How to create health and exercise goals you'll actually stick to

Keep reading only if you’re ready to TAKE ACTION

I understand if you’re intimidated by the challenge that lies ahead of you, but know this: there’s never a perfect time to take action, so you have to start somewhere, and you have to work with what you’ve got.

Maybe you want to start exercising because you’d like to lose some weight so you can move around easier. Maybe a recent physical showed that you’re prediabetic. Maybe you’ll lose your CDL is a chronic health condition gets worse. Maybe you want more energy, and less pain.

Whatever your reason is, I repeat, only keep reading if you’re ready to break out the pen and paper, and start writing out your goals, even if right now they seem out of reach.

The B.S. from the fitness industry stops here

There’s no magic pill, no foolproof diet, and no one-size-fits-all infomercial-promoted exercise DVD.

It all comes down to one word: Consistency

That’s right, the number one predictor of a successful diet and exercise program is consistency.

Admittedly, it’s not a very sexy word, not like “7 minute abs”. Consistency means incorporating healthy behaviors into your life, for the long-term. It also implies continuous effort. It’s not a quick-fix solution, which, these days, is a turn-off for most people.

“Alright man, I’ve read this far, get to the point”

The point is there are three aspects to success in any exercise or diet goal.

You have to have a purpose, you have to have a plan, and you have to put that plan into action.

A purpose has two parts: The why and the what.

Why do you want to start exercising (or why should you continue?)

This is by far the most important aspect of your purpose so write down all the reasons for why you have decided to start exercising. You will have to dig deep to find the REAL reasons. Go beneath the surface. Here’s an example:

  • -          Surface reason: so that I have more energy
  • -          REAL reason: so that I can play with my kids without running out of breath and so I can be there to see them grow up and graduate college.

Whenever possible, tie your reason to a positive emotion or feeling like love, confidence, pride, happiness, feeling energetic and strong, having peace of mind, etc.

The deeper the reasons, the easier it will be to maintain and regain motivation after setbacks and obstacles (and yes, there will be setbacks). Take your time with writing out your reasons, because you’ll be referring back to them continuously. And it’s not enough to just think of a few reasons and move to the next step. Write them down. There’s a lot of psychology behind writing down your goals, but basically, it makes them real the second you write them down.

At this point you should be PUMPED to create that goal

First, a note about human nature and goal creation: Having an ambiguous goal like “I want to lose some weight” will only get you half-assed results, if that. But we create goals like those because we are afraid of failure. Actually, I wouldn’t even call anything that starts with the words “I want…”, a goal.

Your goal is going to start with the words “I intend”, because it’s a promise to yourself that signifies personal initiative and determination. The rest of your goal statement that follows will have to be specific (meaning clear and unambiguous) and to create a specific goal it has to be:

Measurable

  • How will you know you have achieved your goal?
  • How will you measure progress?
  • Examples: “I intend to drop X pounds…”, “I intend to decrease my LDL cholesterol to…”, “I intend to bring my blood pressure down to…”

Achievable

  • Is this goal realistic? What are you basing it on?
  • It better not be some guy on TV who lost 30 pounds in 30 days
  • People who successfully lose weight AND KEEP IT OFF, generally shoot for 1-2 pounds a week
  • A goal should be big enough to motivate you but not so large that it overwhelms you
  • I would suggest shooting for 1-1.5 pounds per week.

Time-bound

  • By when do you intend to achieve this goal?
  • This creates urgency
  • This sets up a real PASS or FAIL criteria

Here’s an example of a clear and unambiguous goal:

“I intend to drop 20 pounds, down to a weight of 215 pounds, by October 31st (90 days from now)”

It’s measurable: you will be able to measure your progress towards the goal each week and you will know when you have achieved it (the scale will show 215 pounds). It’s achievable in a healthy way: To achieve it you will have to lose just over one and a half pounds each week. It’s time-bound: You have 90 days, and ONLY 90 days, so better start taking action ASAP.

Now it’s your turn: take the time to write out your goal before you move on to the next step. I cannot stress this enough. Actually get a pen and write it down. You will be referring to this goal daily.

Note: Don’t forget to set up a baseline. So if you want to lose weight, weigh yourself. If you want to decrease your cholesterol or blood pressure, go get those levels checked by a doctor.

You’ve got a goal, now comes the plan

Your purpose is the what and the why. Your plan is the how.

Here I’m going to introduce you to a tool called the Body Weight Planner (for weight loss goals), created by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. This tool allows you to enter your goal, and the time period in which you intend to achieve it, along with the physical activity you plan to implement, and it will tell you how many calories you should be consuming daily to get to your goal weight, as well as to maintain your goal weight once you have achieved it.

The above paragraph might be a little overwhelming, so I’ll show you an example of how the tool works.

Step 1: Go to the Body Weight Planner link and click “Launch Body Weight Planner”. Type in your information and next to “Physical Activity Level” click “Estimate Your Level”. A pop-up box will open up and you will be able to pick your physical activity level at work as well as your physical activity level during your free time. If you are an OTR driver, I would choose “Light” for physical activity level at work. I use the example of a 50 year old, 235 pound, 5’ 10” man who drives a truck and goes biking once a week with his kids. I’ll name him Bill.

Step 2: Type in your goal weight, and how many days you’re giving yourself to reach the goal: The example below is the same 235-pound man (Bill) who intends to drop 20 pounds by October 31st (90 days from now), to get to his goal weight of 215 pounds.

Step 3: In this step you get to decide by how much you intend to change your physical activity. Click the blue “Calculate” button and add an activity you intend to partake in. Admittedly, you’re limited to a few physical activities in this calculator, but remember that it’s small, consistent changes that lead to sustained weight loss and subsequent weight maintenance. So in the example below, Bill decides that he will add walking at a medium pace for 15 minutes a day, which represents a 10% change in his activity level.

Step 4: The tool will output how many calories you can consume to maintain your current weight, achieve your goal weight, and maintain your goal weight once you have achieved it. Keep in mind that most people underestimate how many calories they consume daily. For Bill to drop 20 pounds in 90 days, he has to decrease his calorie consumption to 2210 calories per day, while adding 15 minutes of moderate walking.

So now you have the large picture “HOW”. You know exactly by how much you will have to decrease your daily caloric intake by, and which small increases in physical activity you can incorporate. But, as they say, the devil is in the details, and the details for how to decrease your caloric intake (or increase your caloric expenditure) must be custom to YOU. Some options include:

Portion control: This is basically being very mindful of how much food you put on your plate (or order) and consume. This strategy employs a variety of tactics, including being conscious of serving sizes for prepackaged foods, ordering smaller meal sizes at fast food restaurants, eating only one helping, using smaller dishes and Tupperware, and being very aware of the distinction between “not hungry” and “full”, oftentimes leaving food on your plate to be thrown away if you are no longer hungry. You can watch a video on portion control here.

Supplementation: I’m not a big fan of dietary supplements for weight loss supplements, especially because a large number of them are basically snake oil. Don’t trust reviews from online retailers. Many of those reviews are fake, bought by the companies that sell the products to convince people that the products work. If you DO want to try some sort of weight loss supplement, I would suggest going through the scientific studies - preferably double-blind, placebo controlled studies – instead of asking friends, consulting online sites that take a cut off the top of each product sold, or putting your trust in online retailer reviews. The point is, there are supplements that work, but they’re few and far in between, and if you haven’t developed the necessary healthy habits, you may regain the weight as soon as you lose it.

Calorie Counting: This option means you will have to keep a food log of everything you eat and drink (if it has calories). There are apps that make this a little easier, although they are not always the most accurate. The goal here is not to count calories for the rest of your life, because that’s very tedious, but to start to identify which foods have how many calories, which ones keep you the fullest, and give you the most energy, and HOW MUCH of which foods you can eat daily to achieve your goals.

Commit to an exercise program: Increasing your physical activity levels little by little is a great idea, and can lead to the confidence to start a more intense exercise program. Remember that as you lose weight, most of it will be fat, but a part of it will be muscle, which will slow down your metabolism a little. Flip that in reverse gear by adding resistance exercise to maintain, or even build muscle. Unlike fat, muscle is metabolically active tissue, meaning it burns calories throughout the day.

Monitoring micronutrients: Micronutrients are what food is made up of – carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Monitoring and adjusting your intake of micronutrients usually means severely restricting sugar and decreasing foods high in saturated fat. This would then leave room to increase foods high in lean protein, unsaturated fat, fiber, and complex carbs, all of which are lower calorie options but lead to greater feelings of fullness, so you eat less.

Those are just some of the options, but each one could take 30 pages or more to fully explain. Keep in mind that your plan does not have to be perfect, nor is it possible for you to account for every difficulty that is bound to cross your path.

With that being said, please reach out (my email is the “contact” section) if you feel you need some help with coming up with a solid weight loss plan and I can point you to some resources, or we can even hop on the phone for a free consultation and start creating a custom program for you. One last point about making a plan: Be like Henry Ford - focus on the can-do part of every problem and you may find that the no-can-do part disappears by the time you get to it.

Time for action

By now you should have a powerful purpose, and an acceptable plan for achieving your purpose. Now comes the part without which the purpose and the plan are useless: ACTION.

DO NOT PUT OFF GETTING STARTED

Tomorrow becomes never. You can make all the excuses in the world: “Arnas wrote that I need to write down my goal in ink and on a piece of paper, but all I have is a pencil and a napkin”, “Tomorrow I won’t have any access to healthy food so I should just start counting calories the day after tomorrow”, “I’m at a truck stop and I really would rather go for my walk in a nice wooded area”, “My 4g is spotty so I can’t see the nutrition facts of this restaurant I’m going to”, “This buffet is all-you-can-eat, and I want to take full advantage of that”, “It’s too early”, “It’s too late”, “My shorts don’t match the rest of my outfit”.

Start where you stand. I understand if you’re parked on the side of a road in the desert somewhere and it’s 2am and you’ve been awake for 20 hours straight. Then schedule a time tomorrow to start putting your plan into action. The earlier the better, because our willpower decreases as the day progresses.

Also there’s one more thing that will really supercharge your mind for achieving your goal. Repeat your goal and the plan by which you intend to accomplish it every night before going to bed and every morning when you wake up.

Key takeaways for creating and sticking to your goals:

It’s all comes down to consistency. To ensure that you stick to, and achieve, your goal, you need a powerful purpose: worthwhile reasons and a specific goal. You need a plan which doesn’t have to be perfect, but has to provide daily direction. And you need to take daily action, so that these new behaviors become habits.

Remember that the timing is never perfect… if you wait for the “right” time to start exercising, I assure you, it will never come. Life gets in the way and there will always be obstacles. But I’ll tell you this, if you start today, and make physical activity and healthy food choices a part of your life, no matter how small, you’ll look back in 90 days and you’ll be impressed with your results.