It’s no secret that the majority of people who start a new exercise program do so because they want to lose weight, which is a great reason (and motivator) to get fit.
That being said, if your only motivation to exercise is fat loss, you can easily find yourself frustrated and wanting to quit when progress temporarily hits a plateau (which it will). That’s why setting goals beyond weight loss alone is essential if you’re going to stick with a fitness or weight-loss program for the long haul.
And consider this: Setting goals that don’t focus on fat loss can actually help you reach your desired weight-loss goal. It’s true! (Check out this SparkPeople success story of a woman who lost weight by resolving NOT to lose weight!) For example, if you focus on getting stronger, you will likely gain lean muscle mass, which will speed up your metabolism and help you lose more weight. Or maybe you choose to set a goal like walking with a friend several days a week, or taking your dog hiking every weekend. Those goals will keep you active and moving (which is the whole point) and don’t hinge on what a scale says to keep you motivated. Over time, you’ll be more consistent with exercise, burn even more calories and, of course, lose more unwanted fat.
See? You don’t have to be laser-focused on the scale to be successful in changing the scale. Setting other goals can be even more motivating—and just as effective!
Here are five of my favorite types of goals that often lead to weight loss and better health (without focusing on the scale).
1. Performance Goals
Examples: Improve your 5K time, perform your first unassisted pull-up, dead lift your body weight, complete a sprint triathlon, do 10 push-ups on your toes, etc.
Performance goals are one of my favorite ways to stay motivated all year. Not only are these positive goals (look what I can do!), as opposed to a negative goal (I can’t eat chocolate!), but everyone has a performance goal that they can set and accomplish—no matter what they weigh. It doesn’t matter what your goal is. You’re setting something that inspires you, finding a plan to keep you on track, and staying dedicated for the long haul.
The best part? Once you’ve reached your goal, it’s easy to set another, slightly more ambitious goal. With weight loss, once you’ve hit your goal, you’re stuck—that’s the end game. You cannot keep losing weight or continue getting leaner, so it can be hard to stick with the habits that got you there. But with performance goals, you can set them, and reach them, and set them again—for as long as your heart desires.
2. Real-Life Goals
Examples: Hoist your 70-pound chocolate lab into your car, change the 5-gallon water jug at work, carry two 40-pound bags of cat litter up three flights of stairs, no longer using a seatbelt extender, move furniture without assistance, play with your kids or grandkids at the park without getting tired or winded, fit into a single airplane seat more comfortably, etc.
These are some of my favorite stories to hear from clients as they notice the progress they’ve made since they started working out. Yes, they are stronger and can lift more weight and are fitter or leaner—but what seems to matter most to a lot of people is how that improved fitness translates into making their real lives better. Reaching milestones that make your life easier or more fun can be surprising and empowering, whether the scale is moving or not. Feeling independent and knowing that you are capable of taking care of yourself is incredible, and is a very powerful motivator.
3. Health Goals
Examples: Reduce your blood pressure, improve your fasting glucose levels, decrease your dosage or usage of certain medications, improve your cholesterol levels, etc.
The awesome thing about setting goals for quantitative health markers is just that: They’re quantitative. They are easy to measure, and it’s very clear when you have made improvements to your numbers. If you’re someone who likes data and feels motivated by numbers, setting health marker goals might be perfect for you. The important thing is to set health goals that are clear and measurable by tests or data, not vague (like decreasing your risk of heart disease, which can’t always be measured quantitatively).
Make sure you talk with your health care provider to figure out what reasonable improvements in these markers looks like, and never change or discontinue a medication without consulting your doctor first.
4. Movement Goals
Examples: Ride your bike to work two days a week, walk during your lunch break four times per week for 30 minutes each time, practice yoga for 10 minutes every morning, get up from your desk to walk around the office once every two hours, etc.
As my good friend Neghar Fonooni says, ”Movement is a privilege. Do it every day, as often as you can.” She is exactly right! Movement is a privilege, and we should all strive to move our bodies in positive ways more often. Your workouts don’t have to be crazy and intense every single day. There is value in simply moving your body on a regular basis. It’s simple and restorative, and it actually allows you to recharge so that when you do want to work out hard, you have some energy left in the tank.
Pick something simple and sustainable, and commit to doing it on a regular basis. Make it an appointment in your calendar, or create a chart where you can check it off once you have completed it. This will be sure to keep you moving, even if you don’t feel like it. And all that movement will become a virtuous cycle that makes you want to do even more!
Examples: Go to bed at a consistent time every night, cultivate a more positive attitude throughout the day, decrease your cravings for junk food, practice more gratitude, have more energy, reduce stress, etc.
When working with a new client, once of the first things I ask them is, ”What are your goals?” More often than not, their answer boils down to wanting to look good and feel good. While many people find themselves focusing much harder on the ”look good” part of that equation, the ”feel good” part is vitally important as well. Heck, it has a huge impact on your quality of life!
I recommend picking three areas where you might see improvement in how you feel. Maybe you’re exhausted when you wake up in the morning, or you get restless in the evenings when you’re trying to unwind. Maybe you get a lot of anxiety thinking about your workload, or you get crazy sugar cravings every afternoon. Pick a couple of areas of your life that seem out of whack, and rank how much they negatively affect you on a scale of 1-10 (1 being mild, and 10 being severe). Every 2-4 weeks, take a moment to reevaluate these areas and note where you see improvements. These are amazing non-scale victories that can keep you motivated to stick with your program—but you have to take the time to notice them.
Remember, wanting to look better or lose body fat is perfectly fine, but if you’re constantly focused on that goal at the expense of all the other improvements and milestones you’re experiencing, you might find yourself frustrated and feeling down on yourself when you hit a plateau. Make sure you mix it up by choosing a different goal every 6-8 weeks to keep yourself motivated and to ensure continued success.