Goals and Accountability

goals

How many others out there have vowed to or set out to accomplish something or make a change and have not been able to stick to it? How many of you have uttered the words “I’ll start tomorrow” or “next week I will really start”? Come on, don’t be embarrassed, I know I’ve done it! In fact, I think I do it on a weekly basis.

As an undergraduate, I wrote my thesis on Goal-Setting Theory. Locke & Latham’s Goal-Setting Theory states that in order for someone to work hard towards achieving a goal it has to be specific and challenging (but not too challenging). People who set a specific and challenging goal are much more likely to achieve it than those who set a “do your best” goal.

I often think of this when I take a hard look at my own goal-setting habits and techniques. When it comes to making healthy lifestyle changes, I don’t think that goals should be all-or-nothing big goals. For example, I often set goals that are maybe a bit too challenging (to me), such as “I’m going to work out every day of the week for the next 6 months,”  “I’m going to run a marathon” or “I’m not going to have any sweets for an entire month”. Furthermore, these goals are seriously lacking in specificity. What constitutes a workout? What counts as a sweet? What steps are involved in running a marathon? When I set out to achieve these things, they are simply too challenging and when I am (inevitably) faced with failure, I often just say “well, I’ll try my best”. This is okay, and trying your best is certainly a step in the right direction. However, I would argue that it makes room for excuses and won’t actually lead to achieving a goal or making a lasting change.

With summer coming up, a lot of friends have been asking me for advice on how to reach a goal (running a certain race, fitting back into an old bikini, etc) and I certainly have some for myself as well. A lot of these friends are frustrated because these goals are something they have tried to reach before and haven’t been able to. If you too are trying to achieve something, here is my advice to you:

  • Make your goal specific. Instead of “I’m going to run a marathon” make it something like “I’m going to run a marathon in October, and to get there I am going to start training at the end of May and dedicate 4 days/week to running”. Instead of “I’m going to workout every day of the week for 6 months” make it something like “I am going to work out 7 times a week, where each workout will last 30 minutes”. Instead of “I’m not going to eat any sweets for a month” change it to “I’m not going to eat any sweets that are made from refined sugars or over 250 calories”.
  • Make your goal challenging, but not too challenging.  For me, this means taking a step back and being honest with myself. What is realistic? What do I already do but can improve upon? For instance, I currently run about 3 days a week. This has become a part of my routine and most weeks it is “easy” enough to fit in but sometimes it can still be a challenge. I realize however that training for a marathon involves a little more. Aiming to run an extra day/week is hard because it is more than I already do. But, it is not overly challenging. Instead of saying “I’m not going to eat any sweets for a month” (too challenging), limiting myself to only eating sweets made without refined ingredients will still be a challenge (I LOVE SWEETS) but is more attainable. I can say no to an indulgent sugary easter chocolate bar knowing that I can still eat one of my homemade nut butter cups, or enjoy a few pieces of high quality dark chocolate.

Thirdly, I am going to add an additional point that I find helps me reach a goal just as much as setting specific challenging goals.

  • Hold yourself accountable. Accountability goes a long way when it comes to reaching a goal. Have a friend join you as you reach for your goal. Having support and encouragement through it all makes it easier and you’ll be less likely to give up if someone is right there with you. If you can’t get a friend on board, join a group of like-minded people working towards similar goals and build a community (running with a club helps me immensely with my running goals). Sign up for a bootcamp, take a healthy cooking class, join an online community, there are a lot of groups out there that can help! Talk about it. People who are running marathons are known for this. It’s not about boasting, it’s about making it known so that it’s easier to stick to. If you talk about it, it becomes a part of your regular thought patterns and conversations, serving as a constant reminder to keep with it. Be that annoying person, tell everyone about your goal. Reward yourself. This can be a small reward for every step, or a big reward once you reach the goal. Try and keep these rewards healthy and not food based, especially if your goal is weight loss. For example, it is no secret that I love workout clothes. In the past I have been successful reaching a healthy lifestyle goal if I allow myself to purchase a new piece of active wear at the end of each successful month.

Don’t give up! Setting a goal can be daunting but it should also excite you. Be realistic with yourself but don’t forget that it should be hard! If it wasn’t, you would have already done it. Hang in there and keep pushing!