We all want to achieve. We all want to get better at things. We all want to move ourselves towards goals. But maybe the way we set ourselves targets just isn’t helpful. There is a tendency to want to put figures on things because we all know how figures work. “I want to lose 10 kilos”, “I want to run 5k in 25 minutes”, “I want to run a marathon”. These are all fitness goals but there will be others. Maybe, “I want to save £1000 by the end of year”.
These statements are problematic though because one of the things we are good at as people is not hitting the target. Think back to all of those new years resolutions that go unmet. Think of all of those weight loss strategies that didn’t get you to your ‘goal weight’. Think of all those fitness regimes that didn’t get you ripped and slim.
As soon as you set yourself a fixed goal then you run the risk of missing it. But even if you hit it you’ve still got a problem! Once you’ve hit your goal weight what do you do? Go back to eating like you did? What do you do when you hit that 25 minute 5k? Do you stop running? Well, sometimes we do! Sometimes it’s like ‘right that’s it – I’ve done it so I don’t have to worry about it anymore!’ And the weight goes back on or the fitness slides and you have to start again with another goal.
How about simply framing what you want to do differently? I want to get better at being a healthier eater? I want to get better at being a runner? I want get better at being a saver? These things have no end point. They have nothing to ‘fall off’ or ‘fail at’. You want to become a healthier eater so you start nailing the salads and the baked potatoes and then you have a take away. Well, what you are trying to achieve is still there. You’ve not done anything wrong because just because you had a take away doesn’t mean you can’t continue to try to be a healthier eater. When you choose a measurable goal like weight loss and you don’t lose any weight because of that take away the scales shout at you, make you feel bad, and make you think ‘well hey – I’m never going to hit my target weight – so why bother!’ But you can still follow your dream of being a healthier eater because that’s still an on going proposition – it never ends so it’s always available to you to help you frame what your doing. ‘Hey, I had a pizza, but I’m still trying to be a healthier eater’
The different is maybe a subtle one but the psychology of it apparently really works. It’s like when you have a big task to achieve like, say, write a 3,000 word report. If your goal is to write the report then every time you sit down to do it and you don’t complete it your mind sees that as a failure – ‘I didn’t finish the report’. But if you break it down to manageable chunks. ‘I need to read this article’, ‘I need to think about the structure of the report’, ‘I need to map out what I want to write’ etc etc then you achieve a result whenever you do these individual things giving you a psychological boost. This is the ‘how do a eat a big elephant – one bite at a time strategy’!
There’s a similar thing at play with the psychology of setting goals. If your goal is to run a marathon then every time you don’t run a marathon you haven’t achieved it. If your goal is to work on being a better runner then every time you run you are working on that. If your goal is to be a healthier eater then every time you eat you are working on that. Personally, I find that taking this approach helps me make better choices. What I eat isn’t governed by the scales or a target weight but by simply wanting to try and achieve ‘eating healthier’. Yes, I do hope that what that means is weight loss but if it doesn’t it doesn’t and I will continue to try and eat healthier because the positive impact on my life is broader than what the scales say.
Let’s do it!