Cheryl came to me the second week of January – full of conviction and resolve. Like millions of others around this time of year, she had clear objectives; Lose 25 lbs and get fit. When I began to dig a little deeper, however it became clear to me why Cheryl (and just about everyone else) has a hard time achieving their preferred health.
Embarrassingly, for the first several years as a coach, I was taking only a few minutes at most to address goal-setting. I thought I was doing my due diligence by practicing the S.M.A.R.T. principle of goal setting.
While goal-setting is the framework and the roadmap to things you want to achieve in life, goal-setting is a dynamic process that has several layers to it. In essence, it is much less about the S.M.A.R.T. and the WHAT you want to achieve. In fact, the traditional idea of goal setting has been challenged recently in popular media – with allegations of being overrated and suggestions of instead to implement “systems” instead of setting goals.
The crux of goal-setting is translating your wishes and intentions into sustainable action. These 3 pillars of goal-setting will help set you up for long-term success.
Goal-setting Pillar #1: Find your “Why”
Simon Sinek popularized the concept of finding your “why” in his popular book “Start with Why” and his TED talks that preach similar messages. While goals tend to focus on the “what”, the “why” is far more important as it gives the “what” meaning.
Think about your most profound desires. Why is your health important to you – think deeply, think long-term and think from the heart and be able to clearly articulate and repeat this. Your “why” should go way beyond the “I want to look better” or even “I want to feel better”. Perhaps it’s being able to play sports with your children into their adult years… with your grandchildren. Perhaps it’s being able to travel well into your senior years, or reclaim the ability to do something you loved to do years ago but can’t now due to your physical limitations. Everyone’s “why” is different – discover yours.
Your Miracle Question
Another way to uncover your “why” is to answer the “miracle question”. The miracle question is derived from a branch of psychology called “solutions focused brief therapy” and entails conceptualizing your preferred future. Imagine you woke up tomorrow morning, and by some miracle, you were at your goal weight/size/health marker, what’s the first thing you would notice that would be different about your life?” When you consider this, it’s important that you dig below the surface. Instead of saying “I’d have more confidence”, try “I would feel more confident about myself and feel better about being out in public and in the gym. This would make me feel better about being able to accomplish something.” Or “I would feel empowered to do the things I enjoy with more vigor and energy”.
Here’s a video on finding your why:
Goal Setting Pillar #2: Process Goals over Outcome Goals (and the goals behind the goals)
When looking at your health and fat loss goals, it’s absolutely critical to look past the outcome goals (ie. Lose 20 lbs, 3 dress sizes etc) and look at the habit goals – the goals behind the goals are the building blocks that form the foundation of your actions that will beget your fat loss goals. Many productivity gurus espouse the concept of creating systems over setting goals.
Well known blogger James Clear makes this salient point about goals vs. systems – citing a very north-American disease known as “I’ll be happy when___”, proposing that working towards a goal is akin to saying “I’m not good enough yet but I will be when I reach my goal”. He posits that “The problem with this mindset is that you’re teaching yourself to always put happiness and success off until the next milestone is achieved”.
Here’s an example of outcome goals vs. Process Goals.
Outcome goal: Lose 20lbs
Process goal: Prepare healthy meals daily, get intentional exercise 4x/week, lift weights 3x/week.
But don’t stop there…
Goals Behind the Goals
This is where the “goals behind the goals” concept comes into play. Outcome goals and process goals are fantastic, but incomplete. It’s important to look at potential obstacles and pave the way for your preferred future. For example;
Eating better requires food preparation. Food preparation requires a good rhythm of grocery shopping and waking up earlier. Therefore a couple of “goals behind the goals” might be waking up 30 minutes earlier each day – which would entail going to bed 30 minutes earlier. Less screen time and managing other time-suckers can also help pave the way for habits that will get you closer to your outcome goal.
Goal Setting Pillar # 3: Pain and Values
The 3rd goal setting cornerstone features two seemingly unrelated schemas; pain and values. Author Mark Manson proposes that instead of asking “what are my goals”? ask instead “what pain am I willing to go through?”. Goals represent warm and fuzzy feelings… our paths are paved with gold and lined with daisies and we tend to be wilfully ignorant of any impedance to our objectives. Hence, according to Manson it’s far more effective to ask yourself what you are willing to sacrifice to reach your goal. What compromises and discomforts are you going to endure over the long haul?
Looking at your goals through the lens of sacrifice can help paint a realistic perspective on what it will take to achieve them.
Now that we’ve established the need to look at pain, the second side of the same coin is values. I will encourage you to ask the pointed question; is your health part of your values system? I mean truly.. Is it up there with family, career, faith? If not, evaluate and reflect on why it isn’t. If so, are your actions aligning with your values? Ask yourself this question over and over again throughout your journey – whenever you’re at an impasse or experiencing a plateau.
If you want to make a serious health gains, you have to start seeing yourself as someone who’s meant to be healthy. As someone who DESERVES to be healthy.
See video on Pain and Values here:
Take Home Points
- When setting goals, uncover your “why” – this is more important than the “what” or the “how”. Start there and dig deep.
- Answer your miracle question; If you were to wake up tomorrow at your perfect health, what is the first thing that you would notice that would be different?
- Outcome goals are great, but they must be fortified by process goals and the goals behind the goals.
- Focus on habit-centered goals that remove obstacles to your progress.
- Instead of thinking about your goals, think about what pain and sacrifices you are willing to make to get to reach your outcome goals.
- Is being healthy a central piece of your values system? If not, take the steps to make it so – if yes, are your actions reflecting those values? If not, what can you do to align the two.
- You are meant to be… and DESERVE to be healthy.