Over the last year, I have been fortunate to coach twelve Cooking Light readers toward their Healthy Habit goals.

Every single one of these readers set up a goal and moved towards it. They started somewhat cautiously -- many were worried that I'd take away their favorite treats, scold them and be generally un-fun. But that's no way to get things done. By the end of each month these coaching clients were achieving the very goal that they set out for themselves, whether that was exercising more, eating breakfast, or easing up on the salt. Every coaching client achieved their goal.

When I studied to become a coach, one of my favorite concepts was the SMART goal. I worked with each of my Healthy Habits coaching client to do this, although I kept the specifics of SMART behind the curtain in an Oz-like fashion. But now that the year is over, I am eager to spill the secret. 

Here's how SMART works. It's an acronym for Specific, Measureable, Accountable, Realistic, and Time-Bound. If you create a goal, and break it down into it's SMART goal, you can make it happen. Kristen, my final coaching client of 2011 wanted to get through Thanksgiving without over-indulging. I'll use this example to illustrate the SMART format.

Specific: Kristen wanted to not over-indulge on Thanksgiving. But having a negative goal (something to "not" do), is never a good way to start. Instead, she focused on two things: Filling half her plate with vegetables during every meal.

Measureable: You can't just say "I want to lose weight," you have to say "I want to lose X pounds." For Kristen, she wanted to fill half her plate with vegetables. That's easy enough.

Accountable: That's where I came in. She knew she'd have to report back to me. In addition, she told her whole family that she was being coached, and sent around this blog. That way, when Grandma tried to give her a huge piece of cake after she asked for a small one, there were plenty of folks around to support Kristen, and tell Grandma to back off with the portion size. As Kristen sees it, "The support is the biggest thing. I would not have been able to follow through on everything without it." 

Realistic: Did Kristen bring a frozen diet dinner and beg off on Thanksgiving? No. That would not have been realistic. But she did find that most of the vegetables had cream sauce, so she opted to fill up on shrimp cocktail instead of mountains of stuffing and mashed potato. And the next day, when her host went to the store to get some extra oil for the pancakes, she asked if she could come along. She bought enough fresh snow peas to last through breakfast and lunch, and had a plan for the day.

Time-Bound: Thanksgiving Day has 24 hours like the rest of them. Thanksgiving, plus the day after, were Kristen's focus points, and a time when so many of us over-indulge. Kristen made a specific, measureable, accountable, realistic plan that was bound to one 48 hour period.

The above example, "not overdoing it during Thanksgiving" is a relatively simple goal. But so many of us can't do it! Kristen broke it down into components so that she could. Here's a bigger goal that she's working on: losing 30 pounds by her wedding in May. But look at that; already it's specific, measureable, and time-bound (with lots of mini milestones along the way). We kicked it off together, and now she's transferring the accountability to friends and family. Is it realistic? 6 months to drop 30 pounds is absolutely realistic, and her goal weight is healthy. Plus, since we began working together she's already lost ten pounds and it's absolutely realistic that she can lose 20 pounds in the next four months. Slow, steady, realistic weight loss is the healthy way to do it.

So if there's something hard yet realistic that you want to do -- and I mean really want to do -- you know you can do it, right? You can do anything that's realistic (and more than a few things that aren't). Let us know if you have a specific goal in mind in the comments below. When you break it down into components, does it start to look even more manageable? That's the key difference between a person who talks about a goal, and a person who achieves a goal. That first step, breaking down the goal into SMART components, is critical.

I would like to thank all of my coaching clients for being courageous enough to work with me, for putting themselves out there, for doing the hard homework, and sharing their stories with all of us. You were brave to give it a try, and you are an inspiration not just because you achieved your goal, but because of how you went after it.

For the last month of the year, December, I'll be blogging about people who give back (and yes, there will be a food tie-in). I've got a few ideas, but I've got room for a few more. If you know of an exceptional person who is giving back, please tell me about them.

Thank you, as always, for taking the time to read.