Set Yourself Up for Health Success: Make “Goals not Wishes”

BY: Kathleen Trotter, MSc

Hope is not a viable strategy. “Wishing” for better health doesn’t work. To adopt a healthier lifestyle and create your “fittest future self,” you must take the time to set yourself up for success — you have to create health goals vs simply stating health wishes.

Six tips for making goals not wishes and (finally) achieving them

  1. Don’t aim to change all your health habits at once. Establish two or three realistic goals — write them down and/or tell an accountability person or group.
  2. Make sure your goals reflect how much time and energy you actually have (not how much you wish you had), your finances, and your equipment.
  3. Figure out in advance the WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, and HOW of your workout plan. Establish a detailed plan of action. WHERE and WHEN will you work out? Will you join a gym and go before work, join a running group, set up a home gym, or play a sport? WHAT exercise will you do? If you know you need help being accountable, get a fitness buddy. WHEN do you want to accomplish your goal by? Be specific. If you want to lose weight, how much and by when? Break the goal down — how much per week? If you want to get stronger, what exactly does that mean? HOW will you fit in your training? What accommodations do you need to make? Do you need to rearrange who will drive the kids to school? Do you need to block off time during your workday? Do you need to download fitness podcasts so you can train in your living room? Do you need to arrange daycare so you can train after work?
  4. Plan to do something you actually enjoy, or at least something you don’t hate. If you love being outside, research the local ravine system or find a nature walking group. If you love group sports, find a convenient team to join. You might be able to force yourself to do something you hate in the short term, but long term sticking with a regimen you despise is not a viable strategy. On a connected note, form goals that are relevant and important to YOU. Find your “why” — maybe strength train so you can run injury-free, stretch so you can get down and play with your grandkids, or stay functionally fit so you can shovel snow or carry groceries.
  5. Establish both long- and short-term goals. Breaking goals down into smaller, more manageable pieces can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed.
  6. Stop relying on motivation and discipline. Instead, set up systems that will save you from your future less motivated, exhausted, sad, or overwhelmed self. Contrary to popular belief, being “motivated” and having “discipline” are not the keys to adopting a healthier lifestyle. Motivation is not something you either have or you don’t. No one — including fitness professionals — is constantly motivated. Motivation comes in waves. It differs in degree, intensity, and consistency depending on the person and the situation. Willpower is akin to a “self-surveillance muscle.” Like any muscle it gets exhausted. Exerting willpower requires conscious thought. You have to stop and think, “Should I have the cookie or the apple?” Sure, you might make the healthier choice when you are newly motivated (say, New Year’s or Monday), or in the morning before life gets crazy, but as you get tired, angry, overwhelmed, depressed, etc., you are more likely to make less-than-ideal choices. Willpower requires your brain to decide to be healthy, but the brain has limited capacity. The solution? Set up systems when you do have discipline — when you are motivated — so that your future less-disciplined self has no choice but to follow through. Examples include not having food in the house that you don’t want your future self to eat; piggybacking a workout onto something you already do (eg., turn your dog walk into an intense cardio workout or take conference calls as you walk); eating from smaller plates and drinking from smaller glasses (we eat and drink less from smaller dishes), and portioning out your snacks — especially when watching TV (we’ll eat until the dish, package, or container is empty).

Final thought

Internalize the equation “awareness + preparedness = success.” Become aware of your current choices and habits so that you know what habits you want to reproduce and what habits you want to eliminate. Consider keeping a food and exercise journal. Most of us underestimate our unhealthy choices and overestimate our healthy ones. Once aware, take the time to prepare your environment, your psyche, and the people around you for success. Health doesn’t “just happen” — it takes awareness and conscious planning.


Kathleen Trotter, MSc, is a fitness expert, media personality, personal trainer, writer, and author of Finding Your Fit. A Compassionate Trainer’s Guide to Making Fitness a Lifelong Habit and Your Fittest Future Self. Making Choices Today for a Happier, Healthier, Fitter Future You. Kathleen has been a personal trainer and fitness expert for almost twenty years. Kathleen currently writes for publications including the Huffington Post, recently filmed an episode of The Zommer Report for Vision Tv, has a regular monthly segment on BT Montreal, makes frequent media appearances on other television shows, including Rogers Ottawa, BT Toronto, and CHCH Hamilton, as well as on podcasts such as The Tonic Show Podcast for Zoomer Radio, 40+ Fitness, Naturally Savvy, Fit Chicks Chat, and The Other F Word Podcast. 

In addition, Kathleen spent over eight years writing for The Globe and Mail and has written for various other publications including Impact Magazine, ParticipAction, Breathe, Alive, Canadian Running, Today’s Parent, Chatelaine, and Glow, and for six years she was the featured personal trainer in The Globe and Mail’s online Fitness Basics weekly web series and included in the Globe’s weekly newsletter for subscribers. 

Kathleen holds a master’s degree in Exercise Science from the University of Toronto, a nutrition diploma from the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition, and a nutrition certification through Precision Nutrition. She is a C.H.E.K. Level 3 Trainer, a Level 2 Fascial Stretch Therapist, a Level 1 ELDOA practitioner, and a certified Pilates Equipment Specialist. Kathleen is currently working to become a life coach. 


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