Weekly Column_120 / August 16, 2012

Goals, Goals, and More Goals

By Charles Platkin, PhD

We rush to the bookstore in search of an answer, or listen to the latest diet guru, who offers us some miracle-of-the-moment, hoping, just hoping, that it will miraculously make us fit. However, if you’re like most of us, you’ll end up falling prey to the bright neon doughnut and fast-food signs, as well as the many unhealthy food advertisements glowing from your TV set. If you’ve been there, done that in the past, how about doing something a bit different this year and setting some goals for yourself?

Reaching a weight-loss goal — or any goal — should never be about chance. Your ideal weight will not magically materialize if you dream about it long and hard enough. Instead, you must want to lose the weight badly enough to put a committed effort into making it happen. If you’re serious about achieving a goal, you need to recognize that it requires some techniques and tactics — not willpower or simply “winging it.”

Goal setting is critical to accomplishing any task. Is it possible to reach a goal without having a plan and a strategy? Of course it is. Almost anything is possible. If you want to significantly tip the odds in your favor, however, setting goals helps. In fact, a study appearing in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association reported that good goal setting increases your chances of reaching your diet objective by 84 percent.

Keep in mind, planning your strategy and choosing your goals can be tricky. Goals need to be specific (i.e., how much weight do you want to lose), motivating (i.e., interesting enough for you want to achieve them), achievable (i.e., possible and realistic), and rewarding (i.e., worth having when you reach them). Strategies need to be tactical (i.e., you need a real plan), easy to evaluate (i.e., is the strategy working?), and revisable (i.e., if they are not working).

All your goals and strategies should follow the guidelines above, but you still need to break your goals down into micro, short-term, midterm, and long-term plans, and only you can determine which is which. As a rule of thumb:

  • Micro goals are decisions in the moment that can help to change your life.
  • Short-term goals are those that can be achieved in one to six months.
  • Midterm goals can be achieved in six months to two years.
  • Long-term goals are achieved in two to five years.

Overall and Long-Term Goals

Setting your overall, long-term goal is the first decision you need to make. This would be the equivalent of picking a location for your next vacation. In order to start the planning process, you need to know where you’re going.

Micro, Short-term, and Midterm Goals

Micro goals are about deciding that the next time you go to the fridge you will reach for the mustard instead of the mayonnaise.

Short-term and midterm goals are those that get you to your long-term objective, the ones you meet “along the way.” They should be created to keep you excited, motivated and on-target, and to provide achievable objectives that bring you closer to your long-term goal.

You should start feeling good about your decision to lose weight right from the very beginning. To help you do that, start each week by choosing a micro goal you can meet within the next seven, 10 or 14 days. If you eat out frequently, you might decide that one of the restaurants you eat in next week will feature delicious, low-cal fish dishes. Or your goal might be to not eat out more than twice a week. Or maybe you want to try a new cardio‑sculpt class at the gym.

If you plan to push yourself hard some weeks, be sure to balance your program with other weeks of attainable short-term goals. Keep in mind that your short‑term goals are steppingstones to achieving your long-term goals.

It’s also important to break down your short-term and midterm goals into categories that will help you to track the various aspects of your larger, long-term goal. Weight control involves a variety of issues including food choices, behavioral, and psychological choices and physical activity. Do you need all of these to come together in order to lose weight? Not necessarily, but the more you can control, the better your chances of success. Take a look at each of the categories below, so that you have a starting point for setting your goals.

I. Food Choices

Think about how your present eating habits may be preventing you from losing weight. With this in mind, set one or two food goals that you would like to work on each week.

For example, you might decide:

  • I will not skip meals this week.
  • I will not snack on candy in the afternoon. Instead, I will have fruit or a bowl of low-calorie cereal.
  • I will have wine with dinner only three nights this week, and I will keep it to one glass.

II. Behavioral and Psychological Issues

What is it about your lifestyle — or the way you think about yourself, food or exercise — that is a barrier to weight loss? With this in mind, set one or two behavioral/psychological goals you would like to work on each week.

Some examples of behavioral/psychological goals might be:

  • I will eat only at the dining table when I’m at home. When I am tempted to eat in other areas of my home, I will remind myself of my long-term weight-loss goals and feel better about myself. (Eating in just one or two places helps to narrow the number of spots in your home that you associate with food and eating.)
  • I will not watch TV while eating. (Eating consciously — not doing anything else while you eat — allows you to focus on your food so that you’re aware of how much you’re eating and actually enjoy it more.)

III. Physical Activity

Developing physical-activity goals is imperative for any effective weight-loss or weight-control program. These goals should be very specific in terms of how long, how much and how hard you exert yourself. They need to be realistic, and they should correspond to your overall goal. Remember that to lose a pound you need to cut roughly 3,500 calories from what you normally eat. So if, for example, your objective is to lose 30 pounds in a year, and you’re cutting an average of 200 calories a day from your diet, you might want to make up the difference (about 90 calories) by doing an additional 20 minutes of physical activity each day. Any additional opportunity to move your body can help to make up the caloric deficit that will allow you to reach your goal.

Some examples of activity goals are:

  • I will go walking for 15 minutes during my lunch break at least three times a week.
  • I will walk up the three flights of stairs to my office every morning.
  • I will ride go bike riding with my daughter on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
  • I will institute a “no e-mail to co-workers” policy from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., during which time I will walk to co-workers’ desks to communicate.
  • I will run a 5K race one year from today.

Goal planning involves doing real work, but the good news is that once you do the initial work, maintenance and revisions are not nearly as difficult.

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