Goal setting should be one of the most important things you do at your first physical therapy session. Without a clearly defined goal and system for achieving that goal you will have no way of measuring your progress.

Here are 4 actionable steps for meeting or exceeding your goals.

Step 1.) Clearly define the exact goal and how you will measure your progress toward meeting it.

For example, if low back pain is preventing you from sleeping through the night, you may set a goal of sleeping continuously for 8-hours without interruption. Do Not just set a goal of “sleep longer.”

Step 2.) Establish a starting point. How long are you actually sleeping right now?

Determine exactly how long you are currently sleeping before you wake up to change positions or use the bathroom. One suggestion for doing this is to start a stopwatch when you first go to bed, then track each time you wake by press the “lap” button to record each episode. Once you have established how long you are currently sleeping and how frequently your a waking up you have a clearly defined way to measure improvement,

Step 3.) Establish a list of reasons you may not be sleeping throughout the night.

For example, “I wake up when my back starts to hurt; I am so tired during the day that I fall asleep every afternoon while sitting in my recliner; I wake up to use the bathroom twice a night; my mind starts racing as soon as I turn off the lights and try to fall asleep.”

Step 4.) Develop a series of actionable steps to resolve each of these reasons.

For example, try taking a hot shower or soak in a hot tub then perform a series to back stretches which may reduce muscle tension and prepare your back for sleep. If you normally find yourself falling asleep during the day after meals or in the late afternoon, schedule fun activities during that time to keep you out of the house and active during that time. Try to “front-load” your fluid intake early in the day to avoid drinking so much in the evening that your bladder wakes you up through the night. Consider recommendations to avoid checking email and using other electronic devices for 2-hours before bedtime and try to increase your outdoor activity during the day to prepare your body for sleep. Also consider learning some meditation techniques to control your conscious thoughts and quite the mind at bedtime.

Step 5.) Implementation time.

Now it is time to put your plan into action. Dr. BJ Fogg, PhD does a great job explaining how to influence and use your daily habits to achieve your goals.   In an article he shares the idea of tying new habits to existing habits, so for example, you likely brush your teeth around the same time every morning and every evening. If my action plan includes drinking more water early in the day, I would start drinking a full 8 oz glass of water before brushing my teeth every morning, then perhaps a second glass after brushing my teeth. This already puts me 25% closer to my daily goal of 8 glass of water early in the day.

By following these four steps and measuring your progress on a daily basis you will be able to stay on track and quickly meet goals you would have otherwise been unable to meet for months or even years.