How many people do you know who have set a goal to get fit, eat well, or lose weight… only to fail? We all know someone, and it’s likely we’ve been that person ourselves at some point.
Many of us want better health and well-being – to be able to feel good in our bodies, and about our bodies.
This is why health and well-being top the charts when it comes to New Year’s resolutions, birthday resolutions, anniversary resolutions … pretty much any resolution you can think of starts with these! In 2022, the top 3 resolutions were to exercise more, eat healthier, and lose weight.
Yet, only a minority achieve their goals. Many people give up on their resolutions within a month and most never see them through.
What if the reason it’s so hard to meet our own health goals had nothing to do with personal failure, and more to do with the goals themselves?
Maybe you were never the problem.
In almost a decade as a coach, I’ve noticed 3 big mistakes people make in setting goals, including goals for self-care. Mistakes that lead people to self-sabotage… and failure.
Here are 3 things people who are happy in their fitness journeys do differently:
1. They understand that success can’t be tied to one specific goal.
The first big mistake is making your goal an outcome that you want to achieve.
For example, “I want to lose [insert number of] pounds, “” I want to fit those skinny jeans in the back of my closet, “or” I want to be able to keep up with my kids. “
That makes sense, right? Isn’t the whole point of goals to get an outcome you want?
But, when you make a specific outcome or goal, you set yourself up for failure.
Firstly, by attaching your success to the outcome, you don’t get to feel success until right at the end of your journey – until you lose that weight or can actually wear those jeans.
You’re doing all the hard work getting to the goal, without one of your most powerful sources of motivation – the sense of accomplishment.
Second, each time you check in on your progress, you’re not there yet. This keeps your focus on how you’re not yet fit enough or still too overweight. So you’re trying to make yourself do all this work from a place of being “not good enough.”
Is it any wonder you struggle to stay motivated?
Third, focusing on a specific outcome can prevent you from seeing other ways of accomplishing what you really want.
Imagine someone who wants to exercise more, so sets a goal to attend the gym three times a week.
If something happens that prevents them from attending the gym, the goal becomes unattainable. All their many other opportunities for healthy movement and exercise are closed off, by focusing on the specific outcome of attending the gym.
2. They take realistic action.
When you set goals, you often want to see results – quickly.
So you try immediately jumping into big action. Maybe following the example of someone who’s been focusing on this kind of goal for a while.
When it feels too hard or when you procrastinate, you believe it’s because you don’t have enough willpower …. which is simply not correct!
When you introduce lifestyle changes that take energy, your brain – which has evolved to preserve energy – automatically resist. Very few people who take big actions toward their goals succeed in the long haul.
3. They celebrate their wins and let go of what others might call “failures”.
Many people feel uncomfortable asking others for help with their self-care or health goals. Maybe you feel self-conscious. You don’t want to impose on others. Or you believe you should have the “hutzpah” and willpower to achieve the goal yourself.
Whatever the reason, it’s much harder to accomplish lasting change without support from someone else.
Your mind – that internal voice most of us have – can be really sneaky. It’s constantly distracting you and giving all kinds of reasons and excuses for not following through.
Your existing routines and habits create inertia that’s hard to resist.
Plus, most people have a strong tendency to focus on the negatives, instead of celebrating their wins, which undermines their belief in themselves.
No matter how many good self-care choices you make during a day, you’ll focus on that one small slip up – the cookie you had with your coffee or the piece of chocolate you had after dinner – and berate yourself for being less than perfect.
Making that external support essential for you to stay motivated, and persevere.
Three ways to get started on this happier, more balanced path toward better health
1. Replace outcome goals with “identity goals”.
Instead of attaching your success to an outcome, set a goal to become the kind of person who naturally experiences that outcome. In his book “Atomic Habits”, James Clear calls this an “identity goal.”
When you practice the perspectives – and make the choices – of the person who’s already enjoying the well-being you desire, your desired outcome unfolds more easily.
Imagine you’re at a restaurant, and you’re faced with the choice: the salad or the fries.
You know the healthy choice is the salad. You can choose the perspective, “I’m trying to lose weight, so I’ll have the salad.” Or you can choose, “I always make healthy choices, so I choose the salad”.
When you identify yourself as someone who makes healthy choices – the second option – picking the salad becomes just a natural part of who you are. No need for effort or for pushing against yourself.
Identity goals also let you experience that satisfying feeling of success every day. Every single time you make a choice that’s consistent with your new identity – for example, by choosing the salad – you’re succeeding in your goal.
By giving yourself many, daily, opportunities to acknowledge your success, you’re creating more momentum towards what you want.
Your first step is to ask yourself about the kind of person who’s already enjoying the health and well-being that you want. How does that person think? What choices do they make in their day-to-day living?
Set a goal to start practicing those thoughts and choices. You will manifest the health you want more naturally and with greater ease.
Related Stories From YourTango:
2. Start with super-small changes.
The secret to creating lasting change is to build habits. And the secret to building habits is starting small – and I mean really small. Start with a new choice that’s so small that it’s easy to do every day, no matter what.
The secret to lasting well-being is to create habits that support your well-being. When healthy choices are a habit, there’s no need for willpower – the choice feels “automatic.”
Research confirms that the smaller the change and the more frequently you practice it, the more quickly it becomes a habit. For example, choosing to drink water instead of juice or a soft drink, can start becoming automatic within just 3 weeks.
3. Create a support system for yourself.
Support yourself by noticing and celebrating every single time you make a healthy choice, no matter how small.
This will reinforce in your mind your new identity as a healthy person, and will help you feel more motivated to keep making healthy choices.
I recommend also enrolling a friend, family member, or accountability partner to help you stay on track. Sharing your progress towards your goals, once a week, with a supportive friend has been shown to significantly increase your success rate.
One last thing, it’s normal and natural for humans to “fall off the wagon” from time to time.
Any time you slip back into old patterns, remember, it’s just part of the normal process of change.
Be patient with yourself, let those moments go, and keep taking the small steps to lasting health and well-being.
More for You on YourTango:
Anna McKinlay is a Lifestyle and Wellbeing Coach, with a passion for helping people enjoy greater well-being, happiness, and fulfillment. For more information visit Anna’s website about her or email her about her.