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'v never figured out how to make a positive goal - 11/15/2015 8:24:40 PM
  • Awesome article, but I agree with the others as needing some kind of guidance here for setting up goals without negative words. - 10/26/2015 12:41:11 PM
  • I agree COMPLETELY but I wish there were examples for people who struggle. I use goals like "I'll stay within my calorie target 90% of the time" and "I'll try to add 2-3 servings of fruit every day" and "I'll save my indulgences for truly special occasions". This has worked really well for me thus far and I think it's what he's getting at. - 9/26/2015 10:03:35 AM
    I really like the idea of avoiding negative words - and will no longer use "reduce" in my goal statements. - 9/6/2015 11:53:35 AM
  • I think that Dean Anderson's article is very helpful-- and he does give important examples for accomplishing my goals. His advice, "Keep track of calories as a necessary tactical measure" -- is one example. Another example is "Ask yourself if what you are about to eat will help you to reach your goals"---- I am indeed grateful for this information.
    Thank you, Dean Anderson--- - 5/13/2015 2:07:08 PM
    I'm with EOWYN2424. With no examples of positive goals included in here, the article is pretty much useless for those of us who can't find the wording to construct positive goals on our own. - 5/8/2015 8:44:46 PM
  • Psychological whiplash and revenge of the inner child.

    Self-compassion matters a lot, the more I practice it. Three years ago, I was *not* self-compassionat

    If kicking myself in the ass worked, it sometimes seemed to, the results weren't lasting. I was in emotional misery. I'm a strong person and I can do amazing things. cutting myself a break back then? No way.

    I struggle with my weight. Tracking helps as it keeps it "top of mind". If I really want a damn cookie, I'm having it. I just plan to fit it in or change up something else.

    I'm also finding that when I make better food choices with the idea that I can have a cookie if I want it, I feel better about eating better. I'm noticing I feel better.

    My favorite phrase the last several years has been:
    notice * pause * choose

    When I notice I'm feeling deprived or telling myself nasty stuff, I stop to take a moment. Then I choose what I will do. Even if I'm half way down the road doing something before I notice I'm doing it (baby, this is psychology), I can still stop for a moment and choose to go a different direction or keep going if it is really what I want to do.

    This is a very good article. - 4/30/2015 1:21:35 PM
    I can do this! I am strong and determined! - 4/18/2015 2:24:12 PM
  • Good article, but I would like concrete examples of what is a positive goal! - 4/10/2015 9:03:12 AM
  • So instead of saying I will lose xxx pounds by my next birthday, I should change the wording to I will achieve the more healthy weight of xxx pounds by my next birthday? I've seen it written the other way throughout the site. - 4/4/2015 5:26:45 PM
    It's a great article.I can use positive words so I can think that way.And can set my goals accordingly. Thanks a lot. - 3/13/2015 7:39:58 PM
  • I try not to set a goal that is worded like "Lose 25 pounds." That's not a goal, in my opinion: that is a result.

    The goals I set are behaviors that will help me achieve the desired result. My goals, therefore, are actions I can choose to do everyday, and I try to frame them positively as something to DO, not something to give up.

    For example, If I aim to eat 5 fruits and veggie servings a day and so many grams of protein within a certain calorie total, by focusing on how to do that, I don't have room left in my daily calories for ice cream and french fries. Aiming to drink 8 glasses of water, and walking so many miles, steps, or minutes, are also goals. Those are positively worded goals that either I do, or do not. It takes the focus off the numbers on the scale, and I can log my actions (foods consumed, exercise) and feel good for my efforts. Eventually, with consistency and time, the efforts will yield results.

    So it's not about what I'm giving up, but I am adding to my diet, routine, and life.

    I also go over my daily calorie limit about once a week, but I makes sure to compensate on the other days and increase exercise. I look at calories consumed and burned for the week, not just each day. Even not gaining for a week or two, is progress - because I'm not losing ground in the journey to my result. - 3/13/2015 12:45:45 PM
  • I agree with most of this, but I don't think all negative goals are bad. I mean, most of us are here to LOSE weight. We just need to remind ourselves what we GAIN by doing so. Also, I benefited a lot from saying no to soda. - 3/13/2015 11:37:00 AM
    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

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