Let me get this out up front. Often setting health and fitness goals involves losing weight and exercising more. When we are deciding what our “new me” is going to look like, what do we to compare it to? Sometimes, we look around at others and decide that we would like to look like something we see on TV, in advertising, or on social media.
It’s OK. Even though you may be saying that you don’t do that, chances are you do. We all do it, one way or another. It is normal, and inevitable. There is even a theory for it, called “social comparison theory.” This theory was devised in 1954, and has since been revised several times. After all, since 1954 there are a lot more “others” to compare ourselves to. Social media has taken off, there are many more TV channels, and advertising has gotten more sophisticated.
The Gist Is This
We have evolved over time to be social beings, which has been good for survival. (There is even a book called Survival of the Friendliest , but I digress…) Back in the day, when there were a lot fewer people, we learned to look to others to establish a point of reference to see how we stacked up. On top of that, it was useful to figure out who was going to be cooperative with us, and who was going to be a competitor.
These days things are much different, but we still have the same tendency. Because of social media and advertising, it can appear that everyone is having a better time than we are, are more successful, happier, and have more friends. There is a constant barrage of programs to help us be more successful, reach our goals, and earn the respect of others. Click bait has supplied us with phrases like, “feel more secure,” make your dreams come true,” or “finally lose those unwanted pounds.”
The Art of Goal Setting
When it comes to setting goals, often we are encouraged to follow the SMART acronym. That would be something that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Bound. In many ways, SMART goals seem to cover all the bases. SMART goals can dovetail nicely with setting small change goals, which has been shown again and again to be effective. You are to pick something reasonable, and something that you can accomplish, given your complicated life.
SMART goals may work in the business world, but goals in the area of losing weight and exercising more involve body and mind in a deeply personal way. Your goals are intimately involved with how you perceive yourself.
So, here’s the problem: Like so many others, you may be thinking the “new you” looks like the “after” pictures you see in advertisements. Or, you may want to lose 20 pounds. Perhaps you have some other goal that has to do with being able to move better and have more energy.
Either way, we run the risk of being set on an outcome, rather than the process of getting there.
What happens then?
If you are comparing yourself to others, you can start off feeling inadequate. You may feel that others have already won the fight, and they are somehow different, or better than you.
Even if the goal is to lose 20 pounds or get more energetic, many people feel that in the past they just haven’t had enough willpower when trying to stick to a diet or exercise program. Reading between the lines, this really means that you feel that you are not enough. With this kind of thinking, you are already behind the eight ball on your way to your goals.
What’s the Answer?
In a nutshell, the process needs to be about personal growth.
Science has shown that people are not motivated when they feel inadequate. Research has shown again and again that it is what lifts you up and develops a sense of achievement that keeps you engaged in the process of change.
In terms of goals setting, we need to fight back and add a few things to the SMART goal model.
- Goals need to be set with an emphasis on the joy of learning. If we are comparing ourselves to others, or dumping on ourselves for our lack of willpower, this will not end well. Instead, each choice, each small goal achieved, needs to be put into the context of process and progress.
- Once a goal is set, there needs to be an evaluation of the skills needed to get us there. This could be overt things like shopping differently, or learning new recipes. Or it could involve leaning to think about food differently and choose differently. Either way, those things are part of the process of getting to the end goal.
- Finally, there is the realization that all of this takes awareness and practice, practice, practice. There is no on-off switch for the complicated process of behavior change related to health and fitness. Our brains will continue to compare ourselves to others, and be tempted to think that they have more willpower than we do.
But we CAN realize that we have a natural tendency to compare ourselves to others. Then we can make adjustments so that the changes we are after become part of us because they lift us up, not tear us down.
All the best
© 2022 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved
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