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.

It all starts with the words.

The great thing about having the capacity for language is that we can use words to help ourselves want what it is best for us to have.

Framing your goals in positive terms makes reaching them that much easier. Positive words allow you to:
  • Focus on what you really want, and on what is helpful and achievable. This creates positive energy and momentum instead of feelings of deprivation and resentment.
  • Adjust your plans when you have the inevitable slip-up or bad day. Instead of giving up when you mess up, you can make small changes to balance things out.
  • Check in with yourself before you act. Ask yourself if what you are about to eat will help you reach your goals.
  • Have true freedom of choice, rather than forcing yourself to rely on will power alone. We just aren’t designed to white-knuckle our way through life, always resisting what we think we really want.
So, go through your goals with a fine-toothed comb, and make sure they are positive. Focus on what you DO want to eat and what you WILL accomplish—not just on how many pounds you want to lose. Keep track of your calories as a necessary tactical measure, but don’t confuse going over on any given day with "failure." There’s more going on than what happens on any single day, and well-framed goals can help you keep that in view.

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Member Comments

  • Great article. Our greatest power i the power to choose. We should always choose what is right and good.

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    God bless America. land that I love.
    Stand beside her and guide her
    through the night with the light from above!
    From the mountains to the prairies
    To the oceans white with foam,
    God Bless America
    My Home Sweet Home!
    ~Irving Berlin
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    framing goals positively - harnessing the power of words
  • ZORA357
    Get healthier and start walking.
  • Great article. Thanks
  • My only goal is to get healthier with proper nutrition and fitness. There are some foods that I try to limit or avoid to help keep my cholesterol and blood pressure in check - but if I really want it, I simply have a small amount and enjoy it to the fullest. I am sure that there are times when I will slip up, but that's okay too! We are all only human and it happens. I know that I am doing this so that I am healthier and that in itself is motivation enough to keep eating healthy and get more fitness into my lifestyle!
  • My problem is my rewards involve food so I am going to work on them again with this article helping me
  • Most people on here have a goal to lose, which I don't think needs to be viewed as negative thinking. "Good" goals are SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bound. Having a goal like "I want to be healthier" is hard to achieve because it's too vague. But, saying "I want to lose 15 lbs in 4 months" or "I will log at least 60 fitness minutes a week" are SMART goals, and you can actually see your progress and whether you are meeting your goal. It's a good idea to write goals with positive rather than negative language when possible, because when we take away a behavior, we need to replace it with another one. For example, instead of a goal like, "I will stop eating so many Cheetos," you could pick a goal such as "When I crave a snack this week, I will choose some fresh veggies and hummus." Then, of course, you help set yourself up for success by getting the Cheetos out of the house, and having plenty of veggies and hummus on hand in your fridge.
    I love the small goal settings.

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.

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