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

  • This article really changed my mindset. It made me realize that I have been setting myself up for failure by making negative goals and denying myself the things I enjoy.
    This really helped me get a different mind set!
  • Love the article but the links in the article go to ads that are ridiculous. why are these links there leading you to think they are associated with the article? Not cool at all.
  • At the end of the day, find something positive that you accomplished. Increase and reinforce this list everyday.
  • I really appreciated the advice in this article. Well done!
  • We don't live our lives in lala land. We are going to have a bad day. It's normal. But rather than focus on "I had a bad day"S look to making tomorrow a better one. Please note I didn't say good. Depending on what happened to make yesterday bad will drive what it takes to start building a better tomorrow. If only it were as simple as finding a trainer or talking a walk. These things are external helps, but you need to tap your internal resources to be able to go further. If you lost a loved one or got fired from a job, you have to deal with those emotions. Start simple. The old "if it doesn't kill you it makes you stronger." Some things really are bad - others in the grand scheme not so bad. Yesterday in still another snafu our cable provider cut us off - we have been dealing with issues since we asked for a special package a month ago - their promotion. 4 visits by me, 2 by my husband, more hours on the phone than anyone should ever have to put in and today we still have no TV but at least the internet and phone work. I was fuming. I really did have a bad day. And I let myself have that bad day. I was spitting nails.
    Last night however I accomplished just a wee bit more by NOT having TV (and I only watch one program a night) ... so in the end, in perspective what was a very bad day turned out to be just "not a good one."

    Like the blogger one of my biggest inspirations was my great aunt. I went to live with her when I was 15 and she was 85. What a great lady. She converted from Catholicism to Judiasm to marry her great love at the age of 17 and they traveled from the Chicago area to Idaho to farm - in a COVERED WAGON. She participate in civil rights activities, picketed in support of the grape boycott to support the migrant workers and actively campaigned as an anti-war candidate in 1968. She also helped me to heal after the traumatic experience of losing my family in a car accident and being the sole survivor because being the only daughter I was at a different activity. I had nothing to do with that accident but ...
  • Today in the presence of my 7 year old grandson I said, I really messed up. I was referring to making added work for someone by my mistake. Not a big thing but embarrassing to me. Johnny said, Grandmom, don't say that! I asked what? He replied, Don't say you messed up. Wisdom from a 7 year old. Tonight I read the article about not setting negative goals.

    ten day goal: record food and blog daily. That is easy, maybe, as I am on day 8.
    20 day goal: increased veggies
    30 day goal: decrease my weight by 5 pounds. I started to write lose, but that is negative.
  • I have also made the mistake of always framing what I would like to do by saying what I won't do and how much I want to lose etc. all those negative words that make you feel a prisoner to some unseen jailer. Now I say to myself, I will eat healthy, I will exercise every day, I will keep it up and I will not (oop) give up. Positive goals without feeling of self denial. I likes it.
  • LMWHITE137
    I realize I have not sat down and really made goals I could attain. I need to start out small.
  • If I go over on one day, I tack those calories onto the next day or I have a workout to use them up!
  • I never really knew that I always said negative words until people would say to me; why do you always put yourself down. It finally hit me and I now think before I speak. I have been on a positive role. Come join me. My new goals will be: to be 20 pounds slimmer by Christmas. I will continue to walk 5 times a week. The last accomplishment I will succeed at will be to get my A1C at a respectable number for me.
  • The power of thinking positive is unbelievable, almost magic in a sense. Once negativity creeps in so does failure. Excellent article it helped reinforce my successful attitude.
  • "Too vague," I meant to say.
  • So if this author thinks that it's negative to say, "I will lose 20 pounds," what's the more positive way to frame that goal? Something like "I will achieve a healthier weight" seems to vague and namby-pamby.
  • So if you have a bad day, rather than say "I blew it!" maybe something like: "going to fine tune or refocus my goals tomorrow..' you think?

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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