How Dietitians Set & Achieve Goals │ A Three Step ApproachDec 30, 2021
Setting goals can be an inspiring process that gives direction to our choices and motivates us to take action. From our experience as Registered Dietitians, many people are excited to reach their goals in the early stages but struggle to stay consistent long enough to make those goals a reality. In other cases, people know what they want to achieve but haven’t identified the actions they need to take to achieve the goal itself. In this article, we outline three considerations to create meaningful connections to your goals so you can remain committed to achieve the goals and create a lasting change!
1. CONNECT THE GOAL TO YOUR VALUES
We define values as a chosen life direction. For example, deciding that you value health is like choosing to travel North. Unlike a goal, a value cannot be complete. For example, you cannot finish traveling North the way you can finish running a 10km race.
The ten most common core values we've identified include:
- Intimate Relationship
- Personal Development
As dietitians, we support clients in setting goals and creating action plans for their value of health. However, we often find ourselves having conversations with clients related to their other top core values! There are two reasons we encourage clients to identify their core values:
A. CREATE DEEPER CONNECTION TO THE GOAL
When we determine why the goal matters to us in relation to what we value then we can create a deeper connection to the goal itself.
EXAMPLE: Say you've decided that your goal is to increase your energy. While the goal itself may be motivating enough to take action, we can create an even stronger connection by linking it to your other core values.
To understand why increasing energy truly matters to you, you can reflect on your other core values. Perhaps you identify that increasing your energy would allow you to be more effective at work (ie. career value) and more capable to keep up with your kids (ie. parenting value).
By linking the goal to values beyond your health you may find yourself more deeply connected to your goal and committed to take action even when motivation waivers.
B) BRING CONTEXT TO YOUR FOOD CHOICES
Another reason we encourage our clients to reflect on their top core values is to bring context to their food decisions.
EXAMPLE: We identify that a high protein snack of Greek yogurt, berries, and seeds supports your blood sugars through the afternoon and aligns with your goal to increase energy. However, your daughter baked some fresh cookies and has asked you to sample one. Eating a cookie may not align from the context of your health value and goal to increase energy, however, it may align with your value of parenting. On this particular afternoon, you may decide to enjoy the cookie knowing that it offers connection to your value of parenting! You acknowledge that realigning with your value of health will be available to you at the next meal.
At Vitality Nutrition, we call this concept 'deep health' which means making nutrition choices in respect of your physical health but also in consideration of your other core values.
Food is intrinsically connected to all of our values as it offers connection, culture, and nostalgia. We find that when clients understand their values they have a framework to determine when to choose foods that fuel the body (ie. connect to value of health), and when to choose foods that feed the soul (ie. connect to other core values). You can read more about the "fuel the body, feed the soul" concept here.
Bottom-line: identifying your core values can help you create deeper connection to your goals and bring context to your food decisions.
2. CREATE AN IDENTITY AROUND THE GOAL
Identifying your values is like orientating yourself to your North star. But what do you want to achieve on your journey? You can never finish traveling North the same way you can never complete your values. However, setting a goal offers a motivating milestone on your never-ending journey towards your values.
When setting goals, we often hear advice to set SMART goals. That is, goals that are specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound. From our experience, setting and achieving SMART goals can be a motivating tool and may even offer temporary achievement. However, a strategy we've found to be even more impactful is creating identity based goals. With this approach, we start by focusing on who we wish to become. By focusing on our desired identity we may create a long-lasting change to our behaviour.
For example, say we've set a goal to lose weight. The SMART goal method may encourage us to set a goal like: "I'd like to lose 10 pounds in 3 months." This goal may be in alignment to what you currently desire but lacks flexibility as you gather more information. For example, perhaps upon starting the journey it becomes apparent that a 10 pound weight loss isn't appropriate for your body or in alignment to your health. Instead, you may decide to set an identity-based goal like: "I'd like to become the type of person who maintains a healthy body weight." This goal is far more flexible and allows you to work with the feedback from your body - allowing it to land at a healthy weight in time. Plus, it can be easier to identify the habits we need to implement to reach the goal which is what we will discuss in the next section.
Let's consider additional reframes from SMART goals to identity based goals:
- "I'd like to run 10km" can turn into "I want to become a great runner"
- "I want to deadlift 200 pounds" can turn into "I want to become a person who strength trains consistently"
- "I want to sleep 8 hours per night" can turn into "I want to become the type of person who prioritizes sleep."
While the outcomes of each goal may be similar, we find that the identity based goals are far more flexible and creates a mindset of changing from within.
Bottom-line: setting a goal offers a motivating milestone on your never-ending journey towards your values. Furthermore, linking the goal to your desired identity can facilitate lasting behaviour change!
3. CREATE YOUR ACTION PLAN
A powerful goal offers you a clear direction, motivation over the short term, and a benchmark to gauge progress. In order to reach that goal, however, you’ll have to take action. Creating an action plan is arguably the most important part of the goal setting process!
Consider the difference between your goal and your action plan.
- Goal: like entering your destination into Google Maps. You have to know where you want to go to take committed action in getting there!
- Action Plan: the choices you make to get to your final destination including the turns, exits, and even the U-turns you make when you go the wrong way!
It is important to have a vision of where you want to end up and it’s equally important to have the roadmap to get there! For example:
- If your goal is to build muscle your action plan might include eating protein at each meal, strength training 4 days a week, and getting 8 hours of sleep.
- If your goal is to increase energy your action plan might include packing a lunch from home, having a blood sugar supporting snack, and exposing your eyes to natural light during the day
- If your goal is to have a loving and connected relationship with your partner your action plan might be to have a date night once a week, spend 10 minutes each day catching up, and eat dinner together most days of the week
Goals are powerful because they set your destination and systems are helpful because they allow you to take committed action. You can’t always control the factors that will affect whether you reach your goal. However, when you have a well defined action plan you can spend your energy focusing on the habits within your control.
Registered Dietitian's have the education and expertise to help you build an effective action plan that considers your personal preferences, unique dietary needs, and core values! Our Comprehensive Nutrition Coaching program is especially effective as we are able to meet with clients weekly to assess whether the plan is working, adjust the plan as needed, and come up with strategies to navigate the inevitable obstacles that come up along the way!
Bottom-line: outlining an action plan that highlights the habits you need to do daily, weekly, and monthly is essential to reach your goals in time.
If you’ve struggled to reach your goals in the past, we highly recommend reaching out to a knowledgeable healthcare professional (like a Registered Dietitian!) who can help you set goals in relation to your core values and determine the action steps (or habits) to reach that goal in time! If you'd like to get started with our three step goal setting process, we invite you to download our free worksheet by clicking here.
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