Aim For Progress Not Perfection

When we get really motivated to change eating or exercise habits often times our goal is perfection. We set lofty, hard to reach goals. Slashing all “bad” foods from our diets and promising ourselves to exercise 5-7 days of the week.

This is especially common this time of year. We start the year off strong with good intentions by making resolutions we have every intention of keeping…this time. Only to falter by mid-February. And instead of just regrouping we throw all of our efforts in the trash and go back to our old ways, only to repeat the cycle again next year.

When goals are set to perfection, or unrealistic levels, it is difficult if not completely impossible to live up to, resulting in inevitable mess ups that make you feel like you failed. Instead of perfection, I encourage clients to just focus on positive progress in the healthier direction. Making small, actionable goals can give you concrete things to work on so that you can experience success in baby steps along the way.

Many of us rely on willpower or motivation when trying to reach goals and then blame a lack of either or both when we don’t succeed. It could be helpful to change your thinking a bit to set yourself up for success. Think of goals as commitments to yourself. Here are a three tips that can make reaching your goals – or commitments to yourself – more likely to happen.

1. Find intrinsic enjoyment.
This has to do with getting pleasure out of doing what it takes to reach your goals, whatever that may be. So, for instance, if your goal is to become more active, it is important to find activities you enjoy doing. If you don’t like the gym, figure out what you can do in your own home or outdoors. If you aren’t a runner, don’t run. Maybe swimming, walking, tennis, or Zumba – or some other fun activity are more your style. The key is to find what you enjoy. If you actually get pleasure out of it you are more likely to stick with it long term.

2. Write out your goals.
A study in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that 91% of people who planned their intention to exercise by writing down specifics about when and where they would exercise each week ended up following through. Meanwhile, people who simply read motivational material about exercise, but did not plan when and where they would exercise, showed no increase. Want to eat more vegetables? Think of the week ahead and write down some specific ways you can achieve that goal. That might include having a salad with dinner most days of the week or throwing a handful of spinach, some peppers, tomatoes, or mushrooms in with your scrambled eggs in the morning. By simply writing down a plan that includes specific actionable steps you can take to reach your goals you can make it much more likely that you will actually follow through.

3. Recruit support.
There is a good amount of evidence that shows if you get a friend or spouse, or group of friends together who also want to slim down, you not only are more likely to lose weight, but you also have a better chance of keeping it off. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania recruited 166 people to participate in a weight-loss program either alone or with three friends or family members. Among those who participated in the program with friends, 95 percent completed the program compared to only 76 percent of those who dieted solo. After 10 months, 66 percent of the group who had support had maintained their weight loss compared to only 24 percent of those who were on their own. Even online support can be helpful. Apps like My Fitness Pal and Lose It and many others have online communities that can also help you succeed.

Remember, think progress, not perfection. Find enjoyment in what you do; make specific goals, write them down, and post them where you can see them; and recruit friends and family to help support you!