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Setting Goals

Helping You on the Road to Fitness

Goal-setting is common in fields like business and sports, but it's a concept that really applies to anything in life. People who set and regularly re-evaluate their goals tend to be more successful.

When you set vague goals for weight loss, it may reflect that you are not that serious about making a change. Setting specific goals – for eating and physical activity – can lead to more success.

It is best to set goals that are challenging but reasonable. If your goals are out of reach you'll likely end up frustrated, angry and filled with self-doubt.

A weight-loss goal of reducing your body weight by 5 percent to 10 percent is sensible if you are overweight. So is losing half a pound to two pounds per week. An exercise goal of walking around the block makes sense, and can always be stepped up. Check with your doctor before you increase your activity level, though.

Making choices, taking action

To achieve your goal, you will need to:

  • Choose a reasonable goal
  • Believe you are capable of achieving the goal
  • Don't let negative beliefs or emotions get in the way

Then, you'll need a plan of action. That plan involves opportunities to make good decisions on small choices. Making conscious decisions will help put you in control. The more aware you are of choices, the more likely you are to make good decisions. Ask yourself:

  • What are the choices?
  • What are the consequences of each choice?
  • How should I manage this choice?

Deadlines are key elements to goal setting, too. Once you create a goal there will be many reasons to put it off. Giving your goal a start date and deadline helps you stick to it.

Getting started

Write down your goals. This will help create strong motivation and prevent you from creating vague goals.

Think of your goals as a contract with yourself:

  • Read it each morning and night to reinforce your commitment.
  • Break it down into smaller goals.
  • Create detailed step-by-step action plans for each small goal.
  • List the benefits of achievement.
    • Example: Walking a mile every morning will help me stay alert today.
  • Make a list of everything that might stand in your way.
    • Decide what to do about each obstacle.
  • Visualize the future and the past:
    • See yourself getting in shape and fitting into your clothes.
    • Look backwards to see how far you've come. If you've worked up to walking two miles, remember when you couldn't. Or, recalling when you were heavier can keep you heading in the right direction.
  • Specify completion dates.
  • Measure and record your progress.
  • Review regularly where you are and decide if you need to update your goals.

Reward yourself when you achieve your goals. Small steps or entire goals deserve to be celebrated. A healthy dinner out with friends or family, a short vacation or anything else that makes you happy can work.


  • By Howard Seidman, Contributing Writer, myOptumHealth
  • The Association for Applied Sport Psychology. Setting goals in sport and life. Accessed: 09/17/2009
  • Weight-control Information Network. Talking with patients about weight loss: tips for primary care professionals. Accessed: 09/17/2009
  • Nothwehr F, Yang J. Goal setting frequency and the use of behavioral strategies related to diet and physical activity. Health Education Research. 2007:22(4):532-538. Accessed: 09/17/2009
  • University of Cincinnati, Learning Assistance Center. Setting goals for yourself, and motivating yourself to succeed. Accessed: 09/17/2009

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