I discovered the power of the pen a few years ago when my dear friend, Sara, and I jotted down our lists of needs (non-negotiables) and wants (preferences), as they related to our future spouses. Our goal was to find our soul mates, and our criteria were intended to guide us in the right direction. We regularly compared our dating observations with our lists, and when a suitor did not meet all needs and a supermajority of wants, we moved on. Ultimately, we each met and married a man who fit the bill ;)
I’m telling you this story because there is evidence (here, there, everywhere) that putting your goals in writing is positively correlated with accomplishing those goals. Whether you are searching for “the one,” making a career decision, or embarking on a wellness journey, drafting a list of your intermediate and ultimate goals will help you immeasurably. By putting your goals on paper, you will be able to check off intermediate goals and feel a sense of accomplishment each step along the way to your ultimate goal. During the writing process, you might also think of additional goals and considerations, which will give you a better sense of the big picture. Moreover, if you think of additional intermediate goals after your initial drafting session, you can easily add them to your existing list.
So how does all this apply to health? Let me give you an illustrative example:
Ultimate Goal: Lose 10 pounds in a healthy, gradual manner and then maintain the lower weight in perpetuity.
- Internalize your weight loss/maintenance as a priority that trumps social and comfort eating.
- Develop a script for explaining your priorities to others and addressing unconstructive feedback.
- Develop a game plan for handling unpredictable schedule changes.
- Experiment with foods to determine those that help you on your weight loss/maintenance journey and those that do not. Avoid one size fits all nutrition plans.
- Experiment with exercise options and frequencies. Find exercises that optimize your enjoyment and physical benefits, and then figure out how many times per week is optimal for each exercise.
- Develop a strategy for emotionally and physically overcoming plateaus during your weight loss journey.
- Discover how meditation and/or faith practices can support your physical and mental health.
- Contemplate how you will feel once you have lost 10 pounds and maintained your goal weight for a significant amount of time. What goal would you want to tackle next?
In addition to writing down your goals, it is also helpful to consider how and why you want to accomplish your ultimate goal. Ask yourself:
- Are you more effective when you complete the task at hand before moving on to another, or are you an effective multitasker?
- Do you prefer to work out with a trainer, take group fitness classes, or exercise on your own?
- Do you have the time and the desire to shop and cook every day to optimize freshness and fulfill your yen for culinary variety? If not, consider weekly meal planning, so you can shop and cook in bulk and rely on nutritious leftovers instead of resorting to takeout.
- Are you outspoken or reserved? If you are reserved, it is especially important to rehearse responses to questions and comments from the peanut gallery. Try to avoid mood killers and judgmental miserables. Unfortunately, sometimes interacting with a Negative Nancy is unavoidable, so you have to be prepared. One of my yoga instructors has an appropriate mantra: Don’t let anybody steal your peace!
- What are your internal motivations? Do you want to live a long, healthy life and be able to keep up with your grandchildren? Do you want to eat sustainably and ethically? Do you want to feel happy and fulfilled?
By recording your goals, rationales, strategies, and motivations, you will be able to reference and draw strength from them throughout your quest.