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  • Aleksandra Modzelewska

Setting health and weight loss goals

How to set health and weight loss goals effectively and actually achieve them


We're two weeks into the new year and many of you have already set some new year's resolutions, goals an intentions for the year ahead whereas others are still thinking about what they would like to achieve. A recent survey has found that in 2024, around 35 million people in the UK will be making New Year’s resolutions with the most common resolution being centred around health, more than a third of people (Source: Finder).


The most popular New Year's resolutions set in the UK for 2023 were: doing more exercise and improving fitness (53%), losing weight and improving diet (43%). Health-based resolutions are most common across all regions of the UK and US for 2024 (Source: Statista and Finder).


Setting goals is one thing, achieving them is a whole new ballgame. Think back to the last time you set health and weight loss goals. Have you achieved them? Did you manage to sustain the habits and lifestyle over a long period of time? Or are you still in the same position you were when you started? If it's the latter, it is most likely because you made the most common mistakes people make when setting goals. Use the steps in this blog post as a guide to set better health and weight loss goals and have the best and healthiest year yet!


Download my Goal Setting Workbook and put what you learn into practice straight away or save it and complete it when you have more time.


A woman completing a goal setting worksheet

Write it down


Before we dive in, I want you to grab a pen and paper. This study shows that by writing down your goals you are 42% more likely to achieve them. That's a huge increase in success rate, don't you think? If you needed an excuse to buy yourself a shiny new notebook, this is it!


Writing down your goals activates a part of the brain called the Reticular Activating System (RAS) which is responsible for filtering urgent and non-urgent messages coming in. Writing things down makes them urgent and therefore they get stored in your conscious part of the brain and anything non-urgent gets filed away in your subconscious part of the brain. The brain then keeps an eye out for anything that can help you achieve your goal. In other words, by writing down your goals you're sending an intention into the Universe. Have you ever set an intention and the right opportunity or the right people came your way at the perfect time? This is called The Law of Attraction. Positive thoughts, actions and energy can bring positive rewards so put that pen to paper and let's begin. Otherwise, you can download and print out my Goal Setting Worksheet and complete it as you read through this blog.


Short, medium and long-term goals


Start by drawing a table and splitting it into 3 categories - short, medium and long-term goals. The goal that you're setting for all 3 should link with one another, like shown in the example below. You might find it helpful to start with the long-term goal (your final destination) and work your way backwards. Knowing where you want to end up can give you a better idea of what progress you need to make in a month, 3 months, or whatever timeframes you give yourself. I advise you to set no more than 3 goals. If you're setting goals for other areas in your life (financial, relationships, career etc.) aim for 1-3 goals for each to avoid overwhelming yourself and ensure that the expectations you have of yourself are realistic and achievable.


I find that creating a behaviour goals rather than weight goals works better for clients. You might have a goal of losing 2 stone but it's the habit and behaviour change that's going to help you achieve it. So think about what you can add or improve in your life, a habit that, when practiced consistently over time can help you get closer to your weight goal. This could be improving your diet - making healthier swaps, adding more fibre and protein to your meals to help you feel fuller for longer, drinking more water. It could also be increasing your step count week by week to improve your fitness and reduce your stress levels.


If you're not sure what your short and medium-term goals should be, that's okay, you can leave those columns blank and come back to it later. This might become more clear once you've completed the rest of the activities in this blog.


Long-term goal:

Complete a 5km race in 6 month's time


Medium-term goal:

Run 2.5km without stopping in 3 month's time


Short-term goal:

Run 1km without stopping by the end of this month


Now that you know your short-term goal, you can break it down even further and start creating a training schedule for the next 4 weeks that will help you achieve it.


5 Whys methodology


If you struggle to achieve your goals and find yourself setting the same goals year after year, completing this exercise can help you. Developed by Sakichi Toyoda in 1930s, the 5 Whys methodology is still used to this day to understand the root cause of a problem and to find solutions. In addition, you can use this tool to identify the true motivation behind the goal which can determine what actions you need to take.


Here's an example of using the 5 Whys methodology to get to the root cause of a problem in order to find the right solution:


Example: Your goal is to get fit this year


Ask yourself: Why do you want to get fit?

Your answer could be: Because currently I can’t play with my children.


Ask yourself: Why can’t you play with your children?

Your answer could be: Because I don’t ever exercise so I can’t keep up with them.


Ask yourself: Why don’t you exercise? 

Your answer could be: Because I find it hard to find time.


Ask yourself: Why do you find it hard to find time?

Your answer could be: Because I work extra hours almost everyday.


Ask yourself: Why do you work extra hours everyday?

Your answer could be: Because one of my colleagues left and as a result I have more work and I struggle to complete it all in my work hours.   


Right here is the main reason behind your lack of fitness. Unless you sort out the workload situation you will never be able to achieve your goal. Based on this, your goals might be to ask your boss for help so you can finish work on time and join an exercise class.


Try this exercise and see what comes up for you. Once you get to the bottom of this, you'll be able to set better, more meaningful goals and know what you need to do to achieve them.


Make your goals SMARTER


"I want to lose weight" is too vague of a goal. Making your goals SMARTER helps you create specific goals with well-defined criteria for success. You might have heard and used the SMART goal setting tool in the past and know that this acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timed. I like to add the extra two letters at the end to make the goals Exciting and Recordable. If you're not excited about what you want to achieve you may not put much effort in trying to achieve it. Additionally, if you don't write it down then your brain might not see it as important enough to store in your conscious part of the brain, as explained above. With time you might lose focus and eventually forget about it.


An example of a SMART goal is: "I will go out for a 30 minute walk 5 days a week for the next 4 weeks". This goal ticks all the SMART boxes, however I'd argue that we can make it even better to increase your chances of success by adding the place and exact time of the set activity: "I will go out for a 30 minute walk around my local park before work at 7am 5 days a week for the next 4 weeks." With more detail you now have clarity and a plan, you removed the obstacle of indecision and made it easier for yourself to achieve it.


Go back to the goals you previously wrote down and see if they need amending to make them SMARTER.


Create an action plan


Having clear and specific goals is important but creating an action plan is crucial. Action planning will help you put those goals into actions. This is where most people go wrong and this is what can lead to failure in achieving your objectives.


"A goal without a plan is just a wish"

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry



A dandelion's seeds flying away after making a wish and blowing it

To change behaviour and achieve your health objectives, you must act on your intentions. This is what creating an action plan will help you with. The best comparison I can think of is planning a holiday. Simply knowing where you want to go isn't enough to get there. You need to plan the journey. How are you going to get there? By plane, train, car? Where are you going to stay? What do you need take with you? What are you planning on seeing when you get there and how can you fit it all in? Having a clear strategy helps you feel more in control and limits the amount of decisions you have to make along the way, you just need to focus on executing the plan.


Use my Goal Setting Worksheet for your weekly and monthly goals and ensure that you schedule time in your calendar to review your progress regularly.


Research indicates that you have a better chance of reaching your goals if you make efforts to monitor your progress towards them. This involves periodically taking note of what you are doing (action), the resulting changes (outcome), and how those changes compare to what you are aiming for (target).


Make sure that you consider a plan B for when an obstacle comes your way and plan A is hard to execute. For example, if you said that you were going to go for a 30 minute walk every morning but it hasn't stopped raining and you simply do not want to get soaking wet today, have a back up plan. You could save a 30 minute home workout on YouTube that you can do instead. That way you're still being active whilst staying dry. Life will happen and you're going to face challenges so try to be as prepared as you can be, to still make progress towards your goals.


Believe that you can


This is a biggie. Looking at the goals that you set for yourself, be honest when answering this question - do you truly believe that you can achieve them?


If you set same goals in the past and failed to achieve them time and time again most likely your confidence and self-belief in your abilities might have suffered with it. This is completely normal but in order to achieve the new goals we need to make you feel empowered and able again, otherwise your chances are low.


One way to increase your self-efficiency and confidence is to write a list of all your previous achievements in all other areas of your life. Any previous goals that you achieved, promises that you kept, hard work that you put into something that paid off. Make a list, big or small, it all counts. It's easy to forget our wins and focus on what we haven't managed to achieve yet but I'm sure that you can fill in a page with achievements and progress you made to this date.


Other way to help you with increasing your self-belief is making sure that your goals are challenging enough but not unrealistic. Setting and achieving challenging goals can enhance self-efficacy, but repeated failure to achieve a goal can result in diminished self-efficacy, decreased satisfaction, and impaired future performance. (Ref. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6796229/). Review your goals again to see if you're happy with the challenge you set for yourself.


Align your goals and values


You are more likely to achieve a goal that is aligned directly with your values. If your goal doesn't link with anything that feels important and meaningful to you, your chances of achieving it are low as it doesn't promote committed and valued action.


Think of values as a compass that shows you the way when you're feeling a little lost (when motivation is low or when you experience a setback).


If you've never done this exercise and are unsure what your core values are, then take your time to look through the Core Values List that I put together and included in the Goal Setting Workbook. You can start by circling the things that truly matter to you but at the end of the exercise you shouldn't have any more than 3-5 core values. As James Clear says: "if everything is a core value, then nothing is really a priority."


Once you've selected your top core values, go back to the goals that you set for yourself and consider whether they support those values that most resonate with you.


What can sometimes happen is having to opposing values. Both might be important to you but if they don't work well together, it might be difficult for you to live your life in line with both or you might jump from one to another, depending on circumstances. For example, if one of your values is health and the second one is friendship but the way you spend time with your friends is going out drinking or eating highly processed and calorific food then you might find it extremely hard to achieve your health and weight loss goals. Have a think about your values and your goals and see if they contradict each other. If so, think how you can change your behaviour to have a better balance between your values.


Identity


The person you identify yourself as and the beliefs you have can have huge implications to your weight loss progress. If you are trying to lose weight but still identify yourself as a "fat person" or "unfit person", or "lazy" than your behaviours and actions will match that identity and you will find that there is resistance when you trying to do something that doesn't match that identity. However, when you change the narrative and start thinking of yourself as someone who adds vegetables to every meal or someone who takes care of their body by regularly exercising, you start making different choices.


I go into a lot more detail about this topic in my blog "Identity and Weight Loss" so do go and read it. There are some helpful activities that you can do that will help you move closer to the person that you want to be.



A piece of paper with a quote about the power of visualisation for weight loss

The power of visualisation


I know that this can sound a little woo woo but trust me, you do not want to skip this part. I didn't quite believe the power of visualisation until I tried it. I used it when I was preparing to deliver my first workshop to a group of people (I used to have a fear of public speaking) and before my first marathon. I was very nervous about these two events so I practiced visualisation to calm my nerves before and during these. The results were incredible. When I eventually stood in front of the group of people and at the start of the run, I felt calmer, the surroundings felt familiar and, because I visualised myself enjoying these and completing them with a smile on my face, I kind of knew what to expect and how these were going to go. It felt like I've been there before and it was great.


A study done in 2018 suggested that simply visualizing your goal weight could help to boost weight loss by as much as five times. "The study showed how after six months people who used the FIT (Functional Imagery Training) intervention lost an average of 4.11kg, compared with an average of 0.74kg among the MI (Motivational Interviewing) group. After 12 months – six months after the intervention had finished – the FIT group continued to lose weight, with an average of 6.44kg lost compared with 0.67kg in the MI group." (Source: University of Plymouth)


"Experts believe that by getting people to imagine everything about their improved experiences following weight loss — including how things might look, feel, taste, smell, they’re better able to make it a reality." (Source: Fox News).


Go back to your goals and try this for yourself - imagine yourself achieving your health and weight loss goals and what it would allow you to do that you cannot do right now. Use your senses - what would you be able to taste, smell, see? Do this exercise regularly to start seeing results and increasing your motivation for change.


If you are feeling creative and would like to make it more visual, I have created a little template that you can save and add your own goals to. You can find the mood board HERE.


Support and accountability


How many times you started strong with your weight loss goals, had your diet and exercise plan figured out, started developing some healthy habits but at some point, not even knowing why, found yourself right back where you started. Sometimes, even if we have some well designed goals and a plan in place, it might not be enough. I always say, weight loss isn't easy, it's is actually very complex and a lot of factors can either make or break you.


Studies show that the key to success is to not do it alone. It is important to have supportive friends and family, attending group classes or programs, all of those can increase your chances of accomplishing your goals. This particular study proved that those who share their progress and their data with a trainer, coach, or anyone who encourages them lose more weight and retain it over time. The key is accountability. Prior studies have found that accountability is beneficial, this one however confirms that, what's even more important, is to actually share data such as food and activity diary, calories eaten, and inches and pounds lost. According to this research, coaches who received and reviewed this kind of information on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis were better able to help clients stay on track.


If you have a friend who has a similar goals, suggest to share your goals and track progress by reviewing each others data. When you share, they are able to challenge you (and vice versa) by asking you what happened that you weren't able to achieve what you set for yourself this week and can offer advice on what works for them.


If you don't have such support or don't know someone you can trust or count on, see if you can find a weight loss coach who can offer the accountability and expertise that you need, together with a compassionate and non-judgemental approach. I welcome new online clients at the moment, you can find out more HERE.



As you can see, setting up health and weight loss goals is more complex than just sending a wish to the stars and waiting for the results. It does require some reflection, a mindset shift and planning. If you are tired of setting the same goals year after year and getting nowhere, perhaps you can try a different approach. Yes, it might take time to do the writing and reflecting but think of it as an investment in yourself. If you do what you always did, you will get the results you always got. If you really want to achieve what you set for yourself than you do need to put some work in. However, once you lay the foundations, you can start building the life that you want, brick by brick. Make sure you review the process, check the structure, and make changes if something doesn't quite work. And if you want some help with it, then I'm always happy to help, so do message me and please share this blog post on social media to help others with their goals.




Acknowledgements:

Bailey RR. Goal Setting and Action Planning for Health Behavior Change. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2017 Sep 13;13(6):615-618. doi: 10.1177/1559827617729634. PMID: 31662729; PMCID: PMC6796229




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