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Goal setting: why self-loathing fails as a motivational strategy

iStock_300px-000022711793LargeLast week mindset expert Victoria Morrison of Life Fitness Coaching talked about how she made the transition from binge eater to weight-loss coach. Today, in part 2 of our interview, she explains two kinds of goal setting—and which kind can do the most to help us create the life we desire.

Mary: Can you talk about the difference between goals that represent moving toward an ideal rather than moving away from something we don’t want?

Victoria: Moving away from something you don’t want—moving away from pain—is often a big part of how we motivate ourselves to get started on a task. That’s what the self-loathing and negative self-talk strategies are about. We try to make ourselves feel so bad—to experience so much pain—that we will be motivated to take action to get ourselves out of the painful situation.

It is our awareness of something we don’t want that gets us started. We are aware we don’t want to keep feeling fat, ugly, self-conscious, a failure, unhealthy—whatever it is—so we start taking some steps away from that pain.

We eat better, we move more, and we start getting some positive results. We start to feel better. The problem is, once the pain decreases, so does the motivational force.

Even worse, when you’ve used this motivational strategy several times (as all yo-yo dieters have), you’ve become very good at being mean to yourself, and you believe that the only way to get better results is to be even meaner to yourself.

When we focus on a goal we want, something that moves us towards pleasure (as opposed to moving us away from pain), we focus on creating and experiencing pleasure, and we move towards achieving our goal. If we stop creating pleasure (such as by overeating at a party and wishing we hadn’t), we easily feel motivated to get back on track to move towards our pleasurable goal.

Focusing on what we want to bring into our lives feels good and provides a consistent source of motivation. This is one of those concepts that we often gloss over in our hurry to get to the “what to eat and how to exercise” part of losing weight.

However, when you get the goal-setting piece right and your motivational strategy right, you make losing weight about pleasure and that completely changes the experience. It also the secret of getting permanent results.

How to create ‘moving toward’ goals

Mary: Would you give us some examples of “moving toward” goals and “moving away from” goals?

Victoria: A “moving away from” goal is stated as something you don’t want, for example:

  • I don’t want to have a heart attack like my Dad or
  • I don’t want to be fat anymore.

In these statements you’ve done a great job of articulating the problem and what you don’t want to bring into your life.

A “moving towards” goal articulates exactly what you do want instead:

  • I want to live a long and healthy life or
  • I want to be a fit and healthy size x.

Working out what you don’t want often happens first, and it is great to be aware of what you don’t want. Once you know that, you can easily work out what you do want.

Mary: Many experts on goal-setting believe it is more powerful to write down your goals in longhand rather than with a computer. Do you think this is true, and if it is, why?

Victoria: Yes, many experts say that writing goals (or intentions or action steps) by hand is better because of the way the brain is engaged in the physical act of writing.

Writing is a more complex activity than selecting keys on a keyboard and thus stimulates more of the brain’s cortex. Anecdotal evidence—and my own experience—generally supports this, that writing things out requires (or generates?) greater focus, and since focus is what we are after, writing seems to be the superior method for many people.

That said, there will always be exceptions to the rule, and if someone feels she focuses beautifully when she types out her goals, I say go for it.

When you put conscious effort into a goal-setting process and create a goal statement that is meaningful and inspiring to you, you will not erase the significance of the time and effort put into the process or the quality of the goal by using your preferred recording method. You can experiment and find out what works best for you.

Do you have a weight-loss, health, or fitness goal you want to move toward?

Join me (Mary Weaver) and Victoria Morrison in our FREE Be Your Best Fat-Loss & Fitness Challenge! Get 5 free bonuses as soon as you sign up, daily e-mails with tips and strategies throughout the challenge (March 15 through April 30), and ongoing support through our private Facebook group. Click the link to sign up today!

Mary C. Weaver, CSCS

I'm a weight-loss and body-transformation coach for women---and I want to share my best weight-loss strategies with you! Click the link to learn more about my Body-Transformation Bootcamp program!

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