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The Importance of Mind-Set: How to Set Realistic Goals


Updated February 15, 2014

Goal-setting, positive self-talk, and self-esteem are all very important aspects of physical fitness and weight loss. How you feel about yourself can have a huge impact when it comes to starting (and staying on) an exercise and weight loss regime.

Just like you can reshape your body with diet and exercise, you can also reshape your self-image.

Be a Goal-Getter

An excellent way to improve your weight loss mind-set is to begin to create realistic goals. When you meet the goals you set, you will feel better about yourself. I can speak from experience and say that often the higher your weight is, the lower your self-esteem tends to plunge. But when I'm feeling bad about myself, meeting even the smallest goal -- such as walking an extra 10 minutes each day -- renews my self-esteem. Defining and meeting your goals will be a huge boost to your self-image.

Additionally, goal-setting can improve other aspects of your life. It will help you understand what is important to you, such as making lowering your blood pressure your top goal, or, simply being able to walk your dog an extra block or two within a few weeks. Goals will also keep you motivated, so you will then be more likely to make and meet new, more difficult goals. (Perhaps other challenges in your life will begin to seem less daunting when you see what you can really do!)

Set it in Stone

I recommend to always write goals down -- big or small, long-term or short-term. Just put it in writing. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, but you could send yourself an e-mail, make notations in your calendar or journal, or simply write them on a piece of notebook paper. By doing this, you get the feeling you are making a contract with yourself which makes you less likely to forget or ignore them.

Get Real!

My most important piece of advice in goal-setting? Stay realistic. Setting unachievable, unrealistic goals (e.g. "Lose 20 pounds in June.") is far more harmful than helpful. Not only will you suffer trying to meet them, the discouragement you'll feel when you inevitably don't meet them will leave you down in the dumps. (Then it will be too easy to get so down-trodden that you may not even want to try anymore.) Just keep it real and that won't happen.

"The Five P's"

I call my guidelines for goal-setting "The Five P's", meaning that realistic goals should be:
    • Positive
    • Precise
    • Prioritized
    • Planned
    • Performance-based


Goals should always be phrased in a positive manner. Instead of saying, "I will not eat any white bread this week." say, "I will replace white bread with whole grain bread this week." Or switch, "I will not sit on the couch all weekend." to "I will make an effort to be more active this weekend."

Instead of focusing the goals on what you "shouldn't" do or "can't" have -- all negatives -- make sure your goals accentuate the positive. Doing so will keep you feeling positive.


Be specific when you set your weight loss and fitness goals. Rather than saying, "I need to eat more fruit," say, "I will eat fruit for my afternoon snack every day." Or rather than writing down, "I will start exercising more," it can become "I will walk for 20 minutes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday." The more specific your goal is the more likely you are to adhere to it.

For example, every time I say, "I'm going to exercise more next week." Friday rolls around before it dawns on me that I've been taking it easy. If, instead, I sit down on Sunday and mark Monday, Tuesday and Friday for my workouts on my calendar, along with a time for them, I know I'll be more likely to follow-through.


First things first. If you make priorities among your goals, you'll be able to focus on what needs to be done first. For instance, if you are inactive now and you have a long-term goal to hike in the woods or on a challenging trail, then you should have many other "mini" goals ahead of it, starting with walking regularly, working up to walking on different terrains, such as hills, becoming accustomed to walking on different surfaces such as dirt or gravel, and so forth.


Planning is key to meeting goals. Setting goals without planning how to meet them is like getting in your car to make a trip to a new destination without ever glancing at a map. You can't get to your goal unless you know what you need to do. Knowing you want to lose weight isn't the same as having a clear idea of how you're going to make it happen.


Lastly, goals should be performance-based rather than outcome-based. A goal "To be a size 6!" probably won't get you motivated. (It's never worked for me!) A goal to walk 10 minutes this afternoon will be far more ideal because it's something you can do rather than an intangible hope looming somewhere in the future.

Helpful Resources:

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