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Set up realistic goals

Health Psychology

Written by:
Birgitte Nymann ( www.nymanns.dk )
Author, speaker and educator within Exercise, health, nutrition and motivation. Concept – and seminar developer at Pro Academy, Denmark. Educated and trained in sport from University of Copenhagen.

”I want to bike to work every day, I want to jog every day and play football twice a week. I want to eat healthier and lose weight. I start tomorrow.” It all sounds very good – and would absolutely be good for you to do, but is it realistic? Every day!? If you miss jogging just one single day, you are not keeping the agreement with yourself. If you belong to the all-or-nothing type, you probably give up the second or third time you miss jogging, or accidentally eat a pizza with your friends from work.

As humans, we feel best when we achieve our goals. It is all about setting goals and subsidiary goals that are achievable- and that seem achievable within the nearest future. If you need to lose 20 kilos and want to spend a year reaching that aim, it is a good goal since it would be a realistic time frame and you would still be able to enjoy lots of pleasures in life at the same time. The more far away in future your goals is, the easier it is for you to say: ”I am too tired to exercise today, so I will keep lying here on the couch and eat my dinner. I will pull myself together tomorrow.” If you set a goal to lose 1 kilo a week for the first two weeks and at the same time take a walk for 10 minutes every day after dinner – and make it to the gym twice a week – in the first month. Then you have a subsidiary goal that is realistic to achieve and that is in the foreseeable future.

Your goals must also be realistic in relation to your effort. If you want to lose 20 kilos in one year but do not want to change your dietary habits, and only want to play badminton with your friends every thursday at 9-10 PM, your goal is very unrealistic in relation to your effort.

Your effort does not need to be that great all the time. It is almost too unrealistic to believe that it is possible to be both very motivated all the time and keep the same intensity in your exercise. Sometimes you go on a vacation, the children are ill, work take a lot of your energy etc. Usually you are aware of these factors in advance, and you can plan your goals in relation to the extent of your effort. There is nothing wrong with setting big subsidiary goals in the beginning of your lifestyle change, where you are naturally very motivated and then slightly slacken your subsidiary goals for a coming period of time. However, to forget the goal and the subsidiary goals completely is of course of no good. By promising yourself to set realistic goals, you can always take family birthdays, courses with your job where you cannot choose the food yourself, vacations, stressed periods at work or at home and so on into account. A goal in a busy period can be not to gain weight, all goals do not need to be about weight loss or about intensifying the exercise. To keep a weight loss is a goal in itself.

Use your bad experiences to set up realistic goals. Have you tried to agree with yourself that you must exercise 5 times a week and only eat salad and drink mineral water – and did it not end as you wished for, then use that experience to move on. We have a tendency of repeatedly attempting different methods that we are not able to keep in the battle against the excessive kilos. We want the fast solutions, and these are often the hardest to keep while you are trying to lose weight, but to a great extent also afterwards. When you are aware of the fact that you do not get to exercise 5 times a week, maybe it is better to decide to exercise one time and then take a walk twice a week instead. When this agreement is working perfectly, you take the next step towards your lifelong good health. If you belong to those that have the energy to restructure your entire life from one day to another, then do get started, but only a very small crowd of people belong to this group. Most of us take long time to build up these new habits – especially those that we think are a bit inconvenient to carry out. All habits are inconvenient to carry out when you want to do it consciously. Remembering to take the medication, almost no matter how vital it is, we can forget it, remembering to take the pill every day, remembering to take the toilet seat down or up after being at the bathroom, remembering to put safety belt on etc. But if you want to change your habits, you will succeed. You just need to be patient with yourself – that will make it much easier. You have to remember that it takes time to change your habits, your subsidiary goal for 14 days can be to drink enough water every day. When this goal has been achieved, you can begin with your next subsidiary goal, but remember to keep your final goal in view. You must plan in relation to the final goal.

We attribute ourselves to many groundless habits. Try to clap your hands. Which hand is on top? Why? Imagine that you want to kiss your boyfriend or husband! Which way do you turn your head? Why? When you go to bed, which side of the bed do you sleep in? Why? Try to change one of these habits! It is difficult. It is even harder since there is no god reason to change this habit. It is not the same when it comes to your lifestyle habits. You want to change your habits to obtain a better life. It should be slightly easier than changing the groundless habits. However, habits are difficult to get rid of. But you can do whatever you set your mind to, and if you find an acceptable reason for wishing to lose weight and live healthier, the way is cleared. But you must want to!

Think about:

  1. What is your goal?
  2. Divide the goal in 4 subsidiary goals, so you reach your ”goal” 4 times before you cross the finishing line (eg. In 4 weeks I can run 5 kilometers without taking a break, in 4 weeks I will drink sufficient water etc)
  3. How do you feel when you reach your goal? What does it provide you to achieve your goal?
  4. Why is exactly this goal important to you?
  5. What can you do when you don't follow the plan? (call a friend and talk about it, take time off in your calendar to have more time for exercising, shop etc.).
  6. What is the greatest obstacle for you in order to reach your goal? How can you remove this obstacle?
  7. Have you set realistic goals and subsidiary goals for yourself?

Write down your thoughts and put it on the refrigerator door. It helps reminding you of what you really want to achieve.

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