Goal Setting: Smaller is Better!

At most any time in my life when I was on board to “lose weight,” I only ever operated with my goal weight in mind.  There was no learning process attached.  There was no idea of how to improve myself…other than get smaller and not be fat anymore.  And, the quicker that could happen the better.  Hell, I could buckle down for a few months to lose 20-30 pounds…beer, fried food, ice cream, cheese…NBD, I can say no for a few months!  Then I can go back to normal…eat whatever I want again.smallgoals

Well, this approach never actually worked, but there came a time when I was so overweight my broken approach couldn’t even be started.  When you’ve got 70 pounds to get off your frame, there is no buckling down for just 2-3 months that will get all that weight off!  (I’m not talking about the craziness of The Biggest Loser where you interrupt your real life to focus solely on rapid weight loss.)


When I began my journey in earnest in 2010 I was in a whole other mental space…I had to be!

Simply put:  I had to take the long course.  I KNEW deep down I could not simply cut out all “bad” food for the time it would take me to lose that much weight, and I had reached a point where I didn’t want to.

Simply put:  I had to look at my ultimate goal in smaller chunks or I was so overwhelmed I couldn’t think.

That 70 pounds to lose was a blessing and a curse.  It certainly wasn’t good that I was so overweight, but had I hovered around the 20-30 pounds to lose mark I’m certain I would have fallen prey to the typical programs out there that want you to drop weight fast.  They’re sooooo very enticing!  Man!….lose HALF the weight I need to lose in a matter of weeks and be left with only 15 to go.  Shoot, I’ll just do the program again and then be DONE with this weight loss stuff in just a few months.  I KNOW I would have stayed in that mindset if my pounds to lose had only been 30 or less.  So, crazily enough I think being 70 pounds overweight actually was the impetus to changing my approach…and ultimately leading me to figure shit out for myself and begin the rewiring of my whole mindset.


I’ve told the story before of how I had a 20 year class reunion coming up.  I wanted to lose 70 pounds in a year…about 1 1/2 pounds per week I figured.  This seemed like a reasonable weight loss weekly…and one year didn’t feel like an awful amount of time.  Still, though, I only focused on 5 pounds at a time.

When I say I was focused on 5 pounds at a time, I wouldn’t say that was my only end goal.  I was weighing weekly and I was doing body circumference measurements every 6 weeks, but I didn’t necessarily have a goal that was centered on those numbers.  My goal wasn’t to weigh 187 (when I was currently 192).  My goal wasn’t to shrink at least 1/2″ in all measurements each six weeks.  Rather, I was working at the food habits bit by bit and the numbers changing became a byproduct and motivator to keep going.


I totally understand that your vision may be to lose 50 or more pounds.  Don’t change that!  Having a place in the future we want to get to is a very good thing.  However, what I discovered was that using that future place as a daily motivator didn’t work so well.  I needed smaller, more readily achievable targets, so I could see the fruits of my labor…so I could get the win!  The only way to do that…to get the win…is to start smaller.  If you only considered your full 50 pound weight loss as the win, you’d not be looking at your achievements along the way and getting small successes rewarded.  That is a recipe for waning motivation and throwing in the towel.

Think of your small goal setting in terms of a long road trip.  You have a final destination in mind (your 50 pound weight loss), but you plan your trip in terms of rest stops and gas station fill ups (your habit goals one by one, 5 pounds at a time, from no exercise to 2x weekly to 3x weekly).

With that analogy in mind, here are my tips for keeping it small, achievable, and manageable:

1. Make your goal something habit or behavior based versus body shrinkage measures (pounds, sizes, circumference measurements).   I think it’s a pretty safe bet that if you are building a habit to bring your lunch to work 4 days per week OR move for 30 minutes, 5 days a week OR eat only when hungry OR eliminate evening mindless eating you WILL, in fact, lose weight.  If you feel the need to keep weighing yourself or measure your body, just be aware of how the numbers contribute to your mindset.  If you find yourself extremely unmotivated and unhappy after the scale reports your number that day or the tape measure doesn’t reveal you shrunk, then it’s best to steer away from them!

2.Once you have determined your habit based goal, break that down into the smallest achievable chunk.  So if you currently eat out for lunch every day of the week and decide you want to bring your lunch to work 4 out of 5 days, determine a realistic and achievable place to begin.  Ask yourself if bringing lunch 4 days this week is achievable given your life?  What is your knee-jerk reaction?  Does that feel like too much?  Repeat those three questions but instead bringing lunch for 3 days.  Continue asking and gauging your responses (decreasing the days by one) until your knee-jerk response is something like “Pffffff…that’s easy…anyone can do that!”  <—  This is where you start!  Start at the point the “win” is so easy and so obvious you KNOW you can do it.

3.After you know the task you will focus on, figure out the day or time of day that makes the task feel easier yet.  Sticking with the example of bringing lunch…  In step 2 you decided one day a week to bring lunch was NBD, totally achievable.  Now, you need to determine WHAT day you will do that.  Think of your days at work and what you have scheduled or who is going to be in the office.  Think of your home life and what you are juggling there for commitments.  Is there a day that allows you certain prep time at home to get that lunch made (e.g. you get home from work early on Monday so you have extra time to prep a lunch for Tuesday)?  Is there a day at work where certain colleagues, who pressure you to eat out, are gone or in meetings (e.g. you are more likely to follow through on eating Small goal settingyour lunch when you aren’t pressured)?

4.Focus on the next 1-3 months, evaluating your progress after 3-4 weeks.  Continue with your small goal until it is simply something you do…you don’t even think about it.  This may take a month…it may take a couple.  Simply check in with yourself and see how you feel.  When you reach that point of comfort (of habit!), then add onto it.  Back with the lunch example:  After about 5 weeks, you have consistently eaten your packed lunch on Monday and feel ready to add another day into the mix.  Go back to step 3 and determine the best day of the week to add another packed lunch to your schedule.  Work at it for a number of weeks until it is your new habit.  Repeat, repeat, repeat until you’ve created a habit of packing lunch four days per week.

5.Own the win!  Journal it or acknowledge it in some way.  Stop downplaying the small wins you make for yourself!  A win is a win and it’s the first step to adding on and getting to the bigger thing you want.  We, for some reason, aren’t good at owning what we have achieved.  When you are learning new skills and habits, you MUST pat yourself on the back.  Changing habits is stuff that requires diligence and mental energy…even the small one day a week stuff.  Own it and praise yourself and remind yourself how far you’ve come!


Have you used habit based goals before?  Do you have another”start smaller” approach?  Have you had success focusing smaller?  Share some of your experiences with me by either commenting below or heading on over to my FB page and commenting on the related link.  I’m looking forward to hearing from you!


(Side note:  What I did during my weight loss was focus on the scale and body circumference measurements.  I didn’t know different when I was in the midst of my own transformation…weighing yourself and measuring your body was simply all I knew.  Through reflection and retrospect I’ve realized that those things did help me, but they weren’t my sole focus and I was reprogramming my mind all the while.  If I had to redo the steps again, I’d probably do them different because I’m a different person now.  Don’t necessarily assume I’m advocating for you weighing daily and measuring yourself.  These tools can be helpers, but they can also be deterrents.  My point, however, is to illustrate SMALLER GOALS versus one huge nebulous endpoint so far in the future it doesn’t help keep you focused on TODAY.)


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