Do any of these sound familiar?
- It feels like you’re always setting a new goal, going all-in for a few weeks, burning out, falling back into old habits, feeling defeated… then starting the process over again, telling yourself you’ll be “stricter” or “better” this time.
- You really want to get a certain result, but you can’t seem to make the changes you need to get them to stick.
- You know the things you’re supposed to do, but you struggle to show up and do them.
(Or maybe you’re a coach or trainer, and you’re seeing this time and time again in the women who come to you for help.)
If one of these (or all of them!) rings true, let me start by saying this: It’s not laziness, or a lack of drive, or a sign you or your clients just need to “buckle down and do the thing.”
Rather, there’s one fundamental thing probably missing — and that’s value alignment (more on this in a moment).
Luckily, we’ve got a solution for you. It’s called values-based goal setting.
In this article, you’ll learn how to identify your values and apply them to your health and fitness endeavors so you get the results you want, no burning out or unsustainable plans required.
Keep reading to find out:
- Why values are crucial in the context of nutrition and fitness.
- How to set values-based goals from the start. (Spoiler alert: This will transform your results!)
- How to break your goals down into an actionable plan so you know exactly what to do every step of the way.
Ready? Let’s get to it.
The Value of Values
Let’s start by getting clear on what values are, and how they differ from goals.
Your values are the principles you live by.
They represent who you want to be, what you stand for, and how you want to show up in your life. Think of your values as your North Star, guiding you along your journey and helping you make decisions based on what’s most important to you. Your values may include things like courage, independence, flexibility, or growth.
Goals are the destination or the end result.
Goals are something you can achieve or cross off your list, such as learning to do a pull-up, running a marathon, or losing a certain percentage of body fat.
Why Values Are Key to Achieving Goals
One of the most common reasons folks struggle to get results is a disconnect between their values and their goals. They know the outcome they want to achieve but don’t consider their values in the execution.
If your goals and actions don’t align with your values, that’s what we call a values discrepancy.
Why is this important?
Well, a values discrepancy can lead to three major problems:
- You’re setting goals that don’t truly align with what’s important to you and how you want to live your life — meaning you’ll struggle with consistency and motivation.
- You know the results you want to achieve, but the behaviors you’re zeroing in on to get there aren’t realistic or sustainable for you. When your day-to-day actions feel forced, it’s a recipe for burnout.
- The work you put in toward your goals won’t feel deeply fulfilling or meaningful.
But when your goals align with your values, the work you put into achieving them feels purposeful and gratifying. In other words, the day-to-day efforts — whether that’s getting more exercise, improving your sleep habits, or eating more vegetables — are actually enjoyable. And when the effort is enjoyable, you’re more likely to continue doing it.
Here’s an example: Suppose your goal is to lose 40 pounds and one of your values is freedom. If you sign up for a strict diet program that requires you to eat every three hours or doesn’t leave room for a slice of birthday cake, you’re going to struggle to stick to that program. Why? Because it doesn’t reflect what’s really important to you: freedom.
However, imagine that instead of forcing yourself to follow a restrictive diet, you focus on a few healthful nutrition skills that fit your lifestyle. Maybe it’s eating some kind of protein at every meal or veggies with any two meals a day. Boom! Now you’re eating in a way that’s both healthful and in line with what’s intrinsically meaningful to you — and that’s the key to staying motivated.
Now we’ve covered the importance of values in goal setting, let’s jump into how to set values-based goals so you can start getting the results you’re after.
5 Steps to Setting Values-Based Goals
At GGS, we’ve worked with hundreds of thousands of women to help them achieve their health and fitness goals through our articles, certifications, free courses, and GGS Coaching program. As such, we’ve developed a reliable five-step method that ensures you:
- Set meaningful goals that align with what’s important to you.
- Know exactly how to use those values-based goals to form a sustainable, effective action plan.
- Understand how to troubleshoot along the way.
We’ve also created a useful worksheet so you can work through this process on your own once you’re done reading!
Click here to download the worksheet that will guide you through the steps outlined in this article.
(Are you a coach or trainer? This worksheet is a great exercise to do with your clients.)
Step #1: Get Clear on Your Values
You can’t set values-based goals if you don’t know what your values are!
Your values can (and should!) be established in a few different areas of your life:
- Your body, health, and fitness
For the purposes of this article, we’ll be focusing on your values as they relate to your body, health, and fitness.
To determine your values, try the following exercise.
First, take some time to create a list of your top 10 health and fitness values. You’ll find a list of values to choose from (though of course, you can add your own!) and some space to work through this in your downloadable worksheet. Keep the following prompt in mind while you make your selections:
- When you think of your body, health, and fitness, which values do you most strongly identify with?
Next, narrow that list down to only your top five values. Then, narrow those five down to your top three (in order of importance).
Now that you’re equipped with your top three values, you can get to work setting those goals!
Step #2: Set Your Outcome-Based Goal
If your values are your North Star, think of your outcome-based goal as your destination on a map; it’s where you ultimately want to end up.
These goals are often numbers-focused, like losing a certain number of pounds or doing 20 push-ups.
Chances are, you already know your outcome-based goal, or perhaps a few come to mind as you read this article. Either way, before you determine exactly what you want to work toward, there are three guidelines to follow:
- Only work on one or two outcome-based goals at a time. Any more than that will divide your focus and energy, resulting in burnout.
- Be prepared to work on your goal(s) for 12 weeks. Your goals need a deadline not only to help keep you focused, but also so you can make changes if needed. An end date of 12 weeks provides you with an opportunity to evaluate how things went and then set a new goal. (Keep in mind that some outcome-based goals take longer than 12 weeks to achieve. But for this framework, I recommend breaking large goals into smaller chunks that can be realistically achieved in the 12-week timeframe.)
- Be sure your goal(s) align with your values. Before you start working toward your goals, run them through a “values filter.” Ask yourself:
- How do these goals align with my values?
- Will achieving these goals allow me to live in a way that’s important to me?
- Will reaching these goals have a positive impact on my life?
Now you’ve determined your ultimate goal and made sure it aligns with your values, you can move to the next step: setting behavior-based goals.
Step #3: Determine Your Behavior-Based Goals
While it’s great to have a destination, you’re going to have trouble getting there without directions. That’s where behavior-based goals come in.
Behavior-based goals are the specific action steps you (or your clients) are ready, willing, and able to take each day (or a few times a week) to move toward your ultimate goal. They allow you to consistently rack up small wins and gain a sense of ongoing achievement.
Establish one or two behavior-based goals to get you started. That may not sound like a lot, but trust me, anything more can be overwhelming and, therefore, tough to stick with. Behavior change is hard work!
It’s important to set behavior-based goals you’re confident you can consistently achieve over and over again. If you look at your behavior goals and think they sound too easy — perfect! (You’ll be increasing the number of behavior-based goals later on.)
If you need help determining your behavior-based goals, try this exercise:
Consider that the big dial-movers for most health and fitness goals fall into one or more of the following five categories:
- Daily movement
Now, write down a bunch of behaviors for each category that would help you move toward your outcome-based goal. Then, choose the one or two behaviors on that list that stand out as the most realistic and achievable for you to work on right now.
For example, let’s say your outcome-based goal is to lose 40 pounds. Obviously, we don’t recommend losing 40 pounds in only 12 weeks! But losing 10–15 pounds may be totally doable. So for your first 12-week phase, let’s imagine your first goal is to lose 15 pounds.
Your behavior-based goals might then be:
- Resistance train three times per week. (Exercise)
- Include a full serving of vegetables with at least two meals per day. (Nutrition)
Next, check-in to make sure these behaviors align with your values. To use the above example, if your top three values are strength, freedom, and autonomy, then resistance training aligns with the value of strength, and choosing which veggies to eat and when aligns with the values of autonomy and freedom. Check, check, and check!
Step #4: Plan Your Action Steps
The action steps you take to achieve your behavior-based goals are what we call Implementation Intentions.
Clear and specific Implementation Intentions provide you with the exact steps to move toward your goal; there’s no guesswork. After all, a goal of working out three times a week is great, but without a detailed plan for making that happen, there’s a lot of room for error.
To determine your action steps, think about exactly what you need to complete your behavior-based goals. This is the “what, where, when, and how” portion of your plan.
So if your behavior-based goals are:
- Resistance train three times per week.
- Include a full serving of veggies with at least two meals per day.
Then your Implementation Intentions might be:
- Resistance training at the gym for 45 minutes every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evening at 5pm.
- Stocking up on fresh veggies at the market every Sunday and chopping them up so they’re ready for the week.
Need help determining your action steps? Or simply aren’t sure where to start? Get the one-on-one support you need in our GGS Coaching program.
Step #5: Anticipate Obstacles and Create a Back-Up Plan
Obstacles are the potential barriers that prevent you (or the women who come to you for help) from achieving behavior-based goals.
Take a moment now to envision the goal you’ll be working toward for the next 12 weeks. What obstacles might pop up and prevent you from achieving your behavior-based goals? Maybe it’s working long hours, family obligations, or an old injury flaring up. Make a list of the five most likely possibilities, and create a backup plan for navigating each one. (There’s a space for you to do this in your downloadable worksheet.)
A handy way to do this is to use “if, then” language:
- “If there’s a chance I’ll have to work late, then I’ll bring my gym clothes and get a quick session in on my lunch break.”
- “If I’m worried there won’t be enough veggies at our family’s lasagna dinner next weekend, then I’ll bring a big salad to share with everyone.”
- “If my knee injury should flare up again, then I’ll research some upper body and seated exercises I can do so I can continue training safely.”
Congratulations, you’ve completed the five steps! This can be challenging work, so high fives for that!
Now you’re ready to put the plan into action and start working toward your goal. Next, I’ll teach you what that looks like in practice.
How to Put Your Plan into Action
- For the next two weeks, focus on achieving your behavior-based goals, aiming for at least 80 percent consistency.
- Use the chart in your worksheet to track your behaviors as you complete them. (Or, you can use a calendar, notebook, or habit-tracking app.)
- After two weeks, assess your progress. If you completed a behavior at least 80 percent of the time, add one or two new behavior-based goals to work on for the next two weeks. (Go back to Step 3 and repeat the process from there).
- If you didn’t reach 80 percent consistency, you may need to reduce the behavior to something you know you can definitely do. So if you were aiming for three 45-minute resistance workouts per week, reduce the frequency or duration (or both) until you’re able to meet your goal.
- Repeat this process for 12 weeks, then evaluate your progress. If you reached your outcome-based goal — Congratulations! You can return to Step 1 and set a new one. (But don’t forget to take the time to acknowledge and celebrate your achievement!) If you didn’t quite hit your goal, chances are, you still made progress! Set a new outcome-based goal (even if it’s only a minor variation of the old one) and remember — every action you’re taking is moving you toward your desired outcome, and every action will help you live in alignment with your values. Celebrate every step of the way.
What If I Still Struggle to Stay Motivated?
Hey, life happens. And that means even when your goals align with your values, it’s still possible to feel a dip in your motivation now and then. I’ve got you covered with these three tips for navigating the bumps in the road and staying the course:
- Come back to your values. You might find it helpful to write them out in a journal, or repeat them to yourself while breathing deeply for a few minutes. Post your values on a sticky note on the fridge, your nightstand, or the bathroom mirror so you’ll see them daily. You could set phone reminders as well!
- Consider what you “don’t value”. In addition to thinking about what you want to move toward, it may help to think about what you want to avoid. For instance, when it comes to your health and fitness, you might want to avoid illness, injury, and fear. This can help solidify what’s really important to you to strive for, such as vitality, strength, and confidence.
- Curate your social media. The content you consume can have a huge impact on your mindset and behaviors. Consider unfollowing accounts that don’t align with your values, and seeking out those that do. For instance, if you value freedom, you may not want to follow accounts that promote strict meal plans. Instead, look for some you can relate to, that promote a balanced and flexible approach to nutrition.
Hopefully by now, you see the power of values alignment in goal setting. Maybe you’ve even had an “aha!” moment, or something “clicked”. If so, you’re probably itching to close this article and get to work.
Before you do, let’s recap how to use values-based goal setting to get results:
- Identify your top three values that relate to health and fitness. Use our downloadable worksheet to help guide you.
- Set an outcome-based goal that aligns with those values and you can work toward for 12 weeks.
- Choose one or two behaviors that will move you toward your outcome-based goal, along with the exact action steps required to carry out those behaviors.
- Anticipate and plan for any potential roadblocks that could prevent you from achieving your behavior-based goals.
- Evaluate your progress every two weeks. If you’ve reached 80 percent consistency, add one or two new behavior-based goals (and action steps) to your routine. Otherwise, adjust the behaviors to something more doable and try again. Repeat the process for 12 weeks, assess your progress, and celebrate! If you have more you want to accomplish, set your next outcome-based goal.
There’s no question that adopting new behaviors to achieve your goals is hard work, but it doesn’t have to feel forced, stressful, or impossible.
When you set goals that are in alignment with your values, not only do you set yourself up on the path to success, but you also find purpose and enjoyment in the process. It’s a win win!