I have spent a good part of my adult life studying goals and goal achievement; both personally and professionally. One thing that is almost always true is that anyone can achieve a goal, but maintaining that goal is a whole different story. We see it in weight loss, weight gain, saving money…just about any behavioral change is at risk of relapse once a goal is hit. Why is this? Partly it is because we fail to put a goal maintenance plan in place. We just assume that once we’ve hit a goal we’re ‘there’ and the work is done. We don’t prepare ourselves for ongoing behavioral change and prolonged delayed gratification. With weight loss, we are almost always fixating on a certain goal (to lose x pounds, or to weigh X). Unfortunately, we hardly ever have goals related to what happens when we hit that goal! I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in feeling a weird combination of elation and flatness as the scale finally hits the magic number. Now what? It’s not like we’re going to lose weight forever, and just because we hit that number, nothing else in life has necessarily caught up…in other words, what else has changed? Believing that life will be different when you hit a certain weight and then hitting that weight can create enough cognitive dissonance as to tip you back into ‘almost there mode’. So what can you do?
First, and foremost, never have only one goal. In fitness, there are probably 3 or 4 goals you should be looking at. Weight may be one, but body fat% should be another, as should your inches and most importantly your performance. You should always have a goal for each of these factors. If you are going to break this rule, your one goal should be performance, not any of the other three.
Second, think about your ‘why’. This is crucial to after-goal maintenance. You are not setting a goal in a vacuum. If your goal is to lose weight, why is that? To look more attractive? To be healthier? Think about the why’s, and built those into some longer term goals.
Third, build maintenance into your goal right from the start. It’s pretty much accepted practice to set small, achievable goals, but actually, research suggests that the people who set big audacious goals are actually more successful in the long run. I find it helpful to always have my big goal in mind, and to put action items in place for achieving smaller goals. For example, if I want to lose twenty-five pounds, my goal would be to keep twenty-five pounds off for one year (to be re-calibrated two months shy of a year of course). Getting there may require smaller, five pound targets, but I will constantly keep the end goal in mind, which is long term maintenance. Of course, this would never be the only goal. As stated above, this would be accompanied by performance goals such as increasing my running speed, jumping higher and other general performance outcomes that can be measured.
In my opinion, goals are a critical component to success, and there’s enough research out there that you can take advantage of to maximize your efforts. Good luck!