Let's talk about setting health and fitness goals. I bet right now, you're thinking of a results-based goal. When I talk about results-based goals, I'm referring to the goals that are based on what you expect to achieve rather than what you are going to be doing.
The most common results-based goal I see is weight loss, for example: "I will lose 30lb by this day next year". We think this is a great goal because it's specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and has a deadline (timed). So, it's a SMART goal, right? Wrong.
Here are three problems with results-based goals and why you need to be setting action-based goals instead.
Problem 1: Result-based goals will not sustain motivation
Once you hit your goal weight, your motivation instantly vanishes. You've achieved what you wanted, so that's it, right? You don't have to try so hard at the gym or worry too much about ordering pizza. You slowly start sliding back to old habits. That's exactly why diets don't work for the long-term. The mindset we have when we start a diet is all wrong: we think we just need to follow the plan long enough to get to the result we want, and then we can sit back and relax once we get there.
Problem 2: Result-based goals set you up for disappointment
Goals based on the results we hope to get from the work we put in are entirely based on our expectations of what will happen. The trouble is, the result is not something we can control. You'll know this if you've ever stuck to a workout and healthy eating plan for the full duration and followed it to the letter, only to feel so disappointed and utterly crushed when you haven't achieved the results you expected (or were promised by dodgy strap lines like "lose 30lbs in 6 weeks").
Our bodies work in unpredictable ways (influenced by hormones, lack of sleep, life stress, illness etc.) which can all skew our results, even if we're doing the right things. So, when we don't meet our goals, despite all the work we may have put in, we just feel disappointed.
And when we feel disappointed that things didn't go our way?
We just get stuck trying to figure it out what went wrong, instead of moving forward.
Problem 3: Result-based goals mean we miss all our other achievements along the way (like NSVs)
Focusing on a result can blindside us. We could be so fixed on losing 30lbs that we miss the non-scale victories (NSVs) along the way. You may not have lost 4lbs in a month since you started a new workout plan, but you may have had a lower resting heart rate, lower blood pressure, more energy, and a new personal best. Maybe your jeans fit a little better.
You're likely to be pleased with these results, but if your goal had been set based on losing weight, you wouldn't have noticed these achievements and instead would have felt disappointed because you didn't hit your weight loss goal. You may then quit your good habits in favour of a crash diet, or give up entirely.
Solution: Set action-based goals instead & have open expectations
Goals based on our actions, rather than our results, can be controlled. By action-goals, I mean setting goals on how many times you'll workout in a week, how many meals you'll cook from scratch in a week, how many weeks you'll try a new workout plan for, how many days of the week you'll stick to a set bedtime (yes, adults need bedtimes too!).
Then once we've set goals based on our actions, we need to be open to the results we'll get from them. As it says in the small print on the back of fitness DVDs: The results may vary.
You could do the same thing each week and get a different result each time, and it may not always be what you wanted, but if you're open to what could happen, you'll be surprised rather than disappointed. If you've been taking consistent action, then something will happen, even if it's not what you would have set as a results-based goal. You just need to look around at all the progress you've already made and will continue to make for as long as you set action-based goals.
Just remember: The key to setting sustainable health and fitness goals is to focus on healthy habits, rather than results.
To help you set action-based goals, I have a free workbook for you. This workbook will also enable you to identify your motive for overhauling your health and fitness, as well as maintain your motivation, and identify any pitfalls in your mindset, including emotional eating or self-sabotage. You can download your workbook from here Ultimate Guide to Getting Back On Track With Your Health & Fitness.
This post originally appeared on Beyond The Bathroom Scale. The author, Karen Oliver is a former social worker with a background in psychology and sociology. She is now a writer, author and the Founding Editor of Beyond The Bathroom Scale. She is also the Founder of The Health Mindset Programme, an online programme for busy women who want improve their relationship with food, exercise and their bodies.