Maybe you’re thinking, “What is wrong with losing 20 pounds?” What about losing 20lbs in 10 weeks? Is it too much? Is it too little? Is there another goal or some new fancy scientifically-derived method for losing all this weight? Perhaps a shift of focus from numbers to behavior and lifestyle change warrants stronger observation when it comes to goal-setting for our clients.

As an ideal, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to lose 20lbs if you have it to lose. However, I am sure that many of us have seen what happens to us once we reach our goals. We often lose motivation, or set new goals. Eventually, we will stumble, and an issue that I have personally ran into is feeling like my goal is lost after I have missed a step. This loss of motivation post goal-reaching has also resulted in yo-yo dieting for some people, which is less healthy than maintaining a slightly higher than ideal number on the scale.

So what should the goal be then? As losing 20lbs seems like a SMART goal, what is wrong with setting it?

It does not take long term solutions and maintenance into account. Once this goal is hit, we feel like we can rest. We can relax our dietary standards or maybe afford to miss that workout.

Therefore, I would like to propose to you a new form of goal setting that you may find useful for yourself and your clients. Rather than setting a numeric goal (such as body fat percentage, pounds lost or gained, etc) that we can physically achieve, consider setting an identity goal or habit goal.

Very rarely in life is our identity changed by a single moment or action, and most often, it is built by hundreds of smaller actions that culminate into a cohesive self-perception and approach to presenting ourselves to the world. Therefore, what if our goal was to become the type of person that does not miss workouts and eats healthy? What if we encouraged this in our clients rather than measuring success by the physical manifestation of those practices?

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Rather than shaping temporary change that is likely to be abandoned once life gets hectic, maybe we have planted the seed of central attitude change within them? Maybe this will form a portion of their core identity that they will carry with them throughout the rest of their lives. This is not as difficult as it sounds.

First, we must convince ourselves and help our clients convince themselves that we are all capable of change. Nothing is set in stone, and we have the power to become whoever or however we see fit. Things most often settle into a series of habits based on what may be the least-energy intensive to maintain, but after just a little work- we can build new habits that could be our new autopilot for daily life. When we choose to design this autopilot rather than just going along with what has happened, we may be able to design a system that will help us fly rather than something that will run us into the ground.

Initially, this may seem to be counterintuitive to the concept of SMART goals that we have all seen touted for a long time but let me assure you that it can work hand-in-hand with this concept.

Specificity: This goal is specific because you are looking to become the type of person that does not miss workouts or eat less than healthy food constantly. How do you do this? By doing it, and every small action you take toward becoming this person (opting for healthier foods/showing up to the gym for a scheduled workout even though you maybe don’t want to) is a vote for this new identity. This is a concept that James Clear refers to in his book, “Atomic Habits.” I would highly recommend checking that out for an in-depth how-to on reshaping your habits.

Measurability: Habit. Tracking. Keep a small calendar and mark down every time you complete a workout or opt for a healthier meal, and let the goal here be: “Don’t break the chain”, as Jerry Seinfeld puts it.

Achievability:  Some may argue that lifestyle change isn’t necessarily,“attainable”, but I would like to posit two things.

  • This is partially right, and this is part of the beauty of this. It is not something that you just perfectly reach, which is why it is, in my mind, more conducive to long term maintenance and continuation of health than simply trying to reach a goal weight at a certain point in time.
  • This is also partially wrong, as the purpose is to achieve a pattern of behavior- so after that pattern emerges, and as long as it is held- then you are achieving your goal! This is what may have been referred to in my undergraduate program as the “operationalization” of a goal in which the goal is going to be a byproduct of these actions.

Relevance: I think we can all agree that positive lifestyle changes are certainly relevant.

Timely: The process of becoming who we are is a lifetime pursuit, and I encourage you to view it that way. At no point in time do we ever become who we will forever be. Consider tweaking your schedule or dietary restrictions in order to hit specific goals within a certain time frame, but never lose sight of becoming the type of person who enjoys a healthy lifestyle.

Advise clients that it is counterproductive to criticize themselves when they do not adhere perfectly to their goals and only serves to denigrate oneself. Always serve as a source of positivity and encouragement for your clients and help steer them back on track if they veer towards negativity.



“Atomic Habits”, by James Clear

“Psycho-cybernetics”, Dr. Maxwell Maltz