Forget goals: To get healthy and fit, focus on this instead

focus on the steps that will lead you to the goal, not the goal itselfWe often hear about how important goal setting is when it comes to achieving anything, from becoming more successful at work to improving your overall health and fitness. While setting short- and long-term goals are still important and a part of the process of achieving a more happy and healthy you, sometimes focusing too much on an end goal can be more of a barrier than a motivation factor.

I was listening to an episode of the Lift Like a Girl podcast the other week that touched on exactly this topic. In the episode, fitness coach JC Deen and Nia Shanks were discussing the perils of fat loss (you can listen to the whole episode here) and how where you’re at is a process of your habits. When asked how someone can successfully overcome the perils discussed earlier in the episode, JC read a quote from trainer Amir Siddiqui that I thought was a great analogy for why focusing on the end goal doesn’t always work:

“Get obsessed with consistency and the actions that feed the goal – getting obsessed with the goal won’t work and neither does having moderate goals. It’s like thinking about laying down the perfect foundation of bricks, perfect brick after perfect brick, rather than going nuts over seeing the building emerge.”

JC goes on to explain: “Your goal of seeing the building emerge is your ideal body or place in fitness. You can be so focused and obsessed with that you can forget to actually do what it takes right now to essentially create the process. A lot of times are habits are so low key that we don’t think about it; food, exercise decisions in the morning, etc. … we are a product of our habits. In order to make long-term lasting changes and improve everything, we have to start with building the processes. Either create new habits or change habits. Get obsessed with the habits and the processes, and then one day you’ll wake up and finally notice the change.”

I love this. Instead of focusing on goals, get obsessed with those little habit changes. Get obsessed with consistency and the actions that feed the goal. That doesn’t mean you can’t have an end goal, but by focusing on the processes and habits one day at a time instead of an end-state, we’re much more likely to succeed.

So what are those little habits and actions we should be getting obsessed with in order to reach our goals?

Obviously this is going to vary from person to person based on your past histories and current habits. But here’s my attempt at coming up with a general list of habits to work on changing and how you can start to take the steps to do that, based on some of the barriers I’ve seen with clients and some I’ve encountered myself.

Get obsessed with consistency and the actions that feed the goal

I’ve grouped them into three categories: exercise, nutrition and mental health, or what I like to call the Self-Care Trifecta. Getting a handle on these three things is a lifelong process, and sometimes I find we focus too much on one for too long while ignoring the others. Though balancing all three is a mighty challenge (and one I don’t think we’ll ever be able to do at the same time), having the Trifecta tip in three directions throughout your day, week or month is better than having it just topple over to one side completely.

Since trying to form too many new habits at once is overwhelming and generally doesn’t work, I would pick ONE habit out of all three of the categories to work on for a month. Then for the next month, continue your chosen habit (or take it up a level) and add in another habit from a different category. Here are a few examples of health and fitness habits you could focus on:

Exercise

  • Go for one 15-minute walk per day
  • Do 5 squats in the bathroom just before you step into the shower in the morning, another 5 when you get out, and another 5 before you head out the door in the morning to get to work
  • Do 3 sun salutations when you first get out of bed in the morning or in the kitchen while you’re making breakfast each day
  • Get out for a 10-minute walk on your lunch of coffee break during the work week
  • Lay out your workout clothes/pack your gym bag the night before on days you plan to exercise
  • Go for a 20-minute walk after dinner 3 nights out of the week
  • Go to bed 30 minutes earlier and set your alarm to wake up 30 minutes earlier during the work week (to ease into making time for morning exercise)

Nutrition

  • Buy a large, 24 oz. stainless steel water bottle and make it your goal to have to refill it 3 times a day
  • Drink an 8 oz. glass of water with lemon as soon as you wake up in the morning
  • Set your breakfast-making supplies out the night before 5 days a week
  • Have at least one serving of vegetables with at least 2 meals per day, 5 days a week
  • Pack carrot sticks, snap peas, and celery with a small container of hummus as a snack to have on hand at work at least twice a week
  • Buy a bag of bulk almonds and bring them to work to munch on when you get hungry instead of snacking on candy and other office treats for 4 days of the week
  • Replace your post-lunch calorie-dense sweet treat at work with a piece of fruit (an apple, orange, pear or banana) or fruity chewing gum

Mental Health

  • Set a reminder on your phone to buzz 3 times a day with the words “relax and take a breath”
  • As soon as you open your eyes in the morning, think to yourself, I feel so grateful for another day on this beautiful planet
  • Before you hop out of bed in the morning, take 3 deep, belly breaths
  • Find the best time of day and place to sit in silence and focus on breathing for 5 minutes – maybe first thing in the morning, in your car before you leave for work, or just before bed
  • At the end of each day, write down 3 things you were grateful for that day
  • Go for a 10-minute walk outside 5 days of the week
  • Shut down all electronics at least 30 minutes before bed (and work towards an hour!)

I highly recommend getting a training journal (or any ol’ means of writing stuff down) to track your progress each and every day while you’re focusing on your habit change or adoption. I find a visual reference very helpful, as it helps you identify progress barriers, discover what helps you overcome them, and allows you to see how far you’ve come.

What healthy habit change have you tried? Did it work? Do you have any other small habits to suggest other than what I’ve listed here? What have you found to be your biggest barrier when it comes to trying to change or adopt a new habit?

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Linking up for Fitness Friday with Canadian Girl Runs!

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