How to achieve what you REALLY want with Goal Setting (Part I)

Each year about four million Aussies (20% of the population) start a diet on January 1, all with the same objective – to lose their (excess) weight and fat forever. By this time of year (February/March), many people have already quit their New Year’s Resolutions! Research suggests a) most people will maintain their new behaviours for less than a fortnight (some less than a day!) b) very few people will lose the desired weight/fat they have set out to lose and c) even fewer (less than 2%) will keep it off.

Do these people have the potential to lose weight and keep it off? The vast majority, yes. Will they? Probably not. Why not? A range of reasons, but the common denominator is that in some way their psychology will get in the way of their physiology. They simply stop doing what they started. Great at starting, crap at persevering and ultimately getting the job done.

Their mind is the problem, and their body is the consequence.

For many of us the external is merely a reflection of the internal. At this point of the article you can be enlightened or offended, it’s a choice. Master the mind and you’ll master the body. In order to create different, we need to do different, yet far too many of us are creatures of habit and repetition. If we take the same mindset into the weight loss process (the one that didn’t work the last 50 times) then we’ll produce the same result – failure.

“Energy flows where attention goes”

How often do we find ourselves caught in the same old thinking traps? As a Personal Trainer in Kiama I see it way too often. Check out this list and see if you’ve ever found yourself in any of them.

1.       Overgeneralising. Do you find you use words such as always or never when referring to situations that don’t go as planned. Eg “of course it’s raining –every time we go on a picnic it rains.”

2.       Black & white thinking. Do you see things as either good or bad, right or wrong, perfect or terrible? If we think like this we can see a small mistake as a total failure.

3.       Labelling. Do you find yourself saying something negative about yourself or someone else? How helpful is this to you? Be honest… not really.

4.       Mind reading. Do you jump to conclusions without any real evidence? Do you really know that your friend hasn’t called you because she is upset with you? Could there be an alternative explanation? Of course there can.

5.       Fortune telling. Do your predict that something is going to happen, without any evidence? “There’s no point trying to lose weight because I know I will fail.”

6.       Mental filter. Do you find yourself focusing on the negative in the situation and not even considering what good may have come from it? “I blew my healthy eating plan on the weekend so I’m a total falure”. Did you ignore the fact that for 5 days in the week you DID stay on track?

7.       Emotional reasoning. Do you find yourself thinking that bad feelings or emotions say something about how the situation actually is? Feelings are often very different from the facts. Eg being scared of flying doesn’t mean it is unsafe to fly.

Ok  I’ve got the right Mindset, am I ready to change?

The first thing to realise is that change is not a one-off event. It’s a process involving seven distinct stages. The key to successfully making change is to identify which stage you are in, prior to beginning, as each stage of change requires different stage for achieving success. The seven stages of change are:

1. Pre-Contemplation. Here you have no intention of changing and you are oblivious to the fact that problem exists. In this stage, you have little understanding about the consequences of your unhealthy habits or you may have tried to change unsuccessfully in the past and become demoralised.

2.       Contemplation. You intend to change… eventually. You haven’t committed to change yet and keep putting it off that little bit longer. To move past here, identify the pros and cons of making the change. Then develop strategies to help overcome obstacles that are getting in the way.

3.       Preparation. This is the stage at which determination sets in – you are committed to making the change and intend to take action soon. This stage will see you making decisions and putting goals together, important foundation steps for moving to the next stage.

4.       Action. At this stage, you’re putting theory into practice and actively modifying various areas of your life such as making different food choices or exercising more. During this stage it is very important to monitor your progress. You should be setting weekly goals and reviewing whether you are achieving them.

5.       Maintenance. You have been consistent and persevered with your change, but are aware there is still work to do. You now need to turn those initial changes into lifelong habits. During this stage, hurdles will pop up, so it’s important you develop strategies to overcome them.

6.       Relapse. After successfully moving through previous stages, you return to your old ways, but relapse and failure are not the same thing. Everyone relapses at some point on the path to change but the people who succeed are the ones who learn from their slip ups and develop ways to prevent them from happening again.

7.       Termination. This is the ultimate goal and it will occur when you maintain lifestyle changes for the long term.

So we figure out what state of change we are in. From the above information you can see that we need to be at stage 3 Preparation, to effectively start the goal setting process.

Why don’t we set Goals for ourselves?

Why is it so few people have clear, written goals that they work towards every day? It usually comes down to one of four reasons:

1.       They don’t think goals are important. First, most people don’t realize the importance of goals.  If you grow up in a home where no one has goals or you socialise with a group where goals are neither discussed or valued, you can very easily reach adulthood without knowing that your ability to set and achieve goals will have more of an effect on your life than any other skill.

2.       They don’t know how to set them in the first place.  Even worse, many people think that they already have goals when what they actually have is a series of wishes or dreams, like “Be happy” or “Make a lot of money”

3.       They don’t set goals for fear of failure.  Failure hurts. It is emotionally and often financially painful and distressing.  Everyone has experienced failure from time to time.  Each time, we resolve to be more careful and avoid failure in the future.  Many people then make the mistake of unconsciously sabotaging themselves by not setting any goals at which they might fail.  They end up going through life functioning at far lower levels than are truly possible for them.

4.       The fourth reason that people don’t set goals is because of the fear of rejection.  People are afraid that if they set a goal and are not successful, others will criticize or ridicule them.

“We are all self made but only the successful will admit it.” Earl Nightingale

Why should we set Goals?

Is it really that important that I have a goal? Isn’t it enough that I come down and train a few times a week when I can? Surely that’s better than the other huge percentage of people who are doing nothing at all? No, not really and I’ll tell you why.

Training without a goal gives you no focus, no reason to run a little further, punch a bit harder, keep pumping those shoulder presses when they start hurting and no reason to get to training when the weather sucks outside.

It gives you no motivation when the going gets tough.

Conversely, training with a specific goal opens up huge potential.

“Setting goals opens the mind to the possibilities of achieving them”

It allows you to first get a mental picture of the finish line. This mental imagery becomes an emotional attachment. When someone is emotionally attached to something it is infinitely more powerful and a much stronger motivational tool. Eg the goal may be to lose 15kg but the emotional attachment is to fit into a size 12 dress and look good for her daughter’s wedding. Or a guy may want to lose 10kg and improve his cardio fitness but the emotional attachment is being able to run around with the kids in the backyard and not be huffed and puffed.

“Happiness is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal, or goal”. Earl Nightingale

Goals give you a sense of meaning and purpose.  Goals give you a sense of direction.  As you move toward your goals you feel happier and stronger.  You feel more energized and effective.  You feel more competent and confident in yourself.

Get S.M.A.R.T about your Goals

Even with the best intentions, if your goals are not S.M.A.R.T you will probably fall into the large percentage of people that never achieve what they really want.

Did you have a resolution a few weeks ago to increase your fitness, lose weight, eat healthier etc? Are you sticking to your guns? Are you exercising consistently? Are you REALLY committed?

If you listed any of the above resolutions, my guess is you WON’T achieve the results you are after. That sounds harsh, but it’s probably true. The reason: these goals are not specific enough.

Get fit. How fit? What sort of fitness? Lose weight. How much weight? How long will that realistically take?

A powerful and proven strategy here is to create S.M.A.R.T goals. These letters stand for:

Specific. A specific goal has a much greater chance of being accomplished than a general goal. To set a specific goal, you must answer the six “W” questions. Who is involved? What do I want to accomplish? Where – identify a location? When – establish a time frame. Which – identify requirements and constraints. Why – specific reasons, purpose or benefits of accomplishing the goal.

Eg “I want to lose weight” vs “I will lose 15 kg in the next 6 months by following a structured exercise program and eating 5-6 small meals every day. Once a month I will re measure my progress to see what improvements I have made and reward myself if I have achieved my short term goals. Along with seeing a Trainer, this will keep me motivated and hold me accountable.”

Measureable. Establish concrete criteria for measuring progress toward the attainment of the goal you have set. When you measure progress, you stay on track, reach your target dates, and experience the exhilaration of achievement that spurs you on to continued effort required to reach your goal. You’ve got to answer questions like “how much” and “how will I know when it is accomplished?”

Attainable. When you identify goals that are the most important to you, you begin to figure out ways you can make them come true. You develop the attitudes, abilities, skills, and financial capacity to reach them. You begin seeing previously overlooked opportunities to bring yourself closer to the achievement of your goals. You can attain almost any goal you set when you plan your steps wisely and establish a time frame that allows you to carry out those steps. Goals that may have seemed far away and out of reach eventually move closer and become attainable, not because your goals shrink, but because you build yourself image. You see yourself as worthy of these goals, and develop the traits and personality that allow you to possess them.

Realistic. To be realistic, a goal must represent an objective toward which you are both willing and able to work. A goal can be both high and realistic; you are the only one who can decide just how high your goal should be. But be sure that every goal represents substantial progress. A high goal is frequently easier to reach than a low one because a low goal exerts low motivational force. Some of the hardest jobs you ever accomplished actually seem easy simply because they were a labour of love. Your goal is probably realistic if you truly believe that it can be accomplished. Additional ways to know if your goal is realistic is to determine if you have accomplished anything similar in the past or ask yourself what conditions would have to exist to accomplish it.

Time Specific. A goal should be grounded with a time frame. With no time frame tied to it there’s no sense of urgency. If you want to lose 15kg, when do you want to lose it by? “Someday” won’t work. But if you anchor your goal within a timeframe, “by May 1st” then you’ve set your unconscious mind into motion to begin working on the goal. T also stands for Tangible. A goal is tangible when you can experience it with one of the senses, that is, taste, touch, smell, see or hear it. When your goal is tangible you have a better chance of making it specific and measureable thus attainable. That’s why I’m a BIG believer in the physical act of writing out your goals on paper, then posting it where you will see it every day. Read them out loud, visualise your success and take action to make your dreams come true!

Once you have a S.M.A.R.T long term goal AND the reasons why they’re important to you, you can then go about creating a plan. This involves setting some short term goals along the way to your finish line. Now, is the time to take the first step. The longest journey, or project, starts with a first step. When it’s too hard to picture the whole journey, break it down into smaller ones. Keep reducing until the first step seems attainable. Then take it. The others will follow.

Look out for Part II on Goal Setting and changing your habits tomorrow…


  1. mathew yates says:

    Great article Dave can see a lot of areas that relate to myself in here and it makes a lot of sense when you talk about setting specific goals and not just general goals which i probably am doing now and have done in the past. the parts on mindset i found in particular related to me, especially pre-contemplation, i found myself thinking about being healthier last year and can recall saying to myself ” will put it off another week then another after that” until just after christmas i said enough and got stuck into it. thanks for the article look forward to part 2 cheers.

  2. mathew yates says:

    hey guys actually should just be contemplation not pre- contemplation in my comment. cheers

Speak Your Mind