Setting Goals and Rewarding Yourself

by Ruth Carpenter

Yeah, yeah, yeah. You've heard it before. People who set goals are more successful at making changes. But if it's so important, why can so few people recite their personal or professional goals? Often they just don't take time to think about their goals. Perhaps they don't know how to set good goals. Or maybe they don't reward themselves for attaining their goals, so reaching a goal isn't fun. Sound familiar? This session gives you a chance to focus on setting effective healthy eating goals -- and rewarding yourself! As with other skills you will learn in HEED, setting good goals and rewarding your positive behavior are essential ingredients in a lifetime of healthy eating. The last part of the session introduces you to the important skill of self-monitoring. Self-monitoring will help you see if you're staying on track to meet your goals.

Elements of an Effective Goal

Take a look at these goals set by some of the participants in our nutrition research studies:

  • "My doctor wants me to eat more whole grains."
  • "I am going to lose 50 pounds (23 kg) in three months."
  • "I will drink fewer soft drinks this week."
  • "I will eat more fruits and vegetables this week."

If these were your healthy eating goals, is it likely that you would be able to achieve them? Probably not. That's because each of these goals is missing one or more of the core elements that make up a good goal. A goal has to be personal, reasonable, specific, and measurable. Let's look at each of these elements more closely.

Personal. You're not likely to be successful in accomplishing your goals if they are set by someone other than yourself, such as a spouse, your doctor, or a co-worker. Personal goals are the goals that you believe in and truly want to achieve.

Bad example: My doctor wants me to eat more whole grains.

Good example: I have learned that eating whole grains is important to reducing my diabetes risk, so I will eat an average of three whole-grain servings per day for the next four weeks.

Realistic. We all want to do wonderful things, but our goals have to be reasonable and attainable. It's OK to push yourself, but you also must look objectively at yourself when deciding if a goal is realistic. In fact, studies show that if you set a challenging but realistic goal, you'll increase your performance better than if you set a goal that is too easy to attain.

Bad example: I am going to lose 50 pounds (23 kg) in three months.

Good example: I will lose 6 to 12 pounds (3.0 to 5.5 kg) in three months. (Many health professionals recommend a weight loss of 1/2 to 1 pound, or 0.25 to 0.5 kilograms, per week. You're more likely to sustain this weight loss over time.)

Specific. You need to clearly define what you intend to do or achieve. That means stating a clear and concise objective of what is to be accomplished. You'll need to prioritize steps, organize plans, and establish a timeline for reaching your goal. Vague statements about what you hope to achieve will leave you wondering what you wanted to accomplish.

Bad example: I will drink fewer soft drinks this week.

Good example: I will limit myself to one 12-ounce (355-ml) serving of a regular soft drink per day on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Measurable. After you have laid the groundwork of choosing a personal, realistic, and specific goal, you need to state how you will know whether you have achieved your goal. This makes you accountable to yourself. Concluding each goal with a clause that says, "as confirmed by ________________" can do this. You would fill in the blank with a plan for assessing whether you met the goal. You should periodically review your goals and evaluate them to see if you are staying on target.

Bad example: I will eat more fruits and vegetables this week.

Good example: In the coming week, I will eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday as confirmed by recording my food intake in my daily planner.

Excerpted from Healthy Eating Every Day

Ruth Ann Carpenter, MS, RD, LD, is the director of the center for research dissemination at The Cooper Institute in Dallas, Texas. She is a registered dietitian with a master's degree in applied nutrition and additional coursework in exercise science.

Carpenter has directed The Cooper Institute's nutrition research for 15 years and was the co-developer and a group facilitator for the Lifestyle Nutrition Study, which served as the basis for Healthy Eating Every Day.

She has coauthored five books, including Active Living Every Day, and developed educational programs for clients such as the American Heart Association, Kellogg's, Tropicana, PowerBar, Jenny Craig, Novartis, and Roche. She serves as secretary for the American Dietetic Association's (ADA) weight management dietetic practice group and is a member of the ADA's sports, cardiovascular, and wellness dietetic practice group.

Copyright © Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc. Permission to republish granted to, LLC.