Motivation Articles

Goals that Help, Goals that Hurt

Remember to Think Positive

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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

  • 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? - 4/19/2016 1:02:32 AM
  • I don't know that "lose" has a negative connotation - that's what I am on Spark People for! I do believe it is more positive to use it with a reasonable time limit as opposed to "I will lose 20 lbs. by next week" but my positive goal is: " I will lose 2 lbs. by May 15 and will maintain at that weight!" By the end of June, when I have met that goal, I will reset a reasonable time limit to lose another 5 lbs.
    - 4/13/2016 10:09:03 AM
    I read some of the other comments about needing guidelines for setting up positive goals. For me that means making goals for what I will do, not what I won't do. An example: I'm in pretty bad condition physically. I'm recovering from a back injury and have feet problems. Also I'm obese. My current exercise goals are 1. Walk 20 minutes 3 days per week and 2. Ride the exercise bike 25 minutes 3 days per week. Those are doable for me. I'm not requiring myself to walk a certain distance because some days my back a or feet will cause me to walk more slowly. Same with the bike: Some days I'm tired and ride slower than others. But that doesn't matter. What matters is doing the time; that's doable for me. I have a long term goal in the back of my mind to do cardio an hour daily. I'll build to that slowly. For example at the beginning of each month I'll add 1 minute to my biking and waking goals. Eventually I'll add in other types of exercise, stretching and such, but that's another story #:^ ) Another example of positive instead of negative: Instead of making a goal to eat no or less chocolate, you might make a goal to eat a certain amount of vegetables or whole grains. That way you'll have less room for chocolate without focusing on chocolate! - 2/6/2016 7:30:19 PM
    This is a very helpful article. I'll delete my goal to only drink 24 oz diet soda daily. Instead I'll make 2 goals: Drink at least 6 cups of water daily and drink at least 2 cups of tea daily. - 2/6/2016 7:06:26 PM
  • His words are appropriate not only for weight loss, but for all aspect of life. Learning to choose our words carefully helps us not only in setting our own personal goals, but how we interact with others. I will keep these words close at hand to refresh my mind frequently. - 2/2/2016 9:53:26 AM
    Many of the comments are very helpful. It is good to see how other people do it so that you can pick and choose what you think will work for you. - 1/4/2016 9:00:53 PM
  • "Lose" is not always a negative goal word, but when your already stressed and down on yourself cause you screwed up and did or didn't do XYZ it could focus your thinking into a negative space. For weight loss goals think of goals more in line with "I want to reach a healthy BMI which for me is 130-160 LBS." So you still have your Goal, you have a it framed in a Positive manner and just need to break it into actions steps. (For me going to the BMI standard to find my Goal was necessary because I am so far into the obese Zone I didn't know what a Good Goal for me is.) Action Step: "I can achieve my Goal by Tracking my food on sparky and exercising x amount of times per week." "I can reach my goal by reducing my weight 10 lbs by New Years." The idea is to make them sound as positive as possible so that on your off days you don't become too discouraged due to the subconscious thought process when you read them. - 12/7/2015 8:26:54 AM
  • Since this article was from Day 3 of the Diabetes Weight Loss Challenge, the first word I wrote when writing my goals was "Lose." I didn't think that was a negative word. I thought that was the purpose of the challenge. - 12/3/2015 10:09:20 AM
    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

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