In January we usually feel like we’re expected to make some sort of New Year’s resolution to atone for all the sins of December’s holiday season. If every Monday is like hitting the reset button, then January is like switching off the whole breaker panel. The thing is, we’ve likely had this thought 20, 30, or even 40 times before.
You may have tried and failed to set goals so many times before that you’re just not willing to set yourself up again.
Or maybe you’re a bit more optimistic, but just don’t know how to create a plan that you can actually stick to.
Making change through habits Habit-based based coaching focusses on small daily tasks that done consistently move you towards your goal. By doing less you actually achieve more.
Research shows that when people try to change one behaviour at a time the likelihood they retain that habit for over a year is over 80%. When they try to change 2 behaviours at once, it is less than 35%.
Systems vs outcomes When setting goals I focus on creating systems. If the outcome you want is a tidy room and one day you decide to knuckle down and get that room clean you’ve hit your target. But in another few weeks or months that room is going to be just as - or more! - messy than before. If you establish systems - like whenever you bring clean laundry into your room and put it away at once, or every night before bed you hang up all your clothes - you will find that the room will get cleaned up over time and STAY clean. In my goal setting framework, we identify the behaviours that lead to the result we’re looking for which creates long-lasting, impactful change.
Is goal setting even a good thing? Many of us have tried and failed when it comes to setting goals. Even though we commonly say, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger", studies show that failure can actually sabotage future performance.
And when we fail once at a specific goal, we're more likely to fail when we try again. YIKES! Your subconscious likes to stick with what it knows. If you don't understand how you're sabotaging yourself, your brain will continue to repeat the cycle because you've taught it that commitment does NOT equal follow through.
This is kind of like telling your teenager if they’re not in the car by exactly 8:05 they have to find their own way to school. The fact that they are never in the car on time and have also never have to take the bus confirms that what you say can pretty much be ignored. But what if one day you actually did leave them behind? Whoa! Now you did what you said you would. And what if the next time they were late you left them again? All of a sudden you have a track record of meaning what you say.
Well your brain works the same way. You need to re-train it to learn that when you say you’re going to do something you mean it. Because here’s the thing, goal setting is actually important. Goals give you a sense of purpose and direction. Plus, research shows that goal- setting is a sign of confidence, commitment, autonomy, and motivation. I think about setting goals like going on a trip. Most of us don’t decide we want to go on a trip and randomly show up at the airport the next day. We think about where we want to go and why. Do we want to be somewhere warm and relax on a beach? Maybe it’s more of a family vacation. Then we research the best way to get there. Should we go by car or plane? What’s the best route? The process of setting goals is similar in that it helps you choose the direction you’re going. By knowing what you want to achieve, what the desired outcome is, you know where to focus your efforts and can decide what your journey will look like.
My 3 step framework for goal setting: 1. Know your why! 2. Choose behaviour goals 3. Break down goals into actions
1. Know your why On a piece of paper write down some of your health and fitness goals. These can be anything, just keep brainstorming. They may be in the area of nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress. Whatever comes to mind. Out of all these possibilities, which one do you feel ready to tackle first? This will be your goal. But before you start setting out an action plan, you need to be clear on your why. Why does this goal matter to you? Why is it important? Getting to the root is going to help you really understand your motivation.
2. Outcome vs Behaviour goals Now that we are clear on our why, we need to set up our goal mastery framework. When it comes to goals, we usually talk about the results we want to achieve:
• I want to lose 10 pounds • I want to stop binging • I want to run a marathon • I want less stress in my life
But the problem is that we can't control outcomes. Outcomes can be affected by so many things:
• Your job gets crazy busy. • Your kid gets sick. • Your gym closes for renovations. • A family member needs help. • You have a chronic illness. (Or even just a tough bout with the flu.) • You’re stressed. • You’re traveling a lot. • You’re getting older. • You’re having problems sleeping.
You could exercise for an hour a day every day for a month and see no movement on the scale. You could train for an event all year and then break your leg the week before race day. When the sole focus of your hard work is the result, there's a lot of room for frustration and guilt when you fail to achieve your goal.
But what if all the good feelings and rewards were based on your behaviour?
What if you got a gold star every time you showed up for a workout or put your fork down when you felt satisfied? When our goals are based on actions we can control - behaviour goals - we consistently rack up small "wins" to celebrate along the way to our desired outcome.
Have a look back at the goal you’ve chosen and see if it’s a behaviour goal. There may be several behaviour goals that will help you to achieve the outcome you’re looking for. That’s ok. Just choose the one that you feel ready to tackle first. For an example, if my outcome is fat loss, my behaviour goals could be to eat only until I’m satisfied or to exercise 3 times per week.
3. Break down your goal into actions These are the smaller habits you practice to reach your goal. For my goal of exercising 3 days a week, my actions could be: schedule my workouts into my calendar on Sunday, set out all my exercise gear the night before, or make workout “dates” with friends. Actions must be:
Simple - so small and achievable you have at least an 85% success rate
Segmental - chunk into smaller parts. I’m going to commit to 15 minute workouts to start
Sequential - do in correct order. Before I start committing to walking with a friend, I need to make sure I have proper footwear. I need to check my calendar to see if it fits my schedule, etc.
Strategic - focus on the one thing that’s in your way right now. What’s going to have the most bang for your buck
Supported - coaching, mentor, accountability partner These habits form a system that supports the goal and results in the outcome. But your focus is always rewarding the action. Keep a calendar or notebook and mark down every time you follow through on the action you’ve committed to.
Let's get to work! Download my Goal Setting Plan worksheet and start creating the change you want.