How to Make Goals that Will Stick

This guide will give you examples of unattainable versus attainable goals. It will guide you to make goals that you will stick to and achieve. The key is to make the goals achievable so that you maintain motivation.

The first month of every year is commonly used to set some New Years’ Resolutions. We start the new year afresh with lofty plans to lose weight, get fit and give up smoking or other vices. But often these plans go out the window by the end of January, leaving us feeling defeated and a failure. This sets us up for failure and we often lack motivation to start a new goal for the rest of the year. How do we avoid this?

Set Goals that are Attainable

Many goals and resolutions fail because they are unrealistic, too broad, and unattainable. Let’s look at the goal “to lose weight” for example. Lose how much weight? By when – next week, next month, next year? How will you achieve it? None of those questions are answered in the broad statement “I will lose weight”. You need a plan, and to set a goal that is realistic.

An unrealistic goal would be to lose 20kg by March. You would be likely to start with enthusiasm, go on a fad diet and starve yourself. It will fail because diet regimes that lose weight quickly are too restrictive, cutting out important nutrients and are unable to be sustained long term. You’ll feel deprived, have cravings, and will want to “cheat” on your diet. As soon as you stop dieting, the weight will pile back on because your body has slowed its metabolism down to cope with the reduced number of calories. As soon as you plateau or fail to lose weight you’ll give up because it’s setting you up for failure by being too hard to stick to. This can be avoided if you set realistic goals.

Unattainable vs. Attainable

Unattainable goalAttainable goalHow I will achieve it
lose 20 kg by Marchlose 3kg by March then reassess goalUse a smaller plate, cut out sugar in drinks, eat fruit instead of a muffin at morning tea
Get fit by walking 5km every dayStart by walking 2km daily and build it up to 5km by MarchWalk on my lunch break, park my car further away
Lose 20cm off my waistLose 3cm off my waist by Easter then reassess goalEat a salad at lunch instead of pasta, use the stairs at work instead of the lift
Join a gymSign up for a trial at a gym with no ongoing commitmentGo to a gym at least 3 times to see if it’s the right one for me before committing to it
Give up smokingCut down over 2 weeks then give up smokingUse nicotine replacement therapy, sign up to a Quit support service
Unattainable Goals vs Attainable Goals

The difference between unattainable goals and attainable goals is that you are cutting the goals down to achievable amounts, setting time frames, and planning out exactly how you will achieve them. You are setting yourself up to succeed by not biting off more than you can chew.

Achieving my Goal of Losing Weight

When I first started on the Get Healthy Program the amount of weight I needed to lose seemed like an unachievable goal. I was doubtful of being able to not only lose 10 or more kilograms, but also lose 10cm or more off my waist. My confidence was low, and I was skeptical of the program because I hadn’t succeeded on any program in the past. I could usually lose the weight easily but I always felt restricted on a diet and as soon as I went off it I packed the weight back on. My coach helped me to set small, realistic goals to achieve and as I reached each milestone, my confidence grew. I kept moving the goal posts and slowly I lost 5kg, 10kg, 15kg … eventually 17kg and it’s stayed off for over 6 months now.

More important to me was the goal of losing centimeters off my waist. My waist circumference was 105cm when I started which would predispose me to diabetes, heart disease and cancer. This concerned me more than anything. My goal was to get down to 88cm which would put me in a much healthier range but I was eventually to lose 20cm! By changing my diet to include more vegetables and less red meat and sugary food, I was able to achieve my goal.

Break Large Goals into Smaller Components

Realistic goals are ones you break down into smaller components. Start with small goals and as you reach them, set bigger goals. Your confidence will grow with each milestone, setting you up for success. Because you’re starting with small changes to your habits, you’re likely to incorporate them into your daily lifestyle. For example, parking further away and taking the stairs are easy ways to increase your step count whereas running 5km per day or joining a gym would be harder to incorporate into your life and your enthusiasm may soon die out with the sudden burst of energy when they cause muscle aches and pains.

Define Your Success

Define your success. What is the end goal and how will you know when you are there? My success was getting down to the weight that I am, and maintaining that weight-loss for 6 months or more. I will stay within 3 kg of this weight and not go up in size in my clothes.

What is your definition of success and how will you achieve it in 2020? It’s a new decade and a great starting point to setting some goals for yourself that are achievable.

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Just Change One Habit at a Time

Many people feel daunted by the prospect of getting healthier because the goal seems so hard to achieve. For me, I wanted to lose 10kg. I thought that goal was going to be impossible to achieve. It came down to breaking a bad habit. Just change one habit at a time as this will lead to more success. Small changes in your habits can lead to big outcomes.

I had noticed that the common thing for the slimmest people I knew, was that they ate salad for lunch. One of my colleagues brought a massive salad to work – the size was like a family sized amount to me – and she was really slim. My lunch consisted of sandwiches, a large muffin, a full sized yoghurt and some fruit! So I started by eating a large salad at lunchtime instead. That one habit change meant I swapped a meal consisting of high calories, with one that had healthy vegetables and was only around 150 Calories.

Swap an Unhealthy Habit with a Healthy One

Changing any unhealthy habits, including weight loss, stopping smoking, or reducing alcohol intake, begins with one habit. My one habit was swapping out my lunch with a healthier option. One of my relatives changed drinking beer with a vodka and soda and started losing weight. To stop smoking, many people stop the habit that they do along with the smoking. For example, if they normally drink coffee and have a smoke, they stop drinking coffee and that can help them stop smoking because there isn’t that trigger anymore.

My healthier lunch - a salad and Kombucha.  Swapping my lunch to this one helped me lose a lot of weight.
My lunch nearly every day

New habits can be gained as well. I started walking up the 4 or 5 flights of stairs at work. At the beginning I could barely breathe at the end of it and my heart was racing for the next 15 minutes. Over time I have improved my stamina, to the point that my husband and I could walk up to 19000 steps a day on our recent holiday to Japan, and climb Mt. Mison while we were there.

So if it seems too hard at the beginning, start by just changing one habit. Start a new healthy habit by swapping one thing with another. It can lead to other changes and the end goal will become that much easier to achieve.

Small Changes You Can Make Today

Some examples of small changes that you can make today, that will lead to a healthier lifestyle:

  • Take a salad for lunch instead of getting take away food,
  • Walk the stairs at work instead of taking the lift,
  • Have fruit instead of a muffin or cake for morning tea,
  • Eat breakfast instead of waiting to eat until mid morning,
  • Don’t eat after dinner,
  • Eat a snack sized chocolate instead of a full sized bar,
  • Don’t drink soft drinks. Drink water instead.
Just change one thing.  How small changes can lead to a healthier lifestyle.  Motivation to change one habit at a time and achieve long lasting success.  Image shows a man looking over a lake in the mountains.
Just change one thing. How small changes can lead to a healthier lifestyle.
Motivation to change one habit at a time and achieve long lasting success.

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Updated 26 September 2020

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