“This is it!” you say to yourself. “I’m going to lose 40 pounds and get in shape. I’ll join the gym, lift weights seven days a week, and finish each session with an hour of cardio. I’m going to quit eating sugar too! I’ll throw away everything in my fridge and pantry, and I’ll only eat protein and vegetables. I’m going to quit drinking soda every day, I won’t have wine on the weekends anymore, and I’ll only drink water from here on out. Let’s do this!”
For the first and second week, you stick to your new plan. Even though it feels like a lot to manage, you manage to purge your pantry, and avoid all treats, soda, and wine. You find yourself going to bed late each night in order to fit in your long workouts after work, but you figure, “no pain, no gain.”
The third week, however, feels hard. You’re dragging yourself out of bed each morning after pushing the snooze button multiple times. You find yourself significantly sore from working out nonstop. You’re ravenous and craving treats due to being so restrictive with your diet, and from exercising so much.
You find yourself obsessively thinking about ordering take-out, and drinking soda. Your friends have a dinner party that weekend, and you white-knuckle your way through the event, turning down wine and passing on dessert.
By the fourth week, things have gone sideways. You are physically and mentally exhausted, and have begun to dread your workout sessions, so you skip them. That Friday, the office orders pizza for your co-workers birthday, and you’re so hungry and tired that you give in and scarf down several slices. Between skipping your workout sessions all week and overeating pizza, you feel like a failure.
“Why can’t I just stick to the plan? What is wrong with me? I guess I’m not meant to reach my goals.”
You throw in the towel, and go back to your previous habits, feeling embarrassed and defeated.
Does this cycle sound familiar? Starting off with a bang, and then fizzling out over the course of the next few weeks?
If so, you are not alone. We have worked with thousands of women, many of whom have shared similar stories of setting goals to improve their fitness and nutrition, failed to reach them, and are left wondering what is wrong with them.
We have good news: nothing is wrong with you.
You are not the reason that you aren’t achieving your goals. The problem is your goal setting process. You weren’t set up for success to begin with!
While it can be incredibly tempting to overhaul your entire life and make big sweeping changes, that almost always leads to burnout within a couple of weeks. Luckily, there is a better way.
Get Clear on Your “Why”
You likely already know your outcome goal, or where you’d ultimately like to be. For example, in the opening story, the outcome goal was to lose 40 pounds. Other examples of outcome goals might be being able to do five pull-ups, running a marathon, or squatting your bodyweight.
While there isn’t anything inherently wrong with outcome-based goals, they leave out something important — the step-by-step instructions of how to get there!
The next step is to get clear on your “why.” Take some time to work through your answers to the following prompts, and consider writing your answers down on paper. Writing things down gives us the opportunity to really think things through, and can also offer a different perspective.
- How will achieving your outcome-based goal enhance your life or make you happier?
- What are you willing to do to achieve this goal? For instance, maybe you’re willing to invest in a gym membership, start doing weekly food prep, or schedule time for yourself, away from your family, in order to exercise.
- What are you unwilling to do to achieve this goal? Perhaps you’re willing to get a gym membership, but you’re not willing to spend more than three hours per week there. Getting clear on what you’re not willing to do is just as important as knowing what you are willing to do.
- How do you want to feel after achieving your outcome-based goal? More confident? More energetic? Stronger? Happier with your relationship with food?
- When would you like to reach your goal? Do you have the time, energy, and resources necessary to achieve this particular goal within this timeline?
- Are you pursuing this goal for yourself, or is it for someone else?
- Does your outcome-based goal align with your priorities? In other words, does it fit with how you want to spend your time and where you want to put your attention and energy?
Answering these questions can provide clarity, and may prompt you to make some changes to your outcome goal, based on what is important to you.
Consider Your Other Obligations
One of the biggest reasons that people struggle to meet their goals is because they fail to consider their other obligations in life, and try to force their life to work around training and nutrition. This is completely backwards.
In order to stay consistent, and for your efforts to be sustainable, your training and nutrition must work around your life, not the other way around.
Once you’ve gotten clear on your “why,” take a look at your calendar over the course of the next six months, and notice which events you have coming up. Do you have any travel, vacations, big work deadlines, activities for your kids, or anything else that could be disruptive to your nutrition or exercise? If so, it will be really helpful for you to plan around those times, rather than wrongly assuming that you’ll be able to push through it.
For example, if you are an educator and back-to-school season each year is chaotic and disruptive for about four weeks, that likely isn’t an appropriate time to try to follow a diet that requires a lot of food prep and time in the kitchen, or to follow a training program that requires hours and hours in the gym.
How can you plan for that time in a way that will still move you towards your goals while honoring your work obligation and busy schedule? Maybe you can sign up for a temporary food delivery service during that time, or perhaps you simply lower your expectations and use that time as a period to focus on maintaining. Instead of trying to get to the gym five days per week, maybe you commit to taking walks outside after work instead.
However you choose to adjust things, remember that you have obligations throughout the year and it’s necessary to take those things into account when you are creating your plan to achieve a goal.
What Are Your Non-Negotiables?
The next thing to consider when establishing your goals are your non-negotiables. These are the things and events in your life are really special to you that you either aren’t willing to change, or that would make you unhappy if you changed them.
For instance, perhaps your social life is very important to you, and all week you look forward to meeting your friends for Happy Hour every Thursday night for appetizers and drinks. Maybe you and your best friend have a tradition of meeting for brunch every Sunday, and it would break your heart to cancel this in order to adhere to a diet. Maybe you love having creamer in your coffee every morning, or you adore having a glass of wine on Saturday night.
Among the things that bring you happiness and joy, which ones are you unwilling to give up in order to meet your goal? These are important things to keep in mind and take into consideration.
Now that you’ve gotten clear on your “why,” reminded yourself of your other obligations, and identified your non-negotiables, it’s time to set your behavior-based goals.
Set Your Behavior-Based Goals
Your behavior goals are the things that you are willing to do that will get you to your outcome goal.
If your outcome goal is your desired destination, your behavior goals are the road map that will get you there.
For example, if your goal is to lose 40 pounds, your behavior goals might be:
- Go to the gym three times per week to do your workout.
- Prepare food every Sunday for the week ahead to ensure you have healthy food on hand and ready to eat.
When you are setting your behavior goals, it’s important that you set goals that you are confident you can consistently achieve over and over again. If you look at your behavior goals and think that they will be too easy — perfect! You want to set yourself up for success.
Once you have established one or two behavior goals, you’ll follow those for two weeks. If you are able to consistently attain your behavior goals over the course of two weeks, it’s time to add on another one or two behavior goals.
A lot of people think that they could stick to their goals if they just tried harder, but that’s rarely the case. The majority of people struggle to meet their goals because they:
- Set unrealistic goals that don’t align with their lifestyle or values.
- Don’t have clear instructions on how to get to their outcome goal.
- Try to overhaul everything all at once, which leads to burnout.
To recap, in order to set and achieve your goal:
- Identify your desired outcome.
- Get clear on your “why.”
- Consider your other obligations.
- Establish your non-negotiables.
- Select one or two behavior-based goals that you feel confident you can consistently reach.
By following these steps, you will be crystal clear on exactly what to do in order to achieve your outcome goal, and you can find peace in knowing that it aligns with your lifestyle and preferences, which will keep you consistent!
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