Welcome back to the Mindful Weightloss Podcast. If you're a regular listener, thank you so much for sticking with me and if you're brand new, Welcome!
Today we're going to talk about goals! So the thing to talk about at the beginning of the year, right? It feels good to set goals, I know I do it for myself every year.
I set big goals in all areas of my life - career, marriage, finances and health. I'll make a vision board and I'll do all the things! I'll feel really excited about it at first and then within a few weeks, I feel discouraged and I drop them all. Maybe that sounds familiar to you. This actually happened to me last year. So I made this spur of the moment decision while I was out on a hike and feeling amazing, that I was going to move my body every single day for a year. I called it ‘Move 365’ and the only rule I gave myself was to honor my body, to push it when I felt energetic and strong and then to be more gentle with myself when I was starting to feel too tired or overwhelmed.
I gave myself permission to count gentle stretching as movement and I did it well until about five months in when I injured my Achilles tendon on another hike. I felt defeated, I got a bit angry and instead of finding creative ways to move my body while also resting my achilles, I kind of just gave up and quit. Now, here I am again working on moving my body on a regular basis and feeling a little bit disappointed in all the fitness I lost while I was using my achilles as a reason to not exercise.
So because of this experience, I've been doing a lot of reading around motivation and goal setting. I think maybe we've gotten it just a little bit wrong on how we tend to approach this, especially when it comes to weight loss and other health related goals. Here's what I think what happens when we set a goal in the typical way.
So imagine this, imagine holding a rubber band around both of your hands. Your right hand represents your goal, your wish, your desire, whatever it is you want for yourself in the future and then your left hand represents where you are now. If there's a big leap between where you are now and where you want to be, then there's going to be a lot of tension in that rubber band. It's the same in your life when your goal feels too far away - Too heavy, too big. You feel that tension inside! A little bit of anxiety, maybe even some fear or doubt creeps in. It's just a very unpleasant feeling to experience. However, if you look down at that rubber band between your hands, you really only have two options to lessen that tension.
1) You can move your right hand in meaning that you change your goal, you lessen it or you make it smaller or more realistic somehow, or maybe you just abandon it altogether.
2) Or the other option is you can move your left hand in. This means you take some small steps, some very small actions to get you a little closer to your goal. And each time you do that you lessen the tension on your rubberband just a little bit more.
So when we first set our goals, we're excited and we're motivated and we're able to take all those small steps forward towards your goal. Then we're able to lessen that tension on the rubber band, but as soon as we start hitting obstacles or things don't go exactly as we think they should. We tend to feel threatened or defeated and then we move the right hand and instead, we abandon our goal.
Here's why I actually think this happens. We're often taught to make our goals smart. Right? Meaning that there are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound. And there's nothing wrong with this on the face of it.
It's important to have a specific goal that you know exactly what it is you're going to achieve and that it's measurable, meaning that there's a way you'll objectively know when you've reached your goal.
Of course it must be achievable within your realistic realm of possibilities for your life. Also, of course being relevant is important too. It has to be something you really really want, something that has meaning for you beyond just the superficial.
But then what do you do once you've made your SMART goal?
How exactly do you move forward to make those goals a reality?
Well, here's what I've always done in the past. I've gotten out all the old magazines and I've cut out pictures and I've made myself a vision board. I've done so many vision boards in my life, and I've got a really amazing imagination. I can always clearly see myself at my end goal. I can see myself at a healthy weight where I'm able to tie my own shoes and I feel energetic, healthy and light. I can see that clear as day. This is what we're always told right? Thinking positively, visualizing yourself where you want to be, being committed, taking all the actions.
Yes, this is a super important part of making and then reaching your goals, but I don't think it's enough. I don't think simply positive thinking is enough. When we do the vision boards, the visualizations and the dreaming, studies show it actually puts us into a state of relaxation. To some extent, we're believing that we’re there, at our end game, when we're imagining life at our healthy weight or whatever our goal is.
Our blood pressure drops and we shift into parasympathetic dominance. We feel good, relaxed and maybe even a little bit confident. Now I know that sounds nice, and you're probably wondering, why the heck is that a bad thing? It's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, doing this seeing yourself at the finish line or visualizing yourself reaching your goal is a super important part of goal setting. But again, it's just not enough.
The reason for that is when we're feeling relaxed and our body is believing that we're at the finish line, we lose any motivation we have to move forward. There's nothing there lighting a fire under our butts to get us moving to actually take the actions we need to get us there. We may feel all blissed out, but that comes also with a little bit of lethargy.
When we encounter roadblocks on the journey, we end up lacking the oomph and the motivation that we need to take further actions towards our goals. Essentially, if we fool our brains into thinking we're already successful, we lose the motivation and energy we need to actually be successful.
That's the problem, visualizing and thinking positively won't get us anywhere unless we actually take action! Even if it’s just small, tiny baby steps to get there. Now here's what goes wrong when all we do is shuffle ourselves into a positive mindset. When we're only focused on the positive, we aren't prepared for all the obstacles and the challenges and the roadblocks that we will inevitably come across on our way towards our goals.
So when we stay focused only on the end game, crossing the finish line, you know reaching that goal and celebrating, we fool ourselves into believing that we're going to get there easy peasy. No problemo smooth sailing. But when is life ever that easy? Honestly, like in my experience, it's never that easy! So to give ourselves the very best chance of success when we're goal setting, we have to rub those goals up against reality. We've got to take off the rose colored glasses and spend some time thinking about what can go wrong. Keep in mind that when I say this, I'm not suggesting that we only focus on the negative. I'm saying that we have to give equal airspace to both the positive and the negative. Fortunately, there's a couple tools out there to help us do this.
The first tool is called mental contrasting and what it means is taking the fantasy and rubbing it up against reality. So, if you ask yourself what realities are standing in the way of you reaching your goals, that's mental contrasting. It's contrasting the ideal outcome with reality. The key here is that your ideal outcome or your goal needs to be somewhat realistic. It's just not going to work if your goal is to, I don't know, colonize Mars by the end of the year, right? That's all fantasy and a little reality. You want your goals to be challenging, of course, but we also need them to be realistic. You need to believe that you can actually accomplish them.
Then the second tool is called implementation intentions. In a nutshell, these are really just “if then“ statements. So for example, if situation X arises, then I will do response Y. So here's a concrete example - If I start to notice my brain offering up the thought that I'll never be able to lose my weight, then I'll remind myself that I actually have lost weight over the last few months. Then I'm still taking all the actions that I need to get myself there. Or here's another one. If I notice a craving for sweets creeping in, then I will do my “urges” exercise and journal about it afterwards. Those are called implementation intentions. “If X then Y” statements are really all about making decisions ahead of time. If that sounds familiar, it's because it's pretty much the basis of a lot of what I teach inside the ways of health coaching programs. When we make decisions ahead of time, we're taking away the option to make unhealthy spur of the moment decisions when we're reacting to emotions, obstacles, fatigue or lack of motivation. Usually when we make decisions in the heat of the moment, we're taking action that gives us immediate gratification. When it comes to a lot of goals out there, particularly ones that involve weight loss - Immediate gratification rarely, if ever, gets us closer to our goals.
So making decisions ahead of time means that we predict when we're likely to indulge in immediate gratification. This allows us to instead make a plan of how we're going to react in these situations in a way that will get us closer to our goals. It just helps take willpower out of the equation. Believe it or not, there's actually a bunch of research out there to suggest that people who use these two tools, the mental contrasting and the implementation intentions, they're really significantly more successful in reaching their goals.
So there's a Motivation Researcher named Gabriele Oettingen. She came up with a tool that encompasses both mental contrasting and implementation intentions and that tool is called WOOP, W-O-P-P, and WOOP stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacles and Plan. WOOP.
WOOP is a tool that you can use for literally any goal big or small, short term or long term. You can even use it just to prepare for a different difficult conversation you might have to have. For example, you can use it to help prepare for social situations that involve food that might be tricky for you. You can even use it just in the morning to help plan for a productive day and of course you can use it to set goals for your weight loss. I just love this tool. So here's how it works.
The W stands for wish. This is where you identify what you want to see in your life. This can be as big as I want - To be at my healthiest weight by the end of the year. Or it can be something smaller like I want to come home from vacation without having gained weight. Or even smaller still, I want to stick to my food plan today and eat according to my hunger. Any of those things, anything at all, can be your wish.
The first O is outcome. This isn't so much the measurable outcome that we talked about in SMART goals. This is really all about the major benefit that you will experience when you meet your goal. This relates back to your why power, or your compelling reason, for setting your goal in the first place. So for me, my outcome in terms of weight loss is that I'll be able to tie my own shoes and I'll have the freedom and independence to do all the activities in my life that are really important to me, such as hiking and traveling. So when you're identifying your outcome, really think about what's going to change in your life and what that change is and why that change is so important to you.
Okay, and then the second O is all about obstacles. This is where the mental contrasting comes in. You want to take some time to really rub your goal up against reality and identify everything that can go wrong. There are external factors to consider of course. These would be things like you have a goal to save for a once in a lifetime vacation and then a global pandemic shuts the world down, right? Because that hasn't happened to any of us. Or you plan to order something specific at a restaurant tonight and then when you get there, you learn that they don't actually have it on the menu. So, of course you can identify these external obstacles however what's more important, crucial, in fact, is to take a look at the internal obstacles. This is really where you want to place your focus for in this exercise. So you want to think about what you're going to do when you feel unmotivated or lazy or tired or when you get cravings or urges that don't serve you or when you start to doubt yourself, or when your brain starts serving you up all sorts of negative thoughts that get in your way of getting shit done. Or if that lizard brain of yours starts trying to convince you that one more cookie won't hurt, right? These are the types of obstacles that you really want to consider here. The internal stuff, all of the stuff that's going to come from within you, that will get in your way of ultimately reaching your goal.
So the final step of WOOP is the P, the plan and this is where your implementation intentions really come in your “if then” statements. So for this step, you want to look at your list of obstacles and then make a plan for how you're going to act when you inevitably account for those obstacles because you will encounter them. That's a guarantee. You'll want to frame these in the “X then Y format”. So for example, if I start hearing myself say that one more cookie won't hurt, then I'll remind myself that this sneaky car salesman has a lizard brain trying to get a dopamine hit and nothing more. Then, I'll say “Nope” to the cookie. So when you're doing your plans, it can be helpful to really think about the - when and where you're going to encounter the obstacles. An example for me is that I always get tempted to stop at McDonald's when I drive home after a late shift in the ER. So to be more specific, my plan is if I feel tempted to drive through McDonald's when I leave work at 3am, then I will choose to take the alternate route home where I won't pass by the McDonald's. Makes sense, right? So WOOP, there it is.
Let me just quickly show you how quick and easy you can use this tool because I used it just this morning and was successful because of it. My goal this morning was to get to a boxing class after work. So my wish was to go to boxing class. That was my W my first Oh my best outcome was feeling strong and confident. My obstacle was just feeling too tired to go after a long shift and so my plan was - IF I leave work feeling tired and exhausted, THEN I will drive straight to the gym from the hospital and bypass home first. So, that's exactly what I did.
I anticipated being tired. I took my gym bag to work and I went directly to the boxing gym after work and then I came home. I'm fairly certain that if I didn't spend the 60 seconds it took for me to do this exercise and didn't anticipate feeling tired at the end of the day, I wouldn't have brought my gym bag. I would have come home, I would have crashed on the couch and that would have been the end of the day for me.
So the WOOP tool really, really works. Gabriele Oettingen and her colleagues have done numerous studies to show just how effective WOOP is in all sorts of facets of life. In terms of being related to health, one study that she did showed that WOOP helped people eat more fruits and vegetables in their diet for at least two years. They followed people for two years. Another study shows that on average, using WOOP actually doubled activity levels in middle aged women who are looking to increase their activity. In another study, people with clinical depression successfully used WOOP to incorporate more activity in their lives. Additionally, WOOP helped stroke patients recover by doing more activity as well. Then in one study that I found really interesting, kids from an underprivileged background were taught WOOP and in doing so resulted in more regular school attendance and better grades.
There's just so much good stuff out here. On the use of WOOP that I thought I just had to share with you!. So there's WOOP. Take your goals and rub them up against reality. That is the key to reaching and maintaining your goals. If you want to use WOOP to help you reach your weight loss goals, then there's no better place to do that than inside our Nourish Yourself Body and Mind weight loss group coaching program! You'll get all the support you need to reach all of your goals, weight loss included. To get started, just head on over to www.nourishyourselfbodyandmind.com to register.
I hope to see you inside! I sincerely do and if you do choose to experiment with WOOP, I'd love to hear how it goes for you!. So email me at [email protected] or reach out to me on social media, @wayzahealth.
WOOP there it is!
See you next week.