Goal setting is overrated. This may fly in the face of everything you’ve been told you need to do to be successful. It’s certainly not what I was taught when I was in school to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. I used to be all over setting SMART goals (remember those?) with my clients but over the years realized the focus on goals wasn’t helping and was actually taking the focus away what’s really important.
Here’s why goal setting misses the point and doesn’t actually lead to permanent, sustainable change.
Let’s say you set a goal to lose 10 pounds in 3 months. Or your goal is to lower your A1C or cholesterol a few points in the same amount of time. This can feel like a really decisive step – you have a definite number and a set amount of time to get there. Let’s go!
But here’s why this really isn’t a plan for long term change. You probably have some actions in mind for how you’re going to lose the weight or lower your numbers. But your focus is on the GOAL and that’s what’s driving everything you do. Does it matter if you really enjoy what you’re doing? Probably not, because you’ll only be doing it for a few months. Does it matter if you feel energetic or if you’re hungry most of the time? Again, if it leads to reaching your goal you’re likely to overlook the fact that what you’re doing isn’t super fun or making you feel great. When you’re focused on reaching that goal, you overlook all sorts of things in the name of “success”. So rather than building healthy, sustainable habits that you like to do and make you feel great, you’re just changing some stuff up temporarily. Will you keep up those habits after you reach your goal? Nope, not if what you’re doing is hard, not enjoyable or boring or takes up too much time. And then of course you abandon whatever it was you were doing and go back to old habits, undoing whatever progress you made.
So what’s the answer if you want to jump off of the constant goal and resolution setting?
Focus on ACTIONS instead!
When you’re focused on WHAT you’re doing instead of chasing a far-off goal, you create habits. And it’s those habits that lead to permanent change. Any goal you set is going to be achievable simply because it’s a side effect of your habits. You’ll still lose weight or lower your blood sugar or cholesterol but you’ll do it in a way that’s sustainable. When you focus on your actions you get immediate feedback on how it’s working. Let’s say you try a new breakfast. Do you feel more energetic after? Do you like the way it tastes? Is it something that fits in with your schedule? When you’re not goal-focused you can experiment more with these habits and really find things that will stick.
Here are 5 pointers for changing your focus toward actions and away from goals:
- Set intentions, not goals.
Forget the long term goal. What’s 1 or 2 things you’re going to do this week? What’s something you’re going to today?
- What’s the REAL outcome you want?
It’s easy to use numbers (scale, labs, etc) as a stand in for what you really want. But think about what that number represents – greater health, more energy, less medication, clothes fitting better, whatever the real outcomes are what you should focus on because those are far more motivating in the long term.
- Be kind to yourself
Negative self talk is poisonous and will hold you back. Look at mistakes as learning experiences and examine them to see what you can do differently in the future. Punishing yourself never leads to long term success.
- Be reasonable
Whenever you undertake anything new it can be tempting to go all in. Research shows that making smaller, more incremental changes is the way to keep up habits for the long term. Every little bit counts and the idea is to build on your actions and habits.
- Keep trying new things
One of the reasons we abandon healthy habits is because we get stuck in a rut and do or eat the same things over and over. Make new recipes, try new ways of moving, try new foods – all of this keeps things interesting and motivating.
Making lasting change in your health is achievable when your focus is on your actions. Having the support and guidance of an expert to help you ensures your success – make an appointment today with one of the Nourish Registered Dietitian Nutritionists!