How to Set Goals

Knowing how to set goals is important! Why? Well, we tend to become what we think about most of the time. So they can be helpful aids. Mastering anything, including weight loss, requires focus.

Therefore, if we are to be successful, we need to discipline our thoughts.

The purpose of having aims is not to dream about a brighter future. The purpose is to assist us in focusing well in the present moment to foster effective action.

Without aims, our lives are unfocused, undisciplined, out of control. We become slaves to passing whims.

There's no freedom without discipline. There's no happiness without control. They enable us to liberate ourselves and become happier.

Step 1: taking control

Start taking control.

As Brian Tracy emphasizes in his series "The Psychology of Achievement," goals are critical for living well because they enable us to control the direction of our lives. Whether we like it or not, our lives are in perpetual flux. The critical question is whether we take charge of the flux or the flux takes charge of us.

Knowing how to set goals properly is not always easy.

A balance is necessary for a balanced life. Being out of balance is being unhappy. Balance is required for happiness. Furthermore, our aims must be compatible with each other, and they must be compatible with our values.

Here's the best way to begin to clarify your most important values: ask yourself, if time and money were sufficient, what would I be, do, or have?

In other words, if you didn't have to worry at all about time and money, what would you do with your life? Alternatively, if time and money were no objects and you learned that you would suddenly die in six months, what would you spend those six months doing?

Even though a balance of aims is necessary, they must be prioritized (ranked). Some are more important than others are. What do you really want out of life? Of those aims, which are the most important?

The following is a list of some abstract goods that many people consider to be of intrinsic value (in no particular order and we don't suggest it's a complete list): life, compassion, health, fitness, strength, peace, security, freedom, justice, wisdom, knowledge, truth, honor, harmony, happiness, contentment, friendship, spiritual enlightenment, aesthetic experience, satisfaction, creativity, consciousness, activity, pleasure, virtue, and beauty.

How to set goals properly, including ones for eating well, exercising well, resting well, and for lasting weight loss, involves three steps. First, write down and prioritize them. Second, plan how to make those abstract goods concrete in your life. Third, test and tweak your plan as you work it.

Step 2: objectives

Separate your serious objectives from your mere wishes. After simply listing them in writing, separate them into categories.

To do that, we suggest examining your life from six standpoints: physical, intellectual and artistic, moral, spiritual, financial, and emotional. (These correspond to the six categories on our best self-help books page as well as to the six categories of well being at Dr. Bradford's blog.)

Separate your most important objectives into those categories. Ensure that they can work together.

Prioritize the six categories using 'A' for your most important category, 'B' for your second most important category, and 'C' for your third most important category.

Finally, set a deadline for achieving each objectives, write out the resulting list, and post it somewhere where you'll see it daily (for example, on the refrigerator door).

Begin each goal statement with the word "I" and write the sentence in the present tense. In brackets after the sentence, write the deadline for achieving it.

Suppose, for example, that your B-2 goal is to achieve a body fat percentage of 24 by Christmas. You would write: "I have a body fat percentage of 24% [Christmas]."

Then rank the goals within each category. If you achieved it, which of your objectives would have the greatest positive impact on your life? That is your "A-1" goal, and right now achieving it is your most important purpose in life.

If you could achieve only one other one from category A, which rank those in the other five categories.would it be? That is "A-2." When you finish ranking those in A, rank those in B and in C.

Step 3: mindstorming lists

For each major objective, practice what Earl Nightingale called "mindstorming" to list everything you can imagine doing that might enable you to achieve it.

Find a quiet spot early in the morning when your mind is fresh. Take a blank sheet of paper and write at its top: "What can I do to achieve _________ in the next ________." Fill in the first blank with your A-1 goal and the second with its deadline. Then write down at least twenty answers. Discipline yourself not to get up until you have at least that many.

Do not evaluate, judge, or criticize your answers initially—just write them down. Let yourself go. Be creative. Even consider writing down the opposites of previous answers! If you later think of more answers, add them to the list.

Then organize your possible action steps into a realistic plan of action. Your plan should be based on both priorities and sequence. To set priorities, plan action steps for aims that are more important before planning them for less important aims.

Though it is important to have one major aim at a time, you should do a little bit every day to keep working on a balance of diet and fitness goals.

To have a coherent sequence whenever action step Y is not possible until action step X has been taken, then plan to do X before Y.

Many people find it best to work in 90-day (twelve week) periods. Break down your action plan down from there into weekly and daily activities.

The fact is that we thrive on effective routines, and that is what you are planning. When you have finished, write down the resulting plan of action. Then put it in a prominent place where you can see it each day.

Step 4: take action today

To achieve our aims, we need to discipline our thoughts and focus on what we must do for weight loss. Therefore, take action today!

The work that you have planned is worthless until you begin working the plan. Please do not wait to have everything perfectly in order to begin: just start. Do something. Unless you are ill or injured, at a minimum, do something every day to achieve your A-1 objective.

Do not expect too much of you yourself too much too quickly; it is a form of self-sabotage. It is fine if your initial steps are just baby steps: what is critical is doing something daily that moves you in the right direction.

Review how well you are doing when it comes to eating well, exercising well, and recovering well at the start of every month. As you discover what does and does not work best for you, simply revise your plan accordingly.

The steps are all necessary if you want to make your dreams come true. The critical first step is to uncover what you really value.

Do you assume full responsibility for the quality of your life? Do you have any self-limiting beliefs or incompatible values that are blocking your way? Do you have habits that are not serving you well? Do you have all the habits that you need to get what you want from life?

It is only by working in a disciplined way that you will achieve your dreams. In terms of achieving lasting weight loss, it's important to state your objective in terms of body fat percentage.

Forget about your body weight. If you lost twenty pounds of fat and replaced it with twenty pounds of muscle, your body weight wouldn't change but your body composition would significantly improve. You would look better and feel better. You'd be healthier.

What would be a good target in terms of body fat percentage? There is no universal standard. There are too many variables to take into consideration.

However, if you are overweight or obese, then a good initial weight loss goal might be 25% if you are female and 20% if you are male, but check with your physician.

Eventually, aim for about 10% if you are male and about 15% if you are female.

We suggest aiming for 1 pound of fat loss weekly, which is about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of body weight.

Alternatively, aim for about a 1/2 of 1% loss of body fat percentage weekly. To determine your present percentage of body fat, we suggest plastic calipers by Accu-Measure, which are readily available for under $20. It takes practice to use them well, but soon you'll be able to have a sufficiently accurate weekly measurement of your body fat percentage.

You'll find that measuring is really helpful in achieving and maintaining your desired body fat percentage or body weight.

As difficult as it is to lose body fat, it is more difficult to keep it off. That's why it is important to install good habits so that your behaviors become easier because they are more automatic. The pages of this site can really help you do that if you keep referring to them.

Web pages to help you further

To further your understanding about how to set goals, in the psychology section of our website we have the following pages:

  • 1. Psychology for Weight Loss
  • 2. Emotional Eating: How to Cure It
  • 3. Meditation for Weight Loss and Tranquility
  • 4. Meditation Techniques
  • 5. Releasing a Psychological Trap
  • 6. How to Build Self-Esteem
  • 7. Overcoming Obstacles to Weight Loss
  • 8. Breathing Exercises
  • 9. Visualization for Weight Loss
  • 10. Behavioral Weight Loss
  • 11. Commitment and Weight Loss
  • 12. How to Set Goals for Weight Loss (this page)
  • 13. Learning for Weight Loss
  • 14. Positive Attitude and Achievement
  • 15. Stress Making You Fat

You will find the direct links to those pages on our site map/index.

Meanwhile, here are two of those links to get you started:

Positive Attitude

Commitment Goals

Also see our short video (below) about the psychology of Living Well in the Present Moment:

Our recommended books on how to set goals

An initial reading suggestion that you may find very helpful is:

  • Biehl's Stop Setting Goals If You Would Rather Solve Problems.

If you are now looking for more, you can search our website or the World Wide Web.


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