Health & Wellness

How to set and reach your health & weight loss goals

Working towards a goal can make you happier, but how you set goals in the first place can make a big difference. Here’s what you need to know.
Published 2 December 2018

Research proves that setting goals and working towards them is linked to increased happiness. But because how you set or ‘frame’ a goal to begin with can influence how likely you are to reach it, it’s important to start off on the right foot. “If you plan ahead, focus on changing your behaviour and set smaller goals along the way, you are more likely to experience success,” says clinical and health psychologist, Dr Leah Brennan.

The smart goal-setting guide

If you want to be able to run 10km in six months’ time, Dr Brennan suggests breaking it down into smaller goals. “If you aim to run an extra 500m every two weeks, you’re more likely to meet your mini-goals while you work towards your bigger goal.” Best of all, reaching each mini-goal will motivate you and boost self-esteem and confidence along the way.

Dr Brennan shares six key points to keep in mind when you’re goal setting.

1. Be specific

When setting a goal, it needs to be specific rather than vague. So instead of ‘I’m going to do more exercise this week’, say ‘I’m going to walk for 30 minutes a day, on Monday, Wednesday and Sunday’.

2. Make it measurable

How else will you know if you’re hitting the target? So make sure you can measure your goal. If your goal is to start every day with a healthy breakfast, try to track what you eat throughout the day on My Day, so you can visually see progress and keep yourself honest.

3. Make sure it’s achievable

A goal needs to easily fit in with your real life, which can be chaotic at times, in order to be achievable. Don’t plan to get up early every morning to exercise if you have a week of late nights ahead and will be too tired to get up.

4. Keep it relevant

A goal needs to be personally relevant to you on a day-to-day basis. For example, if you walk up a big hill every day on your way to work, aim to walk up it without feeling puffed. Goals that are not relevant to you are unlikely to be motivating.

5. Do it in time

You need to set a time limit to keep yourself accountable and on track. Perhaps you want to run 5km? Set a time limit of how many months it will take you to get there.

6. Reward yourself

Each mini goal deserves praise. A reward needs to be something that’s meaningful to you. For example, a massage or those new shoes you’ve had your eye on. Forget buying new runners if you don’t see them as a reward.

Three common setbacks when goal-setting

1. Setting vague goals

Not only do you need to be able to measure your goals to understand your progress, overly optimistic goals can backfire too. For example, saying ‘I didn’t eat any veggies today – tomorrow my goal’s to eat healthier,’ without making a plan around how you’ll do that, or what ‘eat healthier’ looks like, isn’t setting yourself up for success.

Likewise, says Dr Brennan: “Setting yourself a goal to ‘be more healthy’ is a little vague. Your more specific goal may be tracking your food and movement 6 days this week. Or, if you want to be fitter, set a goal you can measure. For example, if you feel puffed after walking up two flights of stairs, your goal could be to do the same exercise without feeling puffed.”

2. Setting unrealistic goals

It would be unrealistic to set a goal weight of 50kg if you’re 180cm tall. And, if you have a lot to lose, set a number of smaller goals. “One big goal such as losing 20kg can seem overwhelming, but if you break it up into smaller goals and reach them, you’ll feel more motivated,” says Dr Brennan.

3. Setting goals that aren't within your control

When setting a goal, you need to be able to control it. “You can’t control how much weight you will actually lose on a weekly basis,” says Dr Brennan. “You may lose 1kg one week, do exactly the same over the following week, and then lose nothing the next week,” she says. Instead, set goals you can control, such as going for a walk every day or having a healthy breakfast daily. Don’t plan to lose 1kg a week; instead, aim to eat within your daily Points Budget all week.