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Step 4: Monitor and problem-solve

Those who monitor their goal and problem-solve when they are not on track are much more likely to achieve and maintain their goal than those who don’t.

Source: Health Services


(Note: Download the interactive workbook for additional information on monitoring and to complete the problem-solving exercise in it)

Now that you have set a SMART goal, have built commitment to achieving and maintaining it, and have broken it down into specific tasks that you are presently carrying out, what remains is to make sure that you are on track. This is where monitoring comes in.

Research is clear about this fact: those who monitor a goal are much more likely to achieve and maintain it than those who don’t. This makes sense. If you are monitoring your progress, you will know if you are on track. If you are not on track, you can take steps to get back on track (i.e. problem-solve). If you are on track, you can note what is helpful and continue doing those things.

Monitoring involves documenting the behaviours that contribute to the goal. The most important thing to monitor is your SMART goal. Since one of the characteristics of a SMART goal is that it is “measurable” (i.e. it has numbers in it), it should be easy to monitor. For example, if your SMART goal is to engage in 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity per week (which is consistent with recommendations) you can use a calendar to document how many minutes of moderate- or vigorous-intensity physical activity you do each day and add them up at the end of the week. If that total is 150 minutes or more, you have achieved your goal. 

You can develop your own monitoring tool, or use an existing one. Even if your goal is not a SMART goal, you can still monitor it. Consult the nutrition goals monitoring sheets to see examples of monitoring sheets with different leves of specificitym(the "S" in SMART goal).


Enter the information onto your monitoring sheet as soon as you can. When all the information is entered, review your sheet to determine if you have achieved your goal. If you have...Great! Keep doing what you are doing.

If you have not achieved your goal, take some time to reflect on the reason(s) why and think about what changes you can make to overcome the barrier(s). There are 2 main groups of barriers: practical barriers and cognitive barriers. Each group of barriers has a particular problem-solving approach:

  • Practical barriers are those related to the situation. Overcoming practical barriers requires doing something about the situation. For example, consuming hardly any vegetables and fruit one day because you had no vegetables and fruit at home is a practical barrier. To overcome this barrier you can commit to keeping a stock of vegetables and fruit at home, including frozen and canned vegetables.
  • Cognitive barriers are those related to your thinking. Overcoming cognitive barriers requires changing the way you think. For example, one day you consume 2 slices of pizza, a large order of fries and a big bowl of ice cream. You identify that the reason you consumed more processed foods than what was on your nutrition goal is because you got some bad news and told yourself "Eating these foods makes me feel good and I want to feel better because this news made me feel bad". To overcome this barrier you can examine your thinking and identify alternative, more helpful ways of thinking about this situation. A more helpful thought could be "Eating lots of junk food because I don't feel good is emotional eating. This doesn't fix my problem and makes me feel guilty after I have eaten so much junk. There are many things I can do to deal with my emotions that don't include overeating such as talking with a friend, taking a brisk walk, watching a comedy show or doing a hobby."

     A technique called cognitive restructuring is helpful for changing ways of thinking.

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