January has come and gone, along with New Year’s resolutions. Many of us set health and fitness goals. We rattle off how many pounds we want to lose, what pant size we want to wear, how much weight we want to deadlift, or the date we need to look photo-ready — and we are on our way. So why do so many of these goals end up falling apart within 30 days?
So, how can we create a mindset for success? For starters, try setting behavioral goals along with your outcome goals. Behavior goals focus on the aspects of our goals we do have control over. Behavior goals represent your commitment to practice a particular set of actions or tasks every day, as consistently and regularly as possible.
• To lose 10 pounds … eat until you’re satisfied (instead of stuffed) at each meal.
• To lower your blood sugar … eat fruit for dessert, instead of sweets, at least 3 times per week.
• To squat more weight … squat three times per week at various intensities.
• To sleep 8 hours per night … create a pre-sleep routine and start it 30 minutes before bed.
• To have a better relationship with your partner … schedule a date night once a week.
Both outcome and behavior goals are trackable. However, behavior goals are usually more effective because they give you something to do (and track) each day. Start by writing out the outcome you want and then listing the skills you need to get that outcome, and the behavior/choices that need to be made to build those skills. Do the behavior each day and start each day with a clean slate. Don’t be derailed if you didn’t follow through each day. Just start again!
In continuing to build a mindset for success, set up “approach goals” instead of “avoid goals.” An avoid goal says: “I will stop eating junk food and drinking soda.” An approach goal says: “I will snack on cut-up fruits and veggies prepared in advance and drink water.” Avoid goals are psychologically counterproductive. The moment we tell ourselves we can’t have something your natural reaction is to argue equally strongly why you should have it.
In addition, if the goal is to stop doing something, even the smallest slip can feel like a failure. One miss means you’re “off the wagon.” Approach goals pull you toward something desirable and quietly pull you away from something you’re trying to avoid. Approach goals also focus on feeling good and doing good for ourselves. Set approach goals by writing down the “bad” habit you want to avoid and the “good” habit you want it replaced with. Then write down the small step you can take to approach your goal and how it will benefit you. Find what works and repeat.
So, why set the right kind of goals? The right goals can help you set realistic expectations and break large projects into smaller pieces. This avoids the potential of becoming overwhelmed and helps you stay committed. The right goals help you feel in charge: autonomous, accountable and responsible for your life. You need it for sustainable change.
The right goals set you up for long-term understanding and inspiration that sticks, rather than short-term “quick fixes” that fail. The right goals boost your own intrinsic motivation. They’re meaningful to you, rather than being about someone else’s judgment, standards, or agenda. The right goals help you take action, right now, in your real life. Because in the end, only action leads to change.
Dr. Gloria Winters is a doctor of physical therapy who specializes in orthopedics and exercise physiology. She is the Chief Medical Officer for the YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region with a focus on health care integration in the community. Contact Dr. Winters with questions or topic ideas at email@example.com.