The Importance of Focusing on Health-Related Instead of Size-Related Fitness Goals + 8 Ways to Do It
Updated: May 19
Having fitness goals is wonderful. But the motivation behind those goals, whether it is size-related or health-related, can make a huge difference in how we feel about ourselves and our overall mindset.
Many of us strive to place emphasis on a fitness regimen to transform or improve our bodies in specific areas that we’d like to change. And while it’s good to set specific goals, hosting your constant inner mean girl and her self-criticism won’t help you reach them any faster.
Maybe you want to hit the gym twice a week before work or lift heavier weights next month than you can this month. Maybe you want to stop eating processed foods or cut out sugar.
When you have these goals, it’s important to link them to a bigger “WHY” because you’re more likely to follow through with goals if they connect with a deeper motivation.
For example, connect your goal of going to the gym twice a week before work with the “WHY” that it will give you more energy to start the rest of your day. Maybe your reason for wanting to stop eating processed foods is so you can live a longer life. Those are some big “WHYs” and they will motivate you to follow through on your goals more so than a shame-based thought of “I need to lose 10 pounds because I don’t like the way I look.”
What I am getting at is that you should focus on factors like your overall health, longevity, strength, endurance, and energy. You’re making healthy choices because you love your body and feel worthy of honoring it with actions that support your big-picture desires. When you do you avoid the easy trap we tend to fall into around what your body CAN’T do like it can’t shed the weight fast enough, it can’t move quickly or nimbly enough, it can’t look like it’s supposed to in certain clothes, it can't lift the same weight as the slimmer and fitter person next to you at the gym. You get the picture.
When you remain laser focused on those perceived flaws and weaknesses, you ultimately lose sight of your body’s many strengths and capabilities. Whatever stage you are in on your personal self-love journey, no matter what the scale says or what size jeans you wear or how long it takes to climb a flight of stairs, there is always something to be grateful for as talked about yesterday with our body gratitude focus.
There are a number of things you can do to shift the focus to health-related fitness goals instead of size-related fitness goals.
#1 Focus on movement goals. As mentioned, we tend to start our fitness journey on goals that are tied to weight loss or physical attributes but when we don’t hit those goals as fast as we would like our instinct is to blame and shame our bodies. This can take the form of thoughts and negative comments from your inner mean girl, which can turn into that consistent mantra of negativity.
To prevent this outcome, reframe the fitness journey so that it's based around a movement goal instead of a weight-related one. Rather than continually staring down the scale or squeezing into those goal jeans, work toward getting better at something, whether it's walking a mile or finishing a spin class.
The body is capable of so many things—we just have to give it a chance. It takes time and effort, but if you decide you want to be able to do something, the journey there can be really fun.
When setting your movement goal make sure that you’re realistic about the timeline. If you've never run before and want to complete a marathon, be aware that it could take a few years to cross that finish line. Be prepared for hard work—for most of us, these things don’t come easy, but if you want it, it will happen.
#2 Celebrate your successes—big and small. Before you start thinking the journey to a better-looking and healthier body is impossible, it's important to remind yourself of your greatest successes. And they don't always have to be tied to weight loss or fitness.
For example, did you ace an exam that almost everyone else couldn't pass? Did you save the day when your company was going through a crisis? Did you win an award for something other people thought was really awesome?
We often don't give ourselves credit for big wins because we did them, so how hard could they have been? They were hard, but somehow you got into the zone and rocked it. The same is true for weight loss and fitness, except the results come in a series of small victories.
Those small victories deserve fanfare, too. Most of us have a "win" each and every day. This might be choosing the steamed broccoli instead of fries when out to dinner with friends, or managing to fit in a 20-minute walk after a late workday derails plans for an evening spin class.
Take a moment to honor yourself for those small wins. All of those little choices add up to the big win of making a permanent lifestyle change. Showing your body appreciation rather than punishment is an act of kindness and love.
#3 Shop for clothes that flatter your current form. Most of us have "goal clothes" in our closets that serve as physical benchmarks of what we're working toward. And while there's nothing wrong with occasionally trying on those smaller sizes to gauge your progress, it's also important to have pieces on hand that complement and flatter your current physique, not just the one you wish you had.
When you invest in properly fitting clothing, rather than settling for too-baggy or too-tight apparel, you just may be surprised at how pleased you are with what you see in the mirror. And the instant confidence boost will help motivate you to keep working toward those "aspiration jeans" that have been waiting for their moment to shine.
#4 Build your support network. While you ultimately have control over your own mindset, those around you could be influencing how you see yourself—maybe without you even realizing it. If there are friends, family, co-workers or other people in your life who tend to focus on your flaws and limitations, have a frank discussion about how their opinions are affecting your health, happiness and progress. If the behavior continues even after you've called it to their attention, it may be time to rethink the relationship.
And after you've purged the negative influences, you can focus on building a supportive network of people who encourage you to work toward your goals for self-improvement, while also learning to recognize the positive things that have been there all along.
#5 Show your body self-care. It's easy to get stuck in a cycle of working (and sometimes punishing) your body with gruelling gym sessions and strict diets, but it's just as important to make time for some physical TLC. This could take the form of scheduling a massage, taking a relaxing bubble bath or spending a few minutes stretching. It could also mean taking a rest day from your exercise regimen, opting instead for an afternoon nap, a yoga class or a rejuvenating walk outside.
By slowing down and giving your body this type of focused, indulgent attention, you'll ultimately be more energized, less stressed, less susceptible to sickness and better able to work toward your goals.
#6 Stop the comparison game. You may not even realize you're doing it, but it's one of the most destructive practices when it comes to body image. Comparison comes in many forms, from social media posts to television shows to magazine photos. Every day—practically every minute—we're bombarded with picture-perfect portrayals of fit, skinny people who show us how we're "supposed" to look.
And the effect is the exact opposite of being grateful to your body.
While it's impossible to completely shield yourself from all media and external images, you can make an effort to filter them somewhat. If you find that a certain social media account is making you feel bad about yourself, unfollow it. If a reality show is making you question the quality of your own life, take it out of your rotation. This goes for real-life relationships, too: If someone continually makes comments that highlight where you are supposedly lacking, stop having the conversations.
As a bonus perk of quitting the comparison game, you just might find yourself with a surplus of time to spend on activities that will help you practice body gratitude, such as exercising, relaxing and preparing healthy meals.
#7 Focus on the marathon, not the sprint. In our current society, where everything is just a click away, most of us expect immediate gratification—and it’s easy for this to extend to weight loss. When we don't see results fast enough, we get frustrated and blame our bodies for their sluggish response.
That's just now how the body works though. We're not computers with supersonic processors. Our systems take time to adjust and adapt, so appreciate that you have made the decision to do what is good for your body and health.
If you're not happy with the state your body is currently in, remember that it didn't take you three weeks to get into that shape—so it's not realistic to expect to get back into the shape you want in that same amount of time. The key is to do a little better every day. If you have a lot of bad lifestyle habits to change, each day just try to do 10 percent better than the day before.
And remember: If you are taking steps to take better care of your body, the benefits aren't always visible to your eye (or the scale)—but that doesn't mean they're not happening. Even if it doesn't show in the mirror immediately, the change is happening under the hood. Eating broccoli instead of French fries, skipping the dessert at dinner, adding a half-mile to your walk or jog—they are all changes your body will love you for because you're giving it what it needs.
#8 Start a body gratitude journal. The written word is powerful, especially when it comes to finding ways to express gratitude. At the end of the day, remember to take a few minutes to jot down in a journal the ways in which your body has served you. If you’re feeling a bit low, do the body scan and gratitude meditation to get back on track. Remember, you might thank your hands for composing an important report, thank your legs and feet for walking you where you needed to be and thank your arms for carrying your toddler or hugging your grandkids. And exercise counts, too—your glutes deserve some praise for making it through that tough spin class!
Setting and Establishing Your SMART Goals Now that we’ve covered the types of goals you can set for yourself, let’s talk about how to make them SMART, which means specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. Remember, we’re focusing on the marathon, not the sprint!
SMART goals are established using a specific set of criteria that ensures your objectives are attainable within a certain time frame.
Writing a SMART goal entails working through each of the five components I just mentioned, specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound to build a measurable goal that encompasses exactly what needs to be accomplished and when, and how you’ll know when you’re successful.
By taking this approach to a fitness goal, you eliminate generalities and guesswork, set a clear timeline, and make it that much easier to track progress and identify missed milestones. It also enables you to break a larger goal down into bite-seized and more achievable goals to keep motivation high and recognize the great progress you’re making.
Here’s the lowdown on SMART goals. Let’s use push-ups as an example. The goal is to do 20 push-ups on your toes by the end of March.
#1 Be Specific You need something that’s not too arbitrary. A bad goal would be, say, 'get healthy'. In the case of our example, we want to do 20 push-ups on our toes without pausing to rest or falling. You'll narrow down that goal even further by using the rest of the method, but whether you want to get stronger, faster, or smaller, having a baseline points you in the right direction.
#2 Make the Goal Measurable In the case of being able to do push-ups on your toes, a measurable goal would be, say, 'do 20 consecutive push-ups on your toes'. You can quantify your progress, and you can sort of back into a timeframe once you have that. Your goal may be something different. Perhaps you want to master a pull-up, run five miles, or go to the gym four days a week—whatever it is, you should have a definite way of knowing when you've reached your goal.
#3 The Goal Must be Attainable While it can be helpful to set big-picture goals in the long-term, you need a more achievable goal on the horizon to keep you on track. You want to start small and see early wins, which encourages long-term consistency. If you set something too lofty right off the bat, it might be discouraging to not make progress as fast as you would like. You should also consider the size of your goal—for example, a goal of doing 20 consecutive push-ups in one week if you have never done a push-up likely isn't going to happen, so you're better off setting smaller goals that are in closer reach. Aim to do 5 more each week than the previous as an example until you reach the goal of 20 consecutively.
#4 Make the Goal Relevant This is where things get a little tricky. Finding your "why" is easier said than done. [Ask yourself], 'is this goal worthwhile, and am I motivated to do it?' Creating a goal with some type of motivation attached to it, like I want to do 20 consecutive push-ups to strengthen to work toward achieving my first pull up, can give a bit of relevancy to your goal. Whatever the goal, pinpoint why it’s important to you.
#5 Make it Time-Bound You want to be strict about a deadline because doing so creates urgency. It's also important not to set your sights too far out. If you give yourself four months to 20 consecutive push-ups on your toes, that might be too long because you aren’t incentivized to start working at it immediately. Instead, consider setting smaller goals along the way, like I want to do 5 push-ups in two-weeks. Maybe running a marathon is your long-term goal, but if you've never been a runner, signing up for one that's a month away isn't realistic—instead, set smaller mileage goals for shorter time periods and work your way up.
You should also be honest with yourself about what you're able to accomplish in a given time frame. If it’s aggressive, that's completely fine, too but you just need to adjust your expectations so they're in line with your schedule and commitments.
Once you have your goal in place, it's all about the follow-through. Whether you want to be able to do five full push-ups in two weeks, or run a 5K in under 30 minutes in four weeks, you can come up with a plan to help get you where you want to go—but it all starts with deciding what you want. Be accountable to yourself, stay consistent, and the results will follow.
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