Motivation Articles

Goals that Help, Goals that Hurt

Remember to Think Positive

Whether you’re brand new to SparkPeople, or a seasoned veteran, you have no doubt noticed that we put a lot of emphasis on setting goals. From the small first steps you take during the "Fast Break" phase, to the long-range visions that shape the new lifestyle you are trying to create, we know that the people who succeed at permanent weight loss are the ones who have chosen their goals wisely and pursued them vigorously.

But how do you know if the goals you set are "wise"—i.e., the right goals for you? Setting goals that don’t suit you can be the root of much avoidable suffering. You can determine whether your goals are helping you or hurting you in three easy steps:

Step 1: Take a close look at the words that express your goals.
Take a moment to read over your goals. If you keep them written in your head, jot them down on paper quickly before you read further. Done? Now look through your goals for any of the following words: NO, NOT, NEVER, STOP, LOSE, REDUCE, LIMIT, or QUIT. If these negative words (or similar ones) play an important role in the way you have stated your goals, you may be setting yourself up for problems. Here’s why.

Words are very powerful! They focus your attention in one area while other possibilities fade away. When words are negative (like those above), their results are negative. When you say, for example, that you will "Stop eating chocolate," what are you really doing? You are focusing your attention on the very thing you want to avoid—chocolate. IF going without something you want when it is always on your mind were easy, this might work. But, we all know that "out of sight, out of mind, out of reach" works a lot better.

Step 2: Do your goals deprive you of something you want (or think you want)?
If so, you’re just setting yourself up for feelings of deprivation, resentment, and rebelliousness. How many times have you gone a day, a week, or even longer without caving in to a food on your forbidden list, only to find yourself binging on it later, as if out of sheer spite? Contrary to belief, making something off-limits isn’t the best way to maintain control. It'll get that 2-year-old inside us really geared up to do battle.

Step 3: Do your goals set you up for failure?
Framing your goals in negative terms creates an all-or-nothing situation, where even one small slip means failure. And we all know where this leads—"Well, I’ve already blown it, I might as well enjoy it and start over tomorrow," which turns into next week, next month, or next year. Soon you feel like you can’t control your own behavior, but aren’t sure what to do about it.
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

    I loved this article. This is my "diet persona" to a "T"! Start out perfect for a week, then cave and eat something unhealthy and use it as my excuse to "quit" for the day. Then the day turns into a ruined week, etc., etc. It has been my downfall even after losing 10 pounds! I go on a vacation and start out eating healthy in restaurants, but by the end of the trip eating just like I used to. A trip has always been the precipitous to putting the weight back on. I'm going to review my goals and quit being so hard on myself for mistakes! - 1/19/2015 9:18:12 AM
  • I don't agree with the first part of the article on those who are successful pursue their goals "vigorously". I have had a lot of success with (1) Eating only when I am hungry, and (2) Eating only till satisfied. Those are the main guidelines of my weight loss, and it hasn't taken a vigorous type of behavior to maintain them. It takes persistence and focus, but in no way would I call it vigorous. (This type of approach to eating came from the Spark radio host who lost 65 pounds, and kept them off.) - 2/18/2014 2:55:29 AM
  • Love this reminder!
    New goals: Be sexy. Be Powerful. Have Fun. Be Authentic. - 5/4/2013 7:02:45 PM
  • I try to stay positive of my goals because if I don't I will really take a great big set back. If I don't feel like doing 4 miles I will keep going because I feel guilty if I don't. Yesterday my hubby walked with me and I had to push him to do three miles but guess what I still did my four miles. WooHoo - 5/4/2013 10:58:52 AM
  • My personal inspiration is to keep my eye on the prize. I'm all IN. I am taking the first steps to make a comprehensive lifestyle change. That's what it's about...Being ALL IN! - 2/11/2013 10:39:58 AM
    Keeping goals positive makes great sense. However, in my opinion, there is too much dogma associated with removal of specific food or food groups from a nutrition plan. The whole "denial means failure" chant is just not true. Sometimes it is exactly the right thing to do. I was at the mercy of my cravings until I gave up sugar and wheat. I now know that denying myself these addictive substances was a trivial price to pay for the weight loss success and improved fitness that resulted. After only a short time it was no longer a problem.

    This is not the answer for everyone but it is powerful for some of us. I wish these articles were not so dogmatic on the subject. - 1/2/2013 7:29:27 AM
  • Thank you for this article. I took a good long look at my goals and I need to rewrite them in a positive manner. This was just the step I needed today for helping me to look at what I want and need to accomplish. - 10/23/2012 9:26:08 AM
    My goal is to get and stay healthier. I need to keep the lifestyle changes to do that.
    - 10/4/2012 8:16:02 PM
    It helps to hear other peoples struggles. I know I am not alone. - 10/4/2012 8:14:47 PM
  • One of my goals I sat up was to lose 50 by March, But I also think it may be unrealistic, and I will be happy to lose half that, therefore I will not feel I had failed. One of the other goals was to drink 8 glasses of water a day . I have accomplished that. Personally for me if I have more that one goal and accomplished at least one than I am a winner. Drinking water was a big one for me, for in a good day I might of drank one. - 9/29/2012 9:43:53 AM
  • Great article on the power of words. @PMCCALL, I think instead of focusing on LOOSING, you can say I WILL LIVE HEALTHY, make healthy choices on daily basis, do workouts that gives me fun and makes me enjoy myself, the list is endless. You will realize that the scale dropping will be a benefit of all the above steps. Good luck - 6/16/2012 1:26:12 AM
  • PMCCALL4495
    OK, but what if your goal IS to LOSE 25 pounds? How do you couch that as a positive goal without using the word "lose?" - 1/3/2012 2:12:05 PM
  • well sometimes this can be confusing . i always have been told that i have to be firm, assert myself clearly - not be wishy-washy like using words 'try, maybe' etc. lately i tried to be easier on myself. but when i put out an edict that stated YOU WILL NOT, NEVER DO ----THIS AGAIN -' It seemed much stronger in my mind. the last time i reached and stayed at my goal weight is years ago. i did it by not wavering once - it took me five months (approx 152 days) - i did not even LOOK at food i was not ALLOWED to have. i was rigid in my exercise routine - never faltered never missed. but then for ELEVEN YEARS i was shackled to that routine, - it was really hell and i alienated a lot of people who started thinking i had ' an eating disorder' or 'dismorphic body image' or what ever the buzz words are today. so - conclusion i should draw ???? i ask you .BB - 10/19/2011 2:16:26 PM
  • Good article, but it would be nice to see common goal examples and their more positive goal rewrites. - 10/19/2011 2:03:06 PM
    Thanks, Dean! I swear, everything you write is golden! - 10/19/2011 12:45:15 PM

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