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Finding Out What's Important to You


Updated June 16, 2014

Too often, we set goals based on a body we'd like to have. Thinner thighs, flatter abs, more defined muscles...who wouldn't want that? But the dangers in these types of goals are that:

  1. There are no guarantees you'll reach them. Because your body is in charge of where the fat comes off, you might be disappointed if you don't lose fat from those problem areas as quickly as you'd like. That my lead to frustration and, of course, giving up.
  2. They don't change who you are. Changing how you look can certainly make you feel better about yourself, but you're still the same person no matter what the outside looks like. Too often we think external changes can help us deal with emotional or psychological issues but are disappointed if the same problems still exist, even after we've lost the weight.
  3. They require perfection. Weight loss goals aren't very forgiving. To lose one pound in a week, you have to consistently burn an extra 500 calories every single day. What if you have to miss a workout or eat a little too much at a party? Just one slip can set you back.
  4. They lose importance over time. We may get motivated to lose weight when our clothes feel tight or we feel guilty about overeating but that motivation will usually fade when those feelings of guilt or frustration go away.
  5. They aren't always functional. Looking great in a bathing suit is something we all want, but how often most of us wear bathing suits? Working for something that only happens once or twice a year doesn't always translate to daily life.

If you've found that the goal to lose weight isn't enough to get you moving, it's time to explore some new ideas.

Change Your Life, Change Your Body

The way we often approach weight loss is that we want to change our bodies and realize that, to do that, we have to change our lives. As a result, we take some program or diet that someone else came up with and try to squeeze that into the nooks and crannies of our lives, which often doesn't work.

But what if you started from the other direction, changing your life and letting your body respond? By doing it this way, you're implementing changes that YOU come up with and that actually work with how you live. You're no longer focusing on weight loss (e.g., I'll lose this many pounds) but on the actions you need to take to get there (e.g., I'll exercise this many times this week). This of course requires the ability to focus on what you're doing now rather than the future and the key to doing that is to set new goals for yourself.

Setting New Goals

In previous articles I've talked about the importance of setting goals using the SMART principle - i.e., they should be Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Reasonable and Timely. But there are other important parts of goal-setting that have been left out of the SMART principle and they include: meaningful and functional.

Make your goals meaningful. You may want thinner thighs or flatter abs, but how much does that really mean to you? If you're a model or celebrity, probably a lot. But if you're like me, an average person making a living and taking care of a family, where do flat abs and thin thighs fit in? Do you need them to be a good parent or employee? Probably not. So, in thinking about your life and the things you want to accomplish each day, what other fitness goals would have more meaning for you? If you believed that exercise would help you accomplish more each day, would you be more motivated to do it? What if it could help calm you down and reduce some tension...would you do it then?

Taking your focus off weight loss may help you see all the ways exercise can make your life better. What meaningful goals could you set for yourself if you took weight loss out of the mix? Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Having more energy to accomplish more each day.
  • Getting more and better quality of sleep each night.
  • Being more alert and able to concentrate.
  • Becoming a good role model for your family.
  • Increasing your body awareness and sense of accomplishment.
  • Reducing the tightness, tension and anxiety caused by stress.
  • Keeping your body strong, balanced and fit as you get older.
Make your goal functional. Another way to change the way you look at exercise is to focus on how it improves your life right now. Functional goals, by definition, will usually be very specific and more immediate than weight loss goals. In fact, there are a variety of things you can expect immediately from just one exercise session - no waiting involved:
  • A better mood. One study found that exercisers experience immediate relief from depression.
  • Increased creativity. One study published in the Creativity Research Journal shows that exercise can increase creative potential. As a writer, I find I get some of my best ideas when I'm exercising.
  • More energy. Elizabeth Scott, About's Stress Guide, mentions in her article, Exercise and Create Energy that moving your body is a sure way to boost energy.
  • Relaxation. Some types of exercises, liks yoga and Tai Chi are known for calming the mind and body and helping you relax.
  • Lower blood pressure. Some studies have shown that regular mild exercise improves blood flow which can help lower blood pressure.

Other functional goals may take a little time to manifest, but can be just as meaningful in your life. Think of a typical day for you and how your body feels. Do you have any chronic aches or pains that could be managed with a little more movement? Are there things you wish you could do better? Working towards something tangible can help you stay on track.

Next page: The Power of Meaningful Goals

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