Before you are able to make any meaningful changes to your health, fitness, and diabetes management, you need to have two things:
- Clear and realistic goals for what you want to achieve
- The (positive) motivation that will allow you to work towards your goals on a daily basis
Once you are clear about your goals and your motivation, you can start making plans for how to reach them. If you don’t know your goals, you will have no way to plan effectively or measure your progress and you will most likely lose your motivation pretty quickly. The key to achieving fitness goals, especially, is to know exactly what it is that you actually want, and why you want it.
In this article, I will map out my approach to goal setting and motivation. I have also created a handy printout to help you write out your goals and motivation in a structured format. You can download it at the end of this article.
How to set specific and realistic short- and long-term goals
My favorite structure for goal setting is called the SMART method. It’s a simple and easy to remember method that you can use for any kind of goal setting, not just for diabetes and fitness goals.
- Specific – Your goals should be clear and well defined (I want to lose weight is not a specific goal. I want to lose 5 pounds is)
- Measurable – You should be able to track and measure your progress towards your goal (“better diabetes management” is not measurable. An A1c of X.X is)
- Attainable – Your goals should be ambitious but realistic (having a dream to follow is great, but you also need down-to-earth goals that you know you can reach if you put in the work)
- Relevant – Make sure that reaching your goals will actually make your life better. Spend some time thinking about your goals and doing research if necessary
- Time-bound – Always set goals with a specific timeframe so you know how long you have to reach them. I recommend having both short-term (1-2 weeks) and long-term (3-6 months) goals
Let me give you an example of goal setting that I did with a client of mine:
Jane (not her real name) is 35 years old, has type 1 diabetes, and wants to start a fitness program.
When I ask her about her diabetes and fitness goals, she says she wants to “lose weight” and get “better diabetes management”. So far so good. Those are worthy goals, but they are not specific enough to give her the ability to make a solid plan for how to achieve them.
When I ask Jane why she wants to lose weight, her answer is, “I want to look strong and fit. I want to have defined arms and beautiful curves. I want to look more like you.” (I like Jane. Jane is nice 😀 )
We talk a little more and figure out that the way she wants to look means that she should focus just as much on building muscles as on losing weight. She is actually about the same height and weight as me but has a different muscle to fat ratio.
If Jane had just focused just on “losing weight”, she would most likely have been very frustrated with her results because she would have lost weight without getting the look she actually wanted. Instead, Jane’s 6-month fitness goals ended up looking like this:
- Go from a fat percentage of 35 to around 25.
- Put on 5 pounds of muscle, primarily in the glutes, legs and shoulders.
That’s a solid goal that can be achieved in 6 months (or faster if you don’t have distractions like a job/family/life and can just focus on working out and eating healthy). It’s specific, measurable, and will actually give her the results she wants.
However, a goal that you will reach in only 6 months or more from now is not something that will motivate most of us on a day-to-day basis. You also need measurable sub-goals.
For Jane, we set milestones every 2 weeks. They could either be directly related to her main fitness goals (e.g. reaching a certain fat percentage before a specific date) or based on her workouts (e.g. increase her leg press by X pounds or run a certain distance in under X minutes). The important thing is to always have a goal that can motivate you when your body and mind are trying to make you stay on the couch and eat pizza instead of working out.
Having set her fitness goals, we went through exactly the same process for her diabetes management goals.
How to find your positive motivation
The motivation to make any kind of change generally comes down to variations on two different themes:
Positive motivation: “I want to achieve this goal that I am excited about”.
Negative motivation: “I don’t like the way I look” or “I am afraid for my health if I don’t do something”.
Research shows that while negative motivation is very effective in getting people to start making a change, it almost never leads to long-term success. On the other hand, people who start making changes with a clearly defined positive motivation, based on realistic goals, tend to achieve the results they want both in the short term and the long term.
Unfortunately, finding negative motivation is a lot easier than finding positive motivation. For most of us, just looking in the mirror or visiting our endo can provide plenty of negative motivation (and yes, that’s most definitely the case for me as well). We tend to be good at finding things we don’t like about ourselves, even if nobody else can see them.
Finding your positive motivation is difficult and often takes an act of will in itself. It’s also something you need to maintain every day.
Let’s look at an example:
Bob (not a real person) has type 1 diabetes. His A1c is a lot higher than he would like it to be, and he struggles daily with large blood sugar fluctuations. He is also out of shape and doesn’t particularly like to exercise.
For Bob, finding his negative motivations is easy. He doesn’t feel good when his blood sugars are fluctuating, and he is worried about his long term health.
To find his positive motivation, Bob needs to turn his thinking around. Instead of focusing on how he feels when his blood sugar is out of control, he should try to remember the feeling of a day when his diabetes management was more on point and he felt great.
If you can find that positive feeling (whatever it may be for you), and remember it, you can turn it into your positive motivation. Whenever you don’t feel like exercising, testing your blood sugar, or eating healthy food, try to remember how you feel on the days where your diabetes management is spot on, and imagine that being every day. It isn’t easy, and it’s something you have to work on every day, but if you can manage it, it’s a really powerful motivation.
Lastly, tie your positive motivation to your short and long-term goals. Imagine how great you will feel when you reach your diabetes management and fitness goals, and let that be your motivation!
To get started on your own goals and motivation, download this simple Goal and Motivation Printout. The clearer you are on what you want and why you want it, the easier it will be to reach your diabetes management and fitness goals!
Suggested next article: How to Sustain Your Motivation and Celebrate Your Successes