Motivation Articles

Goals that Help, Goals that Hurt

Remember to Think Positive


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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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 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
  • 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

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