How to Create Meaningful Goals – New Year’s goals not resolutions series

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Welcome to the New Year’s goals NOT resolution series.

In this series I will share some of my experiences around changing behaviour. My aim is to help you to increase your chances of achieving your nutrition and health goal.

Happy New Year! Here’s to a great 2016. You’ve probably been bombarded with so many messages about New Year’s Resolutions, what to focus on and how to make sure you don’t fail. I personally don’t believe in ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ as it puts too much pressure on people believing the “grass is greener on the other side” and “I will be happy when…”. I look at New Year’s Resolutions as goals we are expected to make and often, it’s not what we should be focusing our time and energy on. This approach most likely leads us to not achieving our goals. Don’t get me wrong I do like goal setting, but only when it comes from within (intrinsic motivation) and at a time we are ready to focus on the goal. I know many of you will set New Year’s Resolutions as you may not set goals at other times in the year and this is absolutely fine. So here’s my best tips for creating a goal that really matters to you.

“By changing nothing, nothing changes.” – Tony Robbins

Intrinsically Motivated

Motivating goals are those that come from within rather than from external sources. For example, you’ve probably been on the receiving end of a conversation from a well-meaning person like your doctor, family member or a friend telling you that you should or need to do ‘X’. This doesn’t usually excite you, does it? You are much more likely to succeed if you are the driving force behind the goal, ie., when you decide it is in your best interest to do ‘Y’ for various reason as explored below:

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect” – Mark Twain

Asking yourself the following questions will help you to understand if you are motivated to work on your goal:

  1. How important is it on a scale of 0 to 10 (0 being not important – 10 being extremely important), given everything that’s going on in your life right now?
  2. How confident  are you on a scale of 0 to 10 (0 being not confident – 10 being extremely confident), given everything that’s going on in your life right now?
  3. How ready  are you on a scale of 0 to 10 (0 being not ready – 10 being extremely ready), given everything that’s going on in your life right now? Basically are you ready to commit to changing now?
  4. What are your reasons for making this change?

intrinsic motivation

Personal Values

Is your goal aligned with your personal values? Will this goal move you closer to the eating behaviours, lifestyle behaviours and life you want to lead? If you are not consciously aware of your values, I recommend spending some time first to make them clear.

personal values

Stages of Change

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It is important to understand the ‘Stages of Change’ (Prochaska & DiClemente, 1982; 1986), as change is a journey that takes time and effort and it does not always go to plan. Knowing where you are in the cycle below will help you to understand what can lie ahead in your journey of change.

As you can see pre-contemplative is when you did not think you needed to change. Relapse is likely to happen at any stage. When maintenance occurs, a habit is formed. This usually takes about 2-3 months.

Start Small and Slow

Focus on changing one goal or behaviour at a time. This is more likely to happen when using SMART goals as seen below.

SMART Goals

It is ok to have a general goal like improve health, eat more vegetables, sleep more but it is vague and can be overwhelming as there are so many ways to achieve these general goal. The formula for setting a well thought out goal is S-M-A-R-T. You’ve probably heard it before … A SMART goal is a great way to help you focus, stay motivated, manage your time, track your progress which overall increases the likelihood you will achieve your goal.

S – Specific – What specific behaviour do I want to change? How will I do it?

M – Measurable – How much and how often will I do it? How will I know if I’ve achieved my goal?

A – Attainable/achievable/Attractive – Can I do this? Are the benefits attractive to me?

R – Realistic – Is this something I can realistically do? Do I have the skills, resources and support? Am I willing to work at achieving this goal?

T – Time based – Do I have a start date and review date?

SMART goals can be written like this, “I will [your goal] by [how you will do the goal]. I will know I am making progress because [how you will measure the goal] [within what time frame?].

Example of helpful SMART goals:

  1. I will eat intuitively throughout the day by eating foods my body feels like in response to appetite (eating when hungry and stopping when content). I will know I will be making progress when I am not feeling ravenous at dinner, not restricting certain foods because I think I need to and food does not consume my thoughts all the time.
  2. I will get more sleep by going to bed at 10pm each night. I will know I am making progress because I will be in bed by 10pm each night, feel less tired in the morning and have less cravings for high fat/high sugar foods.
  3. I will move more by enjoying swimming laps in my pool 3 times a week in the afternoon for 15 minutes. I will know I will have achieved my goal by swimming 3 times a week, for at least 15 minutes, feel more energetic and sleep better.
  4. I will drink a 600ml bottle water before and after lunch at work by having a water bottle at my desk. I will know I am making progress because I will be sipping water regularly throughout the day, my mouth won’t be as dry, my urine will be light yellow, I will be able to concentrate better and the bottle will be empty by the time lunch break and at the end of the day.

Helpful vs Unhelpful Goals

Ditch the scales and dieting/weight loss mindset

Helpful goals are ones that focus on specific behaviours which help us be happy and healthy as they give us a sense of purpose in our lives.

The above SMART goals are helpful as they focus on eating intuitively, moving more, drinking more water and sleeping more which can add to health, ie., physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Unhelpful goals don’t focus on specific behaviours but focus on such things as dieting and weight loss. It is important to remember that weight is not a behaviour. These sorts of goals come about because they might be trendy at the time, or somebody in your life mentioned you should set goals around ‘X’ and/or you, someone else or society thinks it is expected of us. Why not work towards sustainable eating and lifestyle changes that centre around improving health? Don’t get caught up in last decade’s trend.

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Diets don’t work. If you’ve ever been on a weight loss diet you will have experienced the signs of having negative thoughts about yourself, feeling hungry from depriving yourself of food, overeating to compensate for the powerful hunger sensation that comes from food deprivation, feeling guilty and having difficulty escaping the dieting cycle.

“Setting a goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with that plan” – Tom Landry

For the next 3 weeks, I will build on the concept of achieving health goals. Next week, I will write about ‘Action Planning – New year goals not resolutions series’.

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Achieve Your Nutrition Goal via this mini course. 

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