routine – like a morning walk or jog?
  • Many of us attempt to change, make some progress but  end up in the same spot we started in.
  • In this section we give you a few ideas that can help you to make that change.
Young Māori mum preparing fruit for children
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When you're thinking about making a change, there are questions that you can ask yourself to help identify whether making a change is the right thing to do, and what that change might be.

Finding out what’s important to you is the first step and helps you keep motivated – it's so much easier if the change you are making is meaningful.

You can start be writing down some things about yourself and what you enjoy. Here's a worksheet [PDF, 262 KB] from our Te Kete Haerenga resource to get you started.

Before you think about making changes you need to ask yourself why you're thinking about making a change at all. Is it because you have a goal you want to work towards? Read more about the importance of setting personal goals.  

Goal setting is one of the best ways to help you make changes. It's a good skill to learn and can be used in many areas of your life, not just when thinking about your health and wellbeing. 

People at the Mayo Clinic in the US have come up with an acronym to help with setting SMART goals. The letters in SMART stand for:

  • Specific: Eating healthier sounds like a good idea. But what does it really mean? Aim for specific goals instead, such as not having any fizzy drink for the week, filling ½ your plate with vegetables, eating 5 servings of fruit (limited to 2) and vegetables a day, or swapping out sugar for sugar-free options in your coffee/tea or on your breakfast cereal.
  • Measurable: Make your goal one you can measure. Walking for 20 minutes 3 days a week is a goal you can track; a goal of ‘walking more’ is less easy to keep track of. Read more about the benefits of walking.(external link)
  • Attainable: Avoid aiming too high or too low. Think like Goldilocks, and find a goal that feels just right. 
  • Realistic: Losing a couple of kilos a week sounds great. But it’s an impossible goal that will likely leave you discouraged – and more likely to give up on your efforts. Choosing realistic goals(external link)(external link) that you can meet will reinforce your efforts and keep you moving forward. In this case losing half a kilo a week is more likely. 
  • Trackable/Time-bound: Choosing specific, measurable goals means you can track your progress over time. Write your efforts down in a journal or track them on an app so you can see how far you’ve come. Time-bound means that you set a goal that's achievable within a set time frame, eg, within 3 months or within a year.

Sometimes people set too many goals, which can result in not achieving any of them. Achieving the first one, however small, will build your confidence then you can set another one.

Te Kete Haerenga is a wellness toolkit and it has more information on setting goals. It also provides examples of goals and how to make SMART ones in specific areas. eg, sleep, stress, fatigue and pain.

There are also many goal setting and action planning apps and online tools for you to choose from.

Making changes can be hard, and to be successful you have to be confident that you are making the right change, for the right reasons.

Now that you have identified a goal that's important to you, and what you can do to work towards achieving it, it’s time to think about how you feel about making changes. How ready are you to make a change? Do you have any concerns about making changes?

Try talking about it with a friend or whānau member. You can also use this handout to write down your thoughts.


Lots of things can make it harder or get in the way of making changes. If you identify these things early on you can work out a way of dealing with them. 

It can help to make a list, then you can think about how to manage them and stop them from becoming a barrier to your success.

Example of barriers could be:

  • other people –  those who can't understand or support you in working towards your goal, or who get in the way by discouraging you from making changes (eg, drink alcohol or smoke around you if you're trying to cut back, or want you to sit down and watch TV instead of going for a walk if you're trying to exercise more).
  • external things – lack of money, no transport, childcare needs
  • parts of yourself – fear of failure, past experiences, a health condition like pain.

These are just examples of the types of things that could get in the way or discourage you from making changes. 

What to do about it

Now that you've identified the things that might get in the way of the change you want to make, you can start to thinking about how to manage them. You need to find ways to stop them acting as barriers, or at least minimise the effect they're having on you.

Go through your list one at a time and make a plan for dealing with each one. It might help to talk them through with a supportive friend or member of your whānau. 

Here are some general tips that have been found to be helpful whatever your goal might be:

  • Set a goal that's really important to you and write it down.
  • Make a plan for how you're going to achieve your goal – make sure your plan involves small, achievable steps, if you aim to high too quickly you're more likely to fail.
  • Work on one change at a time, again it's about doing something that you can achieve and feel good about before working on a second goal.
  • Involve a friend (or friends) who can either do things with you or be someone to talk to about what you're trying to do. You can share your thoughts and experiences along the way.
  • Be prepared to ask for support. This might be somebody:
    • finding out information for you (about a health condition, a support group, or an affordable gym)
    • doing something practical with or for you (eg, giving you a lift to the swimming pool or coming along for a swim)
    • being on board with your goal (eg, cooking healthier meals, not drinking or smoking around you).
  • To get the most out of your support team, it's helpful if you understand the role each person plays and how they can work together. You can write them down here.
  • Don't expect to stay on track all the time, none of us is perfect. Be kind to yourself if you slip up, but don't let a setback put you off. Keep going and keep your goal in sight.
Tips for setting goals infographic

Image credit: Healthify He Puna Waiora


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Credits: Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

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