Setting Goals & Finding Support, Part 1

One of the many email newsletters I subscribe to talked about the importance of not only setting goals, but reporting the results to a friend. It cited a study at Dominican University a few years ago that found that participants were much more likely to achieve their goal if they reported their weekly progress to a friend. It was interesting to see the differences small changes to goal-setting behaviors could have on the likelihood of actually achieving those goals.

The participants were divided into 5 groups:

Group 1 was asked to think about a goal that they wanted to accomplish within 4 weeks, and also to think about its difficulty, importance, whether they had the skills and resources to accomplish it, how committed they were to getting it done, whether they’d ever tried to achieve the task before and if so, if they’d succeeded or not. Group 2 was asked to do the same thing, but they were also asked to write it all down rather than just think about it. Group 3 was asked to think about it, write it down, and then create a list of action commitments that would lead to achieving their goal. Group 4 was asked to do the same thing, and then to send all the info–the goal, the action commitments, etc.–to a supportive friend. And Group 5 was asked to do all of that plus send a weekly progress report to the friend.

It’s probably not surprising to learn that all the groups who wrote down their goal were significantly more likely to achieve it than the group that just thought about it. One result that I did find surprising was that Group 3 (the group that added action commitments to their goal-setting) did better than Group 1 (the thinkers) but worse than the other 3 groups. I wonder if the process of writing down what needed to be done to achieve the goal made it seem harder than just thinking or writing about the goal itself? And yet when combined with sharing the info with someone, or better yet, updating them on the achievement of those action commitments and progress towards the goal greatly increased the likelihood of success. People in Group 5 were over 55% more likely to be successful than the people in Group 1.

55% more likely. That’s not nothing. And when you think about how hard it is to lose a significant amount of weight and keep it off, anything that improves the odds should be considered. I have to admit that I don’t really have any medium-term (4-week) goals like that. I have a long-term goal (lose 200 lbs) with no particular time frame attached, and even my short-term weekly goals tend to be fairly unspecific (weigh less than I did last week). And even as I write this article and think that I really should try this approach, I’m not sure what kind of goal I should set. Should it be a specific amount of weight loss? Should it be something fitness-related? Food-related? Some other aspect of lifestyle change?

I keep saying that it’s about more than just the numbers, and that if I make changes to the way I eat, move, and live, the weight will come off AND I will have achieved a lot of other health benefits, etc. but it’s just SO EASY to use a number as a goal. I’m going to think about this for a while and then post my 4-week goal (and the action commitments, etc.) in my next post.


One thought on “Setting Goals & Finding Support, Part 1

  1. I set small goals for myself for my weight loss, especially since my starting point seemed so daunting. I don’t usually set a time limit but it gives me something achievable in short increments to keep me motivated. I also share my updates on my blog, and with my friends on Facebook to keep me motivated. So far it’s working for me. I hope you can find a strategy that works well for you.


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